I have a couple of fabulous yoga teachers who like us to set intentions for our practice. They might also use mantras or affirmations to help us connect with our innate positivity and carry our intention throughout the class. But I’ve sometimes been confused about which is which and frankly, which comes first, so I decided to delve in and work it out so that I can use each tool more effectively.
Intention is a goal. But, on a deeper level, it’s the whisper of who you want to be. Buddhist teacher Jack Kornfield writes: “Our hearts are like seismographs, picking up the tremors of intent.” Sometimes quiet, sometimes shy, intention can be buried deep.
Mantra is a sacred sound. Ancient mantras come from Buddhism, Hinduism and yogic traditions and they are usually written or spoken in Sanskrit. They are considered the ‘tools of thought’ and are designed to help us focus in on a certain word or phrase during meditation or yoga practice, liberating the mind from runaway thoughts. While a mantra can be sung, spoken out loud or repeated silently within our minds, it’s the vibration that counts. How does the phrase resonate?
The universal sound ‘aum’ is a beautiful mantra in itself, and it forms the basis of many other mantras too.
Affirmation is a positive statement. It’s designed to make you feel good and to help you work toward your goal. Technically, you can adopt an affirmation as a mantra if you like, repeating the word or phrase over and over again in your meditation or yoga practice or just in your daily life as a way to train your brain.
The science says that affirmations can help us by bolstering the idea we have of ourselves. They’ve been shown to help people overcome closed-minded thinking and unhealthy habits, expanding the sense of self.
You’ll find lots of affirmations on social media. They’re often presented in a handwriting font on a Post It note or a blackboard, like a note to self. A reminder. You can stick them up around your house if you want to, on your bathroom mirror, on the edges of your monitor or you can set them as an alert in your phone for a quick prompt into positive thinking.
Louise Hay was the Queen of Affirmations – her books Youcan heal your life and You can do it! being perfect places to start if you’re keen to move into a more positive frame of mind. Her website features daily affirmations and heaps of tools for self-reflection.
I’m currently working through Julia Cameron’s creativity program called The Artist’s Way. She uses affirmation as a tool throughout the program and I’ve found this to be quite helpful so far. I have a tendency to be a bit of a negative nelly, so this program has been reminding me to lift my mind to a more positive perspective and – even if it sounds simple or cheesy – I’m finding power in it.
My favourite affirmation from the program so far is:
Treating myself like a precious object makes me stronger.
This is the exact opposite of how I usually treat myself, self-flagellation and self-deprecation being my faithful companions on the journey thus far. Treating myself as a precious object is part of lifting myself up.
Language has an important place in the effectiveness of an affirmation. Positive, present-tense words and phrases are preferred.
“I am” is a fantastic place to start. But remember what our friend Yoda would say: “Do or do not. There is no try.” So you don’t want your affirmation to be “I am trying to be healthier” or “I am trying to save.” Instead, you want to affirm your intention. You want to bring it into your current state of being, and then you want to repeat the heck out of it. Louise Hay says you need to repeat it over and over again for 30 days.
While you’re training your mind in this way, keep an eye out for the negative affirmations that your inner critic might like to use. This can show up when you call yourself an idiot because you stubbed your toe or telling yourself you’re stupid when you’ve made a mistake. Having a heightened awareness of this tendency can be part of quieting the inner critic.
Negative affirmations have the power to limit us. For example, if you say “I’m not musical” with genuine belief, you’re setting the scene to not be musical.
Positive affirmations have the power to shift our reality. We can make our affirmations as far-fetched and exciting as we want them to be because there’s no reason to limit ourselves. We can reach for grand houses and financial abundance, perfect health and professional fulfillment – whatever floats our boat. From there, we need to take action when the opportunity arises and follow through on the thinking. Affirm, rinse, repeat.
Here are some of my current affirmations based on my goals:
- I am enjoying reading Swann’s Way, a novel by Proust.
- I am reducing my consumption by 50 percent.
- I am writing for pleasure and I’m finding my voice.
- My yoga practice gets better every day.
- Mindfulness allows me to choose love over fear.
What affirmations can you create? Can you contemplate your intentions in various aspects of your life and find a few statements that ring true for you? Let me know if you have any success with this method. I’d love to see photos of your affirmations stuck to your mirror – handwritten on Post It notes please! Have fun with it and may you be happy, healthy and free.