So I see that I got a little behind on blogging. I’ve been so focused on yoga nidra and the homework requirements between the courses/workshops that time flew right on by! I’m delighted to share with you that I recently completed the 100 hour (basic level) certification in IAM yoga nidra, recognized by Yoga Alliance (IAM stands for Integrative Amrit Method). Now I am back at home, ready to return to my writing. Earlier in 2019, I blogged about dream yoga, yoga nidra and related practices, so I won’t go into definitions here. Instead, I will write about a specific aspect: #intention and #affirmation.
Before we jump in, I’d like to make a distinction for clarification. Scholarly journals include studies revealing the effects of self-affirmations for a variety of behaviors. Within social psychology, self-affirmation theory looks at how people adapt to threats or information related to one’s self-concept. People are motivated to maintain integrity of the self. Sometimes the effect of self-affirmation is impressive, other times, neutral. Much of the research is focused on health outcomes like smoking cessation, appointment attendance, dietary and exercise regimens. Basically, when it comes to cognitions, or human thought processes, healthy self-talk and positive language use can’t hurt. It reaches into concepts of self-adequacy and self-integrity. On the flip side, we know that harmful, negative thoughts have an ugly impact on human development, adaptation, and success potential. I needed to mention self-affirmation theory (similar to cognitive dissonance theory) so that we know what we are NOT talking about. Instead, what we are talking about today, is something much more conscious. Something closer to a personal motto or mantra, if you will.
I’ve been thinking a lot about intentions and affirmations, and how these ideas extend beyond ego to touch on the transpersonal or spiritual. I’ve used intentions and affirmations with clients and with myself over the years in a variety of ways. They have supported my daily routines, meditations, and everyday attitudes. There is a difference between these two terms – intention and affirmation – but sometimes they are used interchangeably. Kamini Desai of the Amrit Yoga Insitute taught me that by consciously withdrawing attention from our tendencies, and instead placing attention/action in the direction we want to go, we thereby set intention. According to the American Psychological Association (APA) Dictionary of Psychology, an intention is any directedness in one’s thoughts or behaviors, whether or not this involves conscious decision-making. Simply put, an intention is a direction (without a specific endpoint). Intention is in opposition to reaction. It’s important that an intention resonates deeply, with all parts of us, so it can be a focal point for a long time. I often include Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) in my psychotherapy practice – in those cases, intention setting typically involves deliberate decision-making. I recall one client who struggled with follow-through all her life (this was ongoing) and feared that she would not graduate (a new, specific goal). We worked on practicing new behaviors over several sessions. Even though this memory is a few years old, I recall that the intention we used was something like ‘I persist and complete tasks with ease.’ Like the photo here, we have to climb our way out of things and it can feel tiring with life’s hurdles, but our perception matters. We can sprinkle our climb with rose petals (gentle intention supported with loving affirmation). When cultivating an appropriate intention for hypnotherapy or a meditation practice such as yoga nidra, I often rely more on intuition. This is because I am operating from a bit of a different space – after all with CBT, it’s more analytical. In both cases, for me, there is embodiment, mirroring, and attunement, yet CBT adds analysis of thought and behavior. When I relax and tap in to the heart center, and get out of my head, I have found that a trusted intention naturally emerges for myself or for a client or group. Here are some examples that one of my yoga teachers, Dr. Desai, shared with me:
I am timeless presence.
I am a carrier of peace.
I rest in the power of divine presence.
I recognize the way the universe supports me.
I ask for what I need.
Trust that you’ll know it’s the right one when you sense its resonance, perhaps through a subtle shift in the body. Keep it short and concise if possible. Ask yourself, Does this intention help me grow, become better, relax into life? If yes, then you are on the right track. I still recall this one from when I was working toward hypnotherapy certification in 2005: I am open, intimate and connected with others. Anytime my thumb and forefinger touch (anchoring), that phrase immediately comes into my awareness. That has grown to become, I stand in wholeness for 2019. Both of these intentions have served me for many months, and in the first example, many years. They allow me to settle in to my body and engage the world as it is.
As stated, intention and affirmation are terms often used interchangeably, yet to be technical, the specific distinction is that affirmations support the intention. Mornings are a wonderful time to set an intention, and throughout the day, one to three affirmations can be repeated to support that intention. Alternatively, one can simply return to the original intention. Or one can bring in the affirmation throughout the day.
Affirmations I have used with others when facilitating yoga nidra, or in my own practice are,
I open my heart completely and surrender fully and embrace totally what is present.
My body is the light – my heart is unconditionally open.
I shift out of reactivity and accept what is.
I am the designer of my destiny.
I trust the wisdom of my body to heal itself.
Everyday, in every way, I get better and better. (This final example might make a nice intention as well).
As long as there is total resonance while using affirmative, positive language, you can’t really go wrong. Just remember that an intention is like an orientation on a compass, which is often long-term, whereas an affirmation supports that direction and can change daily.
Intentions and affirmations can be written down and read or said aloud, proclaiming it to the universe. I say that it’s best to do both! They are often inserted in a hypnotherapy or yoga nidra session. Intentions and affirmations for future use might even emerge naturally as I guide my clients to the surface of awareness near the end of a session. For this reason, I advise keeping a notepad and pen at arm’s length.
When I teach on how to construct a vision board, intentions and affirmations are at the forefront. Even though a vision board is usually crafted in support of a specific goal with an end date, one can also be created as a reminder to keep our internal compass pointed in a particular direction. Think empowerment! Daily affirmations can enhance and fuel the totality of the vision board experience. This visual tool is as powerful as intentions and affirmations themselves. To learn more, write me or attend my vision board class in Auburn, CA this December.