A popular proverb says, “The road to Hell is paved with good intentions.” I respectfully disagree. I understand the sentiment behind it …the idea that what you actually do is ultimately more impactful than what you meant to do. But, I feel certain that if there is a final judgment awaiting us at the end of our lives, the jury will weigh the contents of our hearts along with the results of our actions before rendering their final verdict. Intention is the essential seed for implementing positive change in our lives…and that change is pretty much doomed without it. Sadly we don’t generally stumble into greater health, happier relationships, clarity, and peace of mind without deciding and determining to create them. Intention is the vital first step in creation. The problem is, without consistent action to back them up, these ideals rarely breach the realm of thought to produce measurable results in the material world. You can fully intend to become a concert pianist, but you must actually sit down and practice, again and again, to learn how to play.
The Sanskrit word Bhavanam translates to “dwelling in the mind”, and refers to the magic of intention fused with action.The powerful union of the two is how we create miracles in our lives. First we decide that we are going to pursue a chosen goal…a healthy body, a calm, clear mind, a deeper relationship with spirit…and then the practices of yoga give us an opportunity to put these powerful intentions into concrete, step-by-step action. It is through bhavanam that our goals are manifested. The inspired visions conceived in our minds travel out of the confines of our thoughts and solidify into real world experiences. We can intend all day, but without putting our money where our mouths are, we just end up treading water, bemoaning our unchanging fate. We can run around frantically doing all the things we think we should do, but without a clear intention behind them, we might be surprised to find ourselves exhausted, even as we experience little real change. The measurable actions we take and the sacrifices we make at the altar of our dreams are what breathe them into life. The sacred marriage of a clear and pure intention enacted with methodical precision and consistency makes the previously impossible possible.
This is why yoga is so valuable. It is both practical and sublime. If you practice asana with the unwavering goal of greater physical health, you will pay close attention to the needs and limitations of your body in every moment. If you come to the meditation cushion with a crystallized intention to corral and learn from your unconscious thoughts, you will be better able to notice when you’ve gone off track. If you embrace the yogic practices as a ticket to an intimate relationship with your personal vision of divinity, every effort becomes a prayer. You absolutely must keep practicing, but sincerity is everything. One fully present sun salutation performed in the spirit of devotion will yield far greater rewards that a hundred done mindlessly without the full participation of your body, mind, and heart. All the striving the world will not lead the un-aimed arrow to the target.
There is a Zen teaching story that tells of a seeker who travels far and wide in search of a teacher. When he finds the teacher, at long last, sitting quietly by a river, the seeker pleads his case as to why the teacher should instruct him. The student talks a good game, but the teacher can hear beneath his words. ‘Here is your first lesson,” the teacher says, as he grabs the student by the neck and plunges his head into the river. The student struggles and flails. After what seems an eternity, the teacher pulls the student, gasping and sputtering, from the water. Finally, before walking away, the teacher declares, “When you want a relationship with God as much as you wanted that next breath, come back and see me.”
Yoga always comes back to balance. To progress on the path you need a heart and mind pure and clear in their desire, and then you must do the work to make your desires come true. Intention is the handlebars, and action is the pedals. When they work together, you are certain to reach your destination. Patanjali tells us, “For one who is deeply invested, success is close at hand.” (PYS 1.21) Practice, practice, with your eyes on the prize. Make your yoga practice an offering to your best self, as yet unrealized. Manifest the health, peace, love, and joy you desire in your life through your sincere efforts. Take heart, Dear Yoga Seeker. The recipe is tried and true. Get clear about why you are on this beautiful, challenging path, and do your work. The yoga will take care of the rest.
“If we are facing in the right direction, all we need to do it keep on walking”
– Gautama Buddha-