Mantras, intentions + affirmations: What's the difference + how to use them effectively.
"At no other time has the power of the word been more exhibited than in this century. Politicians get elected by the power of their words. The power of words can be clearly seen in the present-day advertisements. Even the most worthless of products can be made to seem the best by clever words. So the power of the word can be misused also. That is why, before you handle the words, you should have purity of mind." This excerpt from my preferred translation of the Sutras of Patanjali is what inspired me to write this post. The quote comes from Swami Satchidananda's musings from Sutra 28: "Tajjapas tadartha bhavanam" (To repeat it with reflection upon it's meaning is an aid) When I read this portion I became very highlighter pen happy! Language and verbal expression in my asana classes has always mattered, avoiding using phrases such as 'full expression of the pose' which passively suggests if you can't get into it you are less than or even the power of the simple word 'just' ; "if you can't do X pose just do Y pose instead" . Another key part to the sessions I share are the affirmations, mantras and intentions, in every class there is time reserved for them, to set the tone, to inspire the practice and to then marinade in at the end. The role they play is possibly overlooked and maybe considered to be some sort of fluffy filler by some. But when closer attention is paid, the more we contemplate, the more the practice and all contained within it, comes to life! Many of us underestimate the impact of words, sounds and their energetic value. Think about if you've ever practiced Yoga Nidra or the Body Scanning Meditation Technique - how just by hearing a body part spoken aloud, we can direct our attention immediately there. If you haven't practiced this before, or even if you have; I invite you to sit for 30 to 60 seconds with your eyes closed, and direct all of your awareness into your lower belly. Experience yourself taking charge, lighting up that area, channeling energy. Where your attention goes, energy flows. Now imagine using that same technique to channel energy into different areas of your life! MANTRAS It makes sense to start at the beginning. From my own studies, it seems to be that the mantra is the mother of affirmations and intentions. The original source. Mantra quite literally means 'mind protection'. MAN mind TRA protection Mantras are made up of sanskrit words, sounds and syllables, hummed and chanted in varying tones. The repetition of mantras can increase our ability to focus and put us firmly and intricately in the moment, taking our minds to quieter levels. Every traditional mantra when broken down reveals its own meaning and in time, spiritual power. To give you some examples: SO HUM I am That / I am All / All is within me SAT NAM Truth is my essence If you are totally new to mantra study, or maybe have experimented with them before in the spirit of going-with-the-flow (but not really getting it), then I lead you back to the beginning - to the seed mantra of Om. If you do fall into that bracket, consider what it was that held you back from asking what was the reason behind the mantra chanting? Or contemplate why maybe it didn't occur to you to ponder upon its origin or meaning - and what truth lies behind that lack? I believe we should always enter spaces presented to us as yogic with a thirst for knowledge and the courage to speak up and ask questions, as a way of honoring our quests to connect and of holding teachers accountable. OM Om is considered to be the sound of creation, belonging to the Universe. To refer back to the same Sutra translation I mentioned already: "Om is the origin, or seed, from which all other sounds and words come. After the verbal sound ends there is still a vibration." Consider how, anywhere you sit, inside or out, day or night, if you sit quiet, after a while, you will detect the sound of a soft hum. Try it now, maybe for a minute, listen closely to silence and see if you can find the hum. This helped me in understanding the mystic sound of Om and how it can be interpreted as connecting to God, no matter what your beliefs. It is interesting to note here the similarity the sound has to Amen or Ameen. The repetition of a mantra is Japa Yoga which is communion with God / The Divine / A Higher Power / The Universe through repetition. Whoever or whatever you devote yourself to - Om can be representative of that. When starting out, allow yourself to focus only on the sound and vibration of the humming, to get swept up in it. Once you feel like it is flowing naturally, the Japa has become like second nature, then you may gear up to meditate upon its meaning. But it's important to not get yourself into a state of waiting for something to happen, this isn't a goal orientated practice, more of an opening up of a conversation, a dedicated effort towards Svadhyaya (self study) and Ishvara Prahnidhana (surrender) Devote yourself to the ritual of Om chanting - and maybe when you feel ready, start to explore and delve into some longer mantras, always with this commitment to grasp their roots and true meaning. If you are particularly drawn to sanskrit mantra repetition, a great source for learning about yogic traditions and correct pronunciation is from one of my absolute favourite online yoga teachers @tiwariyoga Mindless mantra repetition can backfire on a karmic level if you go in blind or ignorant. Which leads us nicely on to look at intentions... INTENTIONS To live a yogic life is to look for the intention behind every action. To do this actively would be mentally exhausting, think of it as more like behind the scenes work, happening in your subconscious, within a subtler layer of yourself. But how do we programme ourselves to activate this mindful structuring? An effective way to reset your frame of mind and become more aware is by setting your own intentions. In Sanskrit this is called your Sankalpa. SAN a connection to your highest truth KALPA vow The setting of your sankalpa or intention is a pact you make with yourself to work towards creating a life that is aligned with your beliefs and potential, and lived with purpose. Our sankalpa creations show us how to do all the things we are already doing, on purpose, with intention. Breathing deep, moving well, listening intently, learning patiently... Your sankalpa should ring true to you but not be mixed up with a specific goal. It should be somewhat broad. For example: I prioritise peace. I acknowledge my worth. I use my energy wisely. An ideal time to search for your own intention is at the beginning and end of a yoga asana (posture) class. Questions will lead you to your truth. What brings me to this practice today? What would I like to offer to the world today? What do I hope to receive? The why behind what you do, there resides your intention. AFFIRMATIONS The verb affirm kind of has 2 meanings that can both be applied in relation to affirmation practice. To affirm is to state something as it is. The other definition takes on the role of encouraging or emotionally supporting something. So if we implement these 2 notions of what it means to affirm, we state our affirmation, presenting it as factual and unshakeable, pre existing, we state it with conviction and back it up with some oomph! An affirmation in contrast to an intention, absolutely can and should be goal oriented, get specific! If you are new to this, maybe start out by seeking relatable and applicable affirmations online. A go to is the Instagram page @wetheurban - check out the captions on their posts for beautifully put together word salads! Another page to hit up for creative use of language with intent to inspire is that of the gorgeous @koyawebb I believe affirmations to be more potent when we aspire to tailor them to fit our own personal wants, needs and desires. Think of your affirmations as a complement to a manifestation practice, along with vision boards, day planners and self development sessions. The start of your day is an ideal time to speak your affirmation aloud. The morning's can serve as a little welcoming ceremony, an opening, an inhale. Some examples to give you a feel for what an affirmation might sound like: My business grows and gets better every day. I am creating my dream life. I am worthy of receiving my yes. Which do you feel most drawn to? I think you can mix and match these practices depending on where you're at in life. I feel it necessary to clarify here that I don't support any outlandish claims that this kind of work can heal or prevent sickness or magically make you millions. But I do believe they can provide a beacon of light in dark times, aid us in keeping our shit together and inspire greatness. Share below your thoughts :)