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Positive Psychology, Yoga, and Setting Intentions – Emma Catto

Positive Psychology, Yoga, and Setting Intentions – Emma Catto

Contemporary psychology often talks about how the benefits of a positive outlook can improve mental health. Positive psychology in particular teaches us to be more optimistic and grateful in order to improve our outlook on life.

However, this practice of developing a positive outlook has ancient roots. Patanjali (often dubbed the father of yoga) prescribes 4 bhavanas or qualities for the spiritual seeker. These are service with compassion (karuna), friendliness and friendship (maitri), an attitude of joy (mudita), and non attachment (upeksha). These four elements make up universal kindness, and daily consideration of them will help to create ease in our own lives and the lives of those around us.

When we set a positive intention for ourselves or for others at the beginning of a yoga class we are focusing our minds and looking to something bigger than ourselves. When this has a devotional element, we transcend all religions and connect with our higher self or consciousness.

During our yoga practice, it is important to be friendly to ourselves, to be kind and loving to ourselves, to keep ourselves safe, and to begin to explore our inner world. Harsh self talk will make that more difficult. At Breathe, being friendly and kind is an important quality we look for in our teachers.

Lokha samastah sukhino bhavantu is a Sanskrit sloka or prayer that is often chanted at the end of a yoga practice. It means “May everyone in the whole world be happy.” It can be chanted, sung, or meditated upon, and offered as a prayer for the whole world. This increases our inner feelings of maitri and mudita and as we send this positivity out into the world.

In Buddhism these same qualities are called the four immeasurables (Bhramaviravas) and the Pali only differs a little from the Sanskrit; maitri is translated as metta, and refers to loving kindness, and upeksha is translated as upekkha. Buddhists see them as four elements of true love and there is a wonderful meditation called metta bhavana which is really helpful for developing metta

There are many variations of the loving kindness meditation wording, but I particularly love Sharon Salzberg’s words:

“May I be safe, be happy, be healthy, live with ease.”

Repeat this 3 times while directing this love and kindness to yourself. Then think of someone you love, who brings you joy, and repeat the words. Now repeat thinking of someone neutral; this could be someone in your local shop, your postman, whoever springs to mind. Then repeat with someone who you find tricky or irritating or have a dispute with. If this proves difficult then send the words back to yourself to help you soothe you in this relationship. Finally send out the words to the whole world, and then back again to yourself.

This is a brief synopsis of a wonderful, powerful technique, but if you search online for metta bhavana or “loving kindness” meditation online, there are lots of audio and written variations to help you.

My intention for this blog is that by setting positive intentions, chanting, or meditating, and paying kind attention to yourself on your mat and in your life, you will be filled with friendliness and loving kindness for yourself and the world.

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