“Resolutely follow and affirm your intentions, for they line the path that enables you to overcome all trials, tribulations, and suffering. Following and affirming your intentions is the true path that leads to genuine happiness.”
From the “Rig Veda,” an ancient Hindu book
By MARIA BOWERS
How often do we find that our “intentions fall to the floor”? We start out with the best of intentions and suddenly we find ourselves right back into the ruts of habit. Yoga offers a solution.
Our intentions have power and energy. Intentions begin with thought, are expressed through words and acted out through deeds. Everything is consistent. A story from the book, “Autobiography of a Yogi” provides a great example.
A teacher and his pupil were on a retreat in a small jungle hut. The mosquitoes were biting and the pupil was being tormented. He raised his hand to swat and smash the insect, but then remembering his guru’s teaching of non-harming, he restrained himself, suffering in silence. Moments later, the guru said, why don’t you finish the job?” The boy was astonished and replied that he had stopped because of the teachings of non-harming, to which the guru answered that practicing non-harming had to begin with the removal of the desire to harm. Intention is born in thought and if we wish to follow through on our intention, then we need to start with our thoughts.
Starting with our thoughts is essential when creating new habits to replace old habits. When we first form our resolutions, we create a goal that is to our benefit. So we don’t think of our new habit as a sacrifice, but that the new behavior will enhance and enrich our lives. Intention begins with removing desire. This is a mental commitment to change behavior.
B.K.S. Iyenger, a respected yoga teacher, puts it this way, “what is not fed, will wither.” He points out that we all have three interconnecting segments of consciousness–the mind, the ego and intelligence.
The mind supplies memories, the ego watches out for us by navigating us towards pleasurable memories and avoiding painful one and our intelligence provides us with balance and discrimination. Whatever our ingrained habits might be, whether too much chocolate cake or not enough crack cocaine, the source is the same–the desire within your mental body. When we are holding our desired object in our hand, it may seem like magic, but it is not. It is the circle of dialog chattering with the mind, the ego and intelligence, except our intelligence was sleeping or we just were not listening.
How yoga helps is like this. Yoga provides principles to live by such as non- harming. When you accept the principle of non-harming, it follows that doing something harmful would alert both the mind and the ego to suppress the desire right at its starting place. The practice of yoga includes asana, or the yoga poses and breathe control. Both of these support greater awareness of the present moment, discipline and creative direction.
Ingrained habits are like mounds of garbage taking up space in our subconscious mind. Every move we make towards repeating habits are supported by our mounds of memory and emotions associated with the habit. We argue within our mental grooves, round and round, telling ourselves that we are in control, we have been very good, we deserve a little reward and on and on it goes until we have indulged ourselves. In the end, we feel anything but happy, not content, not satisfied and think, ‘oh what’s the use, I will drown myself in (fill in the blank). Another marathon is born.
The sorrow of consequence always follows.
As I stare into my laptop screen, I can see the image of a collective rolling of the eyes and the mutterings saying, ‘it is easy to say’, that yoga is like contorting like a pretzel and thinking about breathing is as exciting as watching grass grow. And I say to you, we all exist in body, mind and spirit and each and every one of us has divine energy and intelligence. We all act stupidly when we ignore our intelligence. So, it is helpful to be aware of the present moment and breathe before we act. When we want to change a habit, we should form an intention that begins in our minds–to purge the desire. Then, we ask ourselves what I need to do to actually follow through.
We need to remember our subconscious mounds. My mental image of my piles of habits is a cartoon like mountain of stinky manure. Every time we resist manipulation, we remove a big shovelful from the pile. Meanwhile, we create a new pile that says, ‘I do not want you. I am free.’ New habits involve a lot of digging. You can think of yoga, as if it was in a collection of shovels, of which you can choose some, and you give it a try.
Maria Bowers teaches Tai Chi and is a certified yoga instructor where she teaches Saturday classes at the Arts Center of the Capital Region in Troy.