I always thought that expression was strange. If it's really true, I guess we're all going to hell.
How often have we had good intentions and things don't go as we plan, or we let someone down? That sounds more like the road to humanity.
The idea of an intention in yoga has always been so rich with meaning. One of my favorite parts of the practice is finding the intention--the reason, the hope, the approach--to what follows.
What's interesting is that we all started yoga for unique reasons. Each of us has our own history. We have different genetics, families, opinions, hobbies, fears, and challenges. Yet, here we are in a room together. And suddenly, we have a lot more in common than we thought. We are all moving, breathing human beings who are searching for something...
We all set an intention.
When I first started yoga in college, I thought intention was just hippy for goal.
Intentions are a little different from goals.
Imagine you are holding a bow and arrow. The bow is your inhalation and the arrow is your exhalation. There's a target in the distance.
Goals are something that we hope to achieve with a desired result. Goals are good to have, as we all know. That target point is your goal. It could be greater flexibility, greater strength, or being able to balance in Dancer's pose. The goal could be to become a yoga teacher or improve your concentration for chess tournaments. A common goal is just to age well and be healthy.
The dictionary describes "intention" as "an aim or plan" as well. There is also a second, medical definition I found interesting: "The healing process of a wound."
I think of intention as observing yourself, the bow, and the arrow itself rather than the target. You see the qualities. You acknowledge the mystery and potential of each. Is the bow and arrow in good condition, or have you never really used them before? Are you shaken, or slack with each? The intention is the action of using this bow and arrow. You do that with joy, peace, focus, etc. That intention inspires the action to reach the target--your goal. Approaching the bow and arrow and using them in a positive way may not always allow you to hit the target. But we might get pretty close. And we may just enjoy the process regardless. I mean, this isn't the Olympics. This is life!
So in a nutshell, I think of intention as approaching the PROCESS of yoga. It allows you to access the breath in a direct way. Verbs are good. Enjoy is an intention. So is awake, chill out, or learn. Your intention may even be the word breathe. A great way to start is setting your intention as a feeling--calm, happy, settled, content, energized. How do you want to feel--not necessarily achieve--at the end of class?
Healing is a process indeed. Many of us have healed in a way that makes us reexamine our goals and perhaps change them. The mind, body, and emotions shift as we heal. Just think of time you spent healing from an injury or traumatic event. What was your intention each day? If you had one, was it helpful? Does a similar intention bring you to your yoga mat?
The end goal itself isn't the most important--it just gets the most attention in our culture. It's the "Marcia, Marcia, Marcia!"
The Yoga Sutras and the Catholic monk Thomas Merton explain this difference the best:
Practice characterized by rigor and vigilance toward itself, without attachment to the outcome, is known as kriya yoga. ~The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali
“Do not depend on the hope of results. You may have to face the fact that your work will be apparently worthless and even achieve no result at all, if not perhaps results opposite to what you expect. As you get used to this idea, you start more and more to concentrate not on the results, but on the value, the rightness, the truth of the work itself. You gradually struggle less and less for an idea and more and more for specific people. In the end, it is the reality of personal relationship that saves everything.” ~ Thomas Merton
So, I say set your intention. Have good intentions. Then do the work. Never beat yourself up for putting your best foot forward. Heaven can wait.