Quantum Physics, Yoga, and Intention

Reading the Tao of Physics by Fritjof Capra last night before bed, I went to sleep with images of the micro-verse whirling in my head: Protons; Neutrons; Electrons; electromagnetic field theory; and the ‘duality paradox’ of light being both a wave and a particle in quantum mechanics. [1]

In the quantum view of the universe, it becomes much less clear where we begin and end. Watching Jill Bolte-Taylor’s TED talk, My Stroke of Insight, many years ago, I considered that it might be only the limits of our conscious perception preventing us experiencing this for ourselves. Seeing 1950s Housewife Describes Her First Experience with LSD this week, made me ponder it again. 

Psychotropic drugs aside, the current standard model of particle physics reveals an inherent unity. “All things are seen as interdependent and inseparable parts of this cosmic whole; as different manifestations of the same ultimate reality.” [2] Moreover, the manifestation and behaviour of these phenomena are relative to the witness observer. They are born of a field of probability rather than a point in space-time. 

Therefore, if energy and information are the building blocks of matter, what does that mean for quantum theories of consciousness? Consciousness, the information of thought and intention, creates physiological, emotional and behavioural outcomes. Physiological behaviour, in turn, creates psychological outcomes. There is circularity and creativity in this cause and effect. How is this useful to us? 

Mind Body Connection

We can apply these concepts within our own mind-body connection. In Molecules of Emotion, Candace Pert PhD, affirmed the mind-body connection and offered western medical evidence of a biochemical basis of awareness and consciousness. [3] This is something much of Eastern philosophy, including Yoga, has expounded for centuries. The mind and body are integrated. They are one.

Pert’s psychopharmacological doctorate revealed the opiate receptor, cellular receptor molecules and their ‘keys’. Her work paved the way for greater understanding of cellular communication, via neurotransmitters, steroids and peptides, giving insight into our ‘chemical brain’ beyond our physical brain being hardwired to the nervous system. Beginning by wanting to understand behaviour from the perspective of biology, Pert became inspired by the concept that, “…consciousness creates reality, mind becomes matter, our thoughts precede our physical bodies.” I'm also inspired by what this can offer us in practical terms. 

The mind-body connection introduces an idea of a spiritual concept to health through an integration of physiological, psychological and spiritual. In “The Making of a Corporate Athlete” performance psychologist Jim Loehr and author Tony Schwartz turn this idea into an integrated theory of performance management.[4] In their High Performance Pyramid, they cite physical, emotional, mental and spiritual capacities as jointly necessary for peak performance.

Even more interestingly, their model suggests that it is the recovery of energy, as much as its expenditure that delivers peak performance under pressure. It is oscillation that generates the best results. We can see oscillation as mindfulness rituals that allow relaxation and recovery between periods of intense work. This is more than interval training. This is the cultivation of energy in it’s wave- and field-like nature and we can use this in our own lives.  

If you can’t get beyond the word ‘spiritual’, Loehr and Schwartz define this component as latent energy accessible through your deepest values, giving you the strongest sense of purpose. With this as the premise of mind-body connection, we better understand how Yoga uses the body to access the mind and the mind to access the body. When we face obstacles in our lives therefore, when we are stuck, what practical tools do we have to unblock?

Using the body to access the mind

The system of yoga is similarly founded on the principal of energy, known as prana in Sanskrit. The approach of Sage Patanjali’s eight limbs, astanga Yoga, outlines options for us to achieve integration through the cultivation of energy and awareness as information. Philosophy, the ethics and values of the yamas and niyamas, begin the work on the mind. The physical practice,asana, brings health and discipline, but it also allows us to access the mind and emotions through the body. Breath work, pranayama, bridges the mind and body, introducing deeper energetic work. Relaxation, pratyahara, allows recovery and prepares us for meditation. Focus, dharana, trains the mind for true meditation, dhyana. From which, enlightenment, or at least freedom from suffering, samadhi, is realised.

Body, breath and relaxation all represent ways to use the body to access the mind. This is often the most pragmatic place to begin. For example can breath differently to invoke our parasympathetic nervous system, our 'rest and digest' response, instead of our sympathetic nervous system, our 'fight or flight' response. It is an approach our limited conscious perception can handle. Then in the subsequent practices of postures, asana, breath work, pranayama, and relaxation, pratyahara, we become mindful, creating space and beginning to become aware of the effects of our practice and maybe even the pause between thoughts. When we are stuck, often these physiological practices can often bring release and unblock blockages without our intellectual intervention. It is common to experience anger, sadness or even tears at the end of a yoga practice and the release is often surprising, unexpected but very welcome.

In Yoga, as well as the targeting the cardiovascular and musculo-skeletal systems, we actively work with the respiratory, nervous, endocrine (hormones), lymphatic, reproductive, digestive, immune, and excretory systems. We can alter our overall alkalinity or acidity. We can create energetic outcomes in our practice, observing biochemical responses, emotions, behaviours and psychological states arising. We work to curate energy, whether for performance, recovery, self-inquiry or connection.

The system of Yoga, like anything else, can be misused in the physical domain. Repetitive, strong, homogenous practice that does not take into account the needs of the body-mind on a given day can be just as damaging as any other activity. It can be responsible for injury, premature aging and enervation. Similarly, insufficient practice can result in regression, imbalance and mood swings. When we under- or overdo, we can harm. When we balance, we can heal.

Using the mind to access the body

Other elements of Yoga use the mind to access the body. Philosophy, relaxation, and meditation use practices of focus, mindfulness and stillness to tap into energy and information that can heal. As Swami Satyananda Saraswati writes, “When one becomes aware of the inner processes of the mind and body, one can direct energies where they are most needed. People with diseases will know how to direct their inner energy to the diseased organ.” [5]

Studying Eastern systems of energy reveals the correspondence of energy centres, chakras, to our senses, our physiology and areas of our life. When we are blocked, there are often physiological as well as psychological and emotional symptoms. The symptoms may also not be obviously within, forming repeated patterns in our life and circumstances. Practicing mindfully and choosing our practices carefully, we are able to target conscious and subconscious blockages through these energy vortices.

We are also able to access the body and address issues in our life by consciously working with intention, called sankalpa in Sanskrit. Donna Farhi, “…cannot stress enough the importance of setting an intention at the beginning of practice, for this sets the stage for all that will follow.” [6] This is a part of yogic practice and a tool for the manifestation of real life change. Often introduced as part of a relaxation practice, Yoga Nidra, intentions are used to change habitual self-limiting thought patterns.

This is not just Pollyana optimism. We are subjectively said to process more than 70,000 thoughts a day. [7] Negative habitual patterns, known as samskara in Yoga, cause us to become stuck. These blockages can perpetuate suffering and manifest dis-ease. Working with Yoga, Meditation and Intention can begin to change this.

We should also note however that Yogic texts caution us to be careful about the use of intentions, sankalpa. They are just thoughts and, as such, regardedas part of the illusion of separation between the individual Self and the universal consciousness of the higher Self. We cannot attach to them too ardently. When we first start working with them, it is also common to try to change intentions frequently or work with too many intentions at once. This risks failure and disappointment.

How to develop an intention (sankalpa)

It is more effective to work with a single sankalpa, practicing with it until it manifests. Developing an appropriate intention takes time and often requires guidance from your teacher or counsellor. For a sankalpa to be effective it should be:

  • Clear and simple
  • Short and direct
  • Practical and achievable
  • Positive
  • In the first person
  • In the present tense (as if it has already been realised)

Examples of intentions, sankalpa, are:

  • I am whole and I am healed.
  • I am loved and I am loving.
  • I listen and I am heard.

Although it is not strictly necessary, I prefer to develop my sankalpa with a ‘give and receive’ structure. This supports the yogic concept of service and prevents me engaging in self-sabotage with subconscious contradictory thoughts and doubts.

In my own practice, I have also found it particularly useful to work with the chakra corresponding to the subject of my intention. For example, eating disorders are often manifestations of first chakra issues of nourishment and fear. For this, an appropriate sankalpa might be, ‘I am here and I am safe.’

Contact me if you are interested in this topic and would like a private appointment and consultation.


[1] Capra, F, The Tao of Physics, Collins Publishing Group, 1979, 1983.

[2] Ibid, 141.

[3] Pert, C, Molecules of Emotion: Why you feel the way you feel, Scribner, 1997.

[4] Loehr, J & Schwartz, T, “The Making of a Corporate Athlete” Harvard Business Review, January 2001.

[5] Saraswati, SS, Meditations from the Tantras, Bihar School.

[6] Farhi, D, Bringing Yoga to Life, Harper Collins, 2003, 155, L.2389.

[7] http://www.loni.usc.edu/about_loni/education/brain_trivia.php last accessed 24

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