The Physiology Behind Intention Setting

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I'm a nerd, most of my friends know this. Today I let my nerd flag shine - I parooze medical articles for fun and straight up FREAK OUT when they align with holistic modalities I love. So here's a peek of that very happening:

‘Setting intentions’ is a phrase we hear often these days in yoga journals and new-agey blogs or perhaps in a passing conversation at our local Whole Foods. However, is there really any science to back up the claim that our thoughts really do manifest themselves in our physical world? Do our thoughts really become our reality and does meditation play a role in this process? Science says yes.

There are two key areas of the brain utilized when setting intentions. The ACC hub and the amygdala. The ACC (anterior cingulate cortex) and the DLPFC (dorsal lateral pre frontal cortex) combine to create the ACC hub. The DLPFC is responsible for gathering information and making sense of it all ex: problem solving (5). The ACC is associated with motor skills involving the follow through of plans. It is this dynamic relationship that is fundamental in the foundation of how our brain leads you to act on intentions. We will focus on the ACC hub to further understand how our intentions lead to action.

The ACC oversees our attention as defined as purposeful and sustained regulation of thoughts and behavior. The ACC does not fully develop until you are about 6 years old which is why younger children have a harder time with self-control.

The limbic system, the area that supports many functions including motivation, long-term member, behavior, and even our sense of smell, works in correlation with the ACC in relation to emotions (1). Ever had a scent  bring you right back to a beautiful childhood memory? This is an example of our ACC kicking in, a key area of thinking and feeling.

Meditation strengthens the ACC and allows a greater sense of calm during times of conflict and emotional upheaval. Some define this as emotional intelligence or reasoned meditation. Meditation neuro-physically strengthens our ability to stay calm and centered when stressed (2). 

The second key player in intention and motivation setting is the amygdala. The amygdala highlights the details of what is important in our experience or world around us. For example, threats, pleasantries, situation evaluation all take place here in the amygdala (3). It is important to note that this is most often subconscious, thus incredibly powerful. When the amygdala is in alignment with our limbic system we feel highly motivated and produces theta waves (4). Therefore, when our intention takes shape, there is a neural harmony or pulsing orchestration of waves. Theta waves are known for signaling a state of relaxation and are often seen just before we fall asleep, or REM sleep. These waves are also seen when meditating, especially using the technique of ‘no thought’ (6). This relaxation and working relationship between the amygdala and ACC physiologically explain how our thoughts can become our actions.

Intention setting consequently has a direct correlation to our ability to follow through with plans - making our thoughts a reality and meditation only strengthens this by harmonizing brain waves. Next time you catch yourself thinking negatively about the future, take a moment to re-center and focus your attention on the emotions, smells, and actions you will take to create a positive future. You now know the science behind why and how your intentions become our actions.

1., 2. 3.

A Story on Loss, Grief, and Finding Acceptance in the Unknown

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I feel my stomach tighten as I begin to write this. How do I convey the complexities of the process, the vindicated healing while also paying tribute to the deepest pain?

The end of the year brings a time of reflection and this year I have so much to be grateful for and also to grieve, be angry, or bitter about. I choose love. I choose gratitude. I choose growth. I choose to renew.

On January 1 2017, I was plump and pregnant with my first child. My son. By March 13, I’d be holding my son for the first and the last time. You see, my son was born without breath. While I knew motherhood would be challenging and push in ways I’d never expect, an incredible mirror, if you may; I never pictured this. I knew I’d lead by example but never in this way. My strong heart and gentle mind serve me now in ways I never could have imagined.

But this isn’t about my son; this is about me. This is about discovering who I am after - after my son. This is about renewal.

Someone once told me that when it comes to the fire of grief you can’t go around it, under it, or over it. You have to go through it, but what I did not understand is that going through the fire is half the battle. On the other side of the fire is water so deep and so dark you’re not sure you’ll make it before your next breath. In these depths I work, wait, and accept. I work hard with myself, wait with patience for myself, and accept the ebb and flow of my healing.

We’re all on our own journeys, I tell myself. I’ve been to hell and, well, halfway back.

In this renewal I have reprioritized my life. I now make choices that fulfill me and connect me to my purpose. One of these choices included switching careers and taking the leap to work as an Experience Leader for Unsettled. If I’ve learned one thing through Unsettled, it’s that we all show up in this life, shaped by the experiences that we go through. We choose some of these experiences and some of them choose us. 

I chose Unsettled because in a world with increasing loneliness and solitude, I believed that if we fostered real connections with ourselves and each other, then we would create a sense of belonging we ultimately all looked for. How can we heal if not together? How can we overcome adversity, find meaning, or become better, if not together?

We’re all on our own journeys, I tell myself. Unsettled participants and facilitators alike. The last three months of my journey took me to Bali, where the expansive energy is palpable.

In these three months, I felt myself expanding spiritually, emotionally, and even physically. I witnessed over 90 people experience their own version of this. That’s half the point of Unsettled. We curate just enough of an experience so that each participant feels empowered to create his or her own experience. Because some of us are healing. Some are swimming upstream and some are floating.

These last three months were filled with moments shared with people I felt truly connected to. People who inspired, accepted, and appreciated each other, no matter their journey.

It’s true work and it has stretched me in ways I couldn’t have imagined. I’ve stepped into my own; into spring after a very long personal winter. This has been my experience at Unsettled. It will not be yours. I’ve learned that we shouldn’t expect something out of an experience. Expectations of this kind are handcuffs that hinder our possibilities. In order for any kind of real change to take hold in my life, I’ve learned to step into the unknown. I’ve learned to walk into the fire without being able to see the other side. I’ve learned to fall into the deep blue sea, without knowing where the surface is. I’ve learned there’s more in the unknown than the known.

A year on, life is far from perfect and I continue to heal, or if nothing else, I just continue. This sums up where I am in my life right now: today, I am swimming -- strong, flowing, following my truth. I am continuing to make space for my healing. I haven’t quite reached the surface but I am close. Close to coming up for air.

My personal journey has evolved during these months in Bali, but more importantly it helped me draw out how I contributed to the experience which I share with people who are on their own experience.

Aren’t we all silently fighting our own battles? Aren’t we all still defining what self-discovery means to us? Aren’t these 30 days a platform to navigate through personal, professional and emotional growth? I’ve seen that given time and space, these things are possible.

We tell our participants from day one that no two experiences at Unsettled are the same, be it in Bali or Buenos Aires. The framework exists, but the canvas is left blank for each of us. And these last three months couldn’t have illustrated that better for me. We are all on a path to discovery -- in our relationships with others and ours with ourselves. Sharing the last 90 days with 90 people from around the world was as much of an inward journey, as it was an enriching outward path that helped define what lies ahead.

As this year comes to a close, I look back with gratitude, with grief, and with renewed strength to accepting uncertainty. Some of life’s greatest lessons start with an unimaginable embrace of the unknown, and these are the experiences that, when we find the surface, are our greatest teachers.

Wherever your journey takes you in 2018... dig deep, embrace it, and find your purpose.

I’m finding mine.