What determines the result of any action in life is the Intention that lies behind it. Intention can be defined as something that you want or plan to do, in other words an aim that has a goal. To do something intentionally means to do something on purpose, to act in a conscious way. At the beginning of a Jivamukti yoga practice the teacher asks the students to set an intention for the class. To act with purpose and consciously connect breathing and one’s actions individually and collectively to the goal of Yoga ¬– Self-realization.
As Sharon Gannon says “You cannot do yoga, Yoga is who you are, your natural state, all you can do are practices that reveal your resistance to existing in that natural state“. The motivation for our practice must be clear from the start. What do we think this practice is really for? Are we aiming for union with the divine Self and cultivating a desire for Yoga? Is the practice developing our potential to see the divine in everyone and in everything we come into contact with? Our intention can help us cultivate compassion, kindness, and love.
In the Jivamukti yoga tradition we set the intention by chanting the following pledge: lokāḥ samastāḥ sukhino bhavantu – May all beings everywhere be happy and free and may the thoughts words and actions of my own life contribute in some way to that happiness and that freedom for all. Our thoughts are actions in rehearsal. When we think of others and dedicate our actions towards them it takes us out of our small egoic self and develops other-centeredness. This is a step towards yoga when others disappear and we see the oneness of being. This is enlightenment. Through repetition of this mantra the intention behind it becomes stronger in our lives.
Swami Nirmalananda taught Sharon and David this potent mantra. He lived like St. Francis of Assisi in his ashram surrounded by animals and bird song. He was the embodiment of this intention to practice ahimsā, nonviolence to all living beings. He suggested to sing the mantra with a melancholy inflection “to sing to God there must be a longing in your voice, a touch of sadness is good” he used to say. When we sing the mantra, we are keeping his presence alive, through our teachers and our lineage.
King Shibi, in the great epic the Mahabharata, took this pledge very seriously. He was known for his truthfulness, justice, and intention. King Shibi chanted the mantra daily and vowed to protect all beings in his kingdom. One day a beautiful small dove flew into the palace window shaking with fear. “Please protect me dear King” said the dove “I am being chased by a terrifying falcon who wants to kill me “. The Dove took shelter in the lap of the King, he could feel her breathing very fast. “Have no fear dear precious one” said the King “I will not let anyone touch even your feathers. Relax now and calm yourself “. The Kings intention when he took the throne was never to let the weak be exploited by the strong. Trees, birds, and all animals required his protection as well as human beings in his kingdom. Suddenly the falcon swopped into the window and landed in front of the King. “O King, you have hidden my prey, I am hungry and I must eat “. The King didn’t know what to do, he had vowed to protect all beings. He faced a dilemma, protect the dove would mean depriving the falcon of his prey. He was not vegetarian like some other animals so what could he do? King Shibi thought for a moment and then asked one of his courtiers to fetch him some scales. He asked the dove if she wouldn’t mind stepping on the scales to be weighed. She was very small and delicate and only weighed a few grams. “Please accept the offering of a part of my body to eat instead of the dove “, he told the falcon . So, he began to cut a section from his thigh and placed it on the scales. It didn’t weigh enough to balance the scales so he cut another section, but again the scales did not balance. The King kept cutting sections of his body but each time it didn’t balance out. Close to death and bleeding the King approached the falcon and said “I offer myself to you, take my whole body“. In that moment the God Indra revealed himself to Shibi. “You are a great King, you really say what you mean and mean what you say“. He restored the King’s body back together again and he continued to protect all beings in his kingdom.
Offer your practice to a being whom you love, or who is struggling with a situation in their own life. See them clearly in your mind’s eye and think of them during the class. Concentrating on them throughout the class means you do not think of yourself for a while and your problems. Offer your efforts to your teachers’ enlightenment and wellbeing. Wishing them well in their own sadhana is another way to elevate your thoughts and practice. Without the elevated intention the tendency to ruminate, think of yourself will be strong and lead us deeper into avidyā – a misperception of ourself. Are we interested in the goal of yoga or a physical work out? An asana practice without an intention will potentially make you stronger and fitter but it will not lead you all the way to yoga.
Whatever we turn our attention towards our energy and focus will be directed there. For our intention to be elevated Master Patanjali gives the following advice for those who are ready – Sutra 1.23 īśvara pranidhānād vā. By giving your identity to God you attain the identity of God. To focus the mind towards God and dedicate your actions so that all the energy and emotions are directed to that one goal. Patanjali suggests Bhakti yoga as a direct route to know God. Negative thoughts or emotions that comes up during the practice can be witnessed and the energy is redirected. We let go of that which is binding us in order to be liberated and purified by the intention we are working towards. Our minds and hearts are often troubled by our feelings towards others in our lives. When we sing “Make me an instrument for thy will, not mine but thine be done free me from anger, jealously, and fear, fill my heart with joy and compassion” Fear coming from the mūladhāra chakra, jealously from the Swādhishthāna chakra, and anger from Manipûra, we move towards the heart Anāhata chakra, where we remember to lovingly offer all actions up to the Divine. The presence of the Divine is felt as we remember our own soul, the ātman. We become God’s instrument and through that experience develop ātma-jñāna knowledge of the Self.
In the Bhagavad Gita Krishna explains to Arjuna that whatever fruits we receive from an action we should renounce and give up. This doesn’t mean we shouldn’t plan to do something or aim to act in a conscious way, just do not be motivated by what will happen but choose the intention wisely, have faith in that intention. The yogi acts in a way to strive towards the happiness of all beings and enhances the lives of others.