Friends who have taken one of my teacher trainings may have heard this story before, and for the sake of efficiency and future access, I’ve decided to simply post it here. As the “Sankalpa” blog states, sankalpa is a Sanskrit word that refers to a big-picture intention that you are firmly committed to and in which you deeply believe. We often incorporate simple intentions into our yoga practices, and I like to think of those as reminders…reminders of our bigger picture and acknowledgment of the qualities or actions that we need as we embody or embark upon this bigger intention. I think of it as the “major themes of my life”, like balance-seeking, teaching, and living simply.
We can incorporate these intentions into our asana practices, but let’s remember that Yoga is so much more than asana and that there are many other integral practices that compose the system of yoga, such as ethics, mantra, pranayama (breath control), sensory awareness and meditation. When I took a 200-hour training at Open Space Yoga, we were encouraged to begin a formal seated practice that incorporated mantra and meditation. During that training and for one year following, I chanted the Surya Gayatri mantra, which is about overcoming obstacles that obstruct clarity, wisdom, direction and transformation. There is a “magic number” associated with chanting, in the millions; the idea is that once you have focused your attention on a certain idea/affirmation/mantra for a specific length of time or number of repetitions, that you will embody those qualities and any negative tendencies that prevented you from embodying those qualities will have been worn away.
On the surface, this seems like wishful thinking, but if you actually put this into practice, consider how much time you will have spent focusing on certain ideas and how you become more aware of them throughout the day! Using the Surya Gayatri mantra as an example, over the course of 16 months, I sat and focused and chanted about clarity, wisdom, direction and transformation at least 362, 880 times in a formal practice! I also repeated it mentally while cooking, driving, walking, cleaning…pretty much on a mental loop at all times. It is inevitable that I became more conditioned to be aware of obstacles and opportunities to engage in life in a more specific way…with greater intention, purpose, confidence, et cetera.
One day I was in the kitchen cleaning and cooking and distinctly remember that my mind was completely quiet, quiet for a long stretch; compared to being filled with mantra or random thoughts like most other times. I recognized it in a following moment of retrospect and experienced a strong sense of awe and appreciation…thinking, “So THAT’s what this is all about?!”.
Something I read at that time said that when your mind ceases to “default” to the mantra you have been working with, it’s probably done the work it’s meant to do, so move on. By that point I had a reconfigured but clear vision of what I wanted my life and work to look like. The reality was far from the vision. So I moved onto a mantra related to overcoming obstacles; a Ganesh-based mantra. A month into that, a colleague gifted me a Ganesh statue, not knowing about my personal practice. Life sends me those messages quite regularly! Lol. I repeated that one for about two years, and then one day it stopped looping through my mind. I had moved to the big island and completed one of my major projects: a 200-hour teacher training curriculum! The Ganesh mantra felt “done”. I kept the statue on my bedside table.
In line with my intentions for teacher training, I switched to a Shiva mantra; more on my affinity for the Shiva archetype another time. I have a statue of Shiva, too…they are symbols and stories that remind me of where I have been and where I want to go, and the obstacles overcome in-between. So I packed my bags to prepare for my first teacher training trip to Oahu in early 2015. I packed the Shiva statue. I picked up the bags to head to the airport, quietly closed my bedroom door…the door that is at the opposite corner from my bedside table with Ganesh…no windows open, no vents, no fan on. And from the hallway, I heard an enormous crash from the bedroom. I put my bag down, opened the door, and saw Ganesh shattered into tiny pieces. Hmm. A message of reinforcement? A coincidence? You decide.
I wholeheartedly believe in the power of intention, but only when it is combined with some sort of action…intention must be put into practice, otherwise it is mere wishful thinking. There may have been saints and sages that were so connected to Life that they could shift themselves or something in the world by thought or will alone; but most of us aren’t there and will never be there. And it’s ok! It’s the fun and tragedy of being human.
Yoga may not be a science in the way a Western mind may demand, but it is such an interesting experiment to embark upon that can help you better understand and relate to yourself, others and the world around you. I encourage you to try the various practices that compose Yoga or to consider how you invite and uphold intention in your everyday life.
Thanks for reading!