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What Intention Setting is Really All About: Manifesting a Mindful New Year

January 5th, 2017

YYoga instructor and certified yoga therapist, Shivani Wells, shares her approach to intention setting through the practice of embodied mindfulness.

"We often suffer more from imagination than from reality." - Seneca the Elder

The paradox of letting go

I remember feeling confused about the concept of intention. It was almost 10 years ago, and I was training to become a yoga therapist. My intention was to support individuals on their journey to holistic wellness, but I was being told by my teachers to "let go of outcome". How could I hold the intention to help my clients heal (or have any intentions at all for that matter) and simultaneously not care about the outcome? It felt like a paradox.

I reached out to Elissa Cobb, one of my yoga therapy teachers, for guidance. She told me, "As soon as I focus on controlling the outcome, my intention ceases to exist...I have to let go in order to receive what I want." Her perspective felt radical at the time, and it sparked a new understanding for me about the nature of intention that continues to inspire my work with clients today.

At the time, my confusion had sprung from a false association between "letting go" and not caring, when in fact the opposite is true. Letting go of outcome doesn't mean you don't care about your goals or your vision, it means that you are freeing yourself to be fully present in the moment so that you can actually manifest what you want. Manifestation isn't magic. It happens incrementally through the moment-to-moment, day-to-day choices we make. Where your attention goes, energy flows.

Why trying to control the outcome doesn’t work

Here's why intentions focused on a specific future outcome are often unsuccessful:

1) As much as we try, (99.99% of the time) we are not in control of how things turn out in the end. All we are in control of if how we show up in the moment.

2) When we try to control the outcome, and only look to how we want things to be different in the future, we lose sight of how we are showing up in the moment, and we are at a greater risk for experiencing stress and anxiety.

Anxiety is a future-oriented mood state characterized by worry, and stress often comes from feeling overwhelmed by looking ahead to everything that has to get done. As Seneca the Elder said, "we often suffer more from imagination than from reality." Michael Lee, the founder of Phoenix Rising Yoga Therapy, taught me that intention is about how we BE. And how we BE informs what we DO.

The big take-away

Intention is the PRACTICE of FEELING what you want, and the more you practice it, the more you manifest it! Intentions are manifested through the practice of Embodied Mindfulness. Rather than saying you want a certain thing to happen, ask yourself how it would FEEL if that outcome was already a reality (yup, right now!).

For example, let's say you want to accept yourself more this year. What does acceptance FEEL like in your body? Is it light, open, soft, warm, connected? Your body is constantly sending signals to your brain for interpretation. A study found that people felt happier when they held a pencil between their teeth rather than between their lips - a fake smile tricked the brain into feeling happier!

So think of your intention as the mindful practice of "faking it till you make it". Just like when you first started practicing yoga (or any other activity that requires technique), many of the poses probably felt awkward and uncomfortable, but as you continued to practice, those poses started to feel more natural and even pleasant. If you want to master anything, you have to practice.

The question is, what kind of experience do you want to manifest? Once you identify one to three words that describe how you want to feel (such as "Open", "Connected"), let those words be your guide, like a mantra, and start practicing. Feel the energy of those words in your body. Breathe them into all the cells of your being. Let them fill you up. And watch what happens!

Manifestation isn't magic. It happens incrementally through the moment-to-moment, day-to-day choices we make. Where your attention goes, energy flows.

What about roadblocks?

It's important to acknowledge that we are (unconsciously) practicing how to be all the time. For example, we practice worrying, complaining, doubting, feeling tense, or not having time for self-care. These unconscious practices often stem from limiting core beliefs that were established in childhood, and can be so deeply ingrained that you might not even be aware of them.

Uprooting limiting core beliefs can take some time and working with a therapist can support this process; in fact, this is a big part of the work I do with my yoga therapy clients. It's of course true that we are impacted by our environment and situations, but I have found that clients feel empowered knowing that although they aren't in control of the final outcome, they can work on shifting their embodied experience in the moment.

Start by asking yourself what limiting core beliefs might be keeping you stuck, and then notice how that belief feels in your body. Is it tight? Is it heavy? Is it dark? Where in your body do you feel it? Then practice feeling the OPPOSITE. Come back to your mantra - your 1-3 words that describe how you want to feel. Each time you notice limiting core beliefs getting triggered, let your body’s response (such as tension in your shoulders) be a cue to engage your mindful practice, and little by little, over time, you begin to manifest a more mindful embodied experience, and as a result a more mindful year.

Want to be guided through this process of powerful intention setting? Join Shivani’s workshop, “Manifest a Mindful New Year,” on January 8th 2017, and come away with your own mindfulness practice to change your life!

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About the Author

Shivani Wells

While studying psychology at UBC, Shivani became increasingly fascinated by neuroscience after sustaining a significant head injury that shifted the course of her life. Since then she teamed up with the UBC Psychiatry department to run a study on yoga...

Learn more about Shivani