The difference between a goal and intention
Yoga is an inside job. Your experience of the world is yours and yours alone. Every time you practice an āsana, it is up to you to go as far as is right, to notice the thoughts in your mind about the pose or to breathe fully or not. As we progress down the inner yogic path we soon start to learn the difference we have with our goals versus our intentions.
What will make you feel more like you? Like your highest self? My answer: to be easier with life, to stop trying to make things happen and allow them to evolve. What do I want? I want to make more money, buy a house in the mountains with lots of land. I want to teach all over the world. Both are related. One is an inner feeling and the other is what shows up in my life if I feel that way.
In a recent workshop I was teaching, I posed the question, “What’s the difference between a goal and intention?” Goals generally relate to some thing you want or an end result like being more relaxed, getting into a certain pose or getting a promotion at work. Intention is the why behind what it is you want in life. It is the motivating factor.
Let’s look at these two things: goals and intentions. How are they different and how do they relate?
Goals are tools we have all learned to utilize in our lives to help us determine where we are going or what we want to achieve. They are useful tools to help us know where to direct our vital energy energy–or prāṇa. In the end, nearly all goals are an outward focus of our time, energy and effort. They are externally focused on attaining or achieving some thing. Goals relate to what we want in life.
Don’t get me wrong, goals can be very useful. They can help provide motivation and clarity for you and your life. My husband and I have had a goal for the last 10 years to move to the mountains. Goals at work keep you task oriented and help you progress through your day and career. Goals can keep us focused every day or over a long period of time. A goal to lose 10 pounds can help you stay accountable to your workouts.
My family has been saving up for our move and we are now getting ready for a yard sale to clear out the house of things we don’t need. Goals are a wonderful tool to help you stay committed to the things that are important in your life.
I see yoga as a lifestyle and I find ways for my students and myself to live their yoga. A goal in your physical yoga practice might be to hold a crow pose (bakāsana) for 10 breaths. Another goal could be to reach your hands to the floor in a standing forward fold (uttānāsana). This would be great for a person with notoriously tight hamstrings. Maybe kindness is a goal for you. A goal aligned with kindness — ahimsa — could be to find five times a day you can smile at strangers. Perhaps the mind is an obstacle for you so you set a goal to meditate for 15 minutes a day for 40 days straight. These are all great goals to strive towards.
Goals are aligned with desires and results in our lives. Intentions on the other hand are more inwardly aligned with the way we feel about our lives. If you don’t feel good, it won’t matter what goals you achieve.
Here are some examples of intentions:
- I make inner harmony my first priority.
- With great respect and love, I honor my heart, my inner teacher.
- I am whole.
- To be here truly is enough. I am enough.
- My life is easy and abundant.
- I am free to be me.
- I am fulfilled.
- I am grateful for everything in my life.
- I listen to my inner wisdom.
In yogic terms, intention is called a sankalpa. A sankalpa is not just any old intention but a heartfelt intention, one based on inner knowing rather than logical thinking. A true heartfelt intention guides you toward feeling more aligned with your Highest Self, and shifts you in a positive life direction.
There are endless sankalpas out there. The most important things are that they resonate deeply within you, they are first person (I am statements are a nice place to start), they are succinct – short and sweet, are present moment based (like they are already true), and in a positive tense.
Heartfelt intention (sankalpa), when used with wisdom practices like yoga, meditation, yoga nidrā, etc, can be a powerful seed planted in the fertile soil of a clear and open mind. Intentions, in this sense, do not rely upon an outward event or obtaining some thing. When you invite the clear wisdom of the heart to shine through and you open up and listen to that intuitive inner knowing, you will receive the guidance you are seeking. So instead of reaching for something and directing your energy outside first — achieving goals, look inward and move toward a felt sense. Intentions are a deep knowing within the body, mind and heart. What will make you feel more like you?
With intention, you bring awareness and light to what your heart desires. Waking your Self up so you can embody it more and live fully from that expression rather that going outward to chase something. Happiness doesn’t lie in things or achievements. A person you adore, a colorful bouquet of spring flowers, a well deserved promotion, the vacation of your dreams are only temporary means of happiness. When the trip is over or the flowers wither, the happiness they brought may also fade. Which means that the world is not the path of happiness. Happiness exists fully from within. Any happiness the world gives us is only a reflection of the happiness that already exists inside. That is where we cultivate our highest good and eternal sense of peace and joy. That is what a great sankalpa — heartfelt intention can offer.
Now It’s Your Turn
Most of us humans, myself included, start with the goal in mind first. We forget about the reason we want things. This happens so easily in the material world we live in. This week journal about what you really want in life. Who do you want to be? Why do you want to be that? Then start holding that in all your actions. Wake up to it, think about it through your day, go to sleep with it in your heart. When you do this you will begin to really know and understand what it means to live your yoga.