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The Art and Science of Manifesting

When I was a child growing up on a farm in the mostly snow-covered fields of Minnesota, I imagined a very different life: living in an airy house in a sunny climate, wearing flowing white clothes and welcoming many guests. In junior high, I wrote a paper on being a freelance writer. Today, I am a freelance writer in Southern California in a spacious home with plenty of guests (relatives from Minnesota!); and yes, I do like to wear white. Exactly how this life materialized seems to be part conscious determination, part cosmic mystery—and there you have the maddening beauty of manifesting. We turn thoughts, dreams and goals into reality all the time. But, just as commonly, our plans don’t turn out as we expected. How much of the process is within our control?

There is widespread interest in how to intentionally create the lives we want. Books and resources on manifesting are everywhere. One widely read recent example is Wayne Dyer’s best-selling book and PBS series, Wishes Fulfilled (Hay House 2012), which also launched the best-selling Dying to Be Me (Hay House 2012), in which author Anita Moorjani details her return from near-death and subsequent healing from terminal cancer. Gabrielle Bernstein is another best-selling author, whose book May Cause Miracles (Harmony 2013) has manifested large audiences.

As a fitness and wellness professional, you too are a practitioner of the transformative arts. Clients look to you every day to help them conjure change, and they’re increasingly aware that the physical, mental and spiritual realms work together. How can you help them improve their skills at transforming intentions into reality? We asked a diverse panel of fitness professionals to discuss their beliefs and experiences.

If Wishes Were Horses

The book and movie The Secret by Rhonda Byrne (Atria/Beyond Words 2006) turned the concept of manifesting into a mainstream phenomenon, for better or worse. “After The Secret, we had to do a lot of triage on people who got the wrong message,” says David-Dorian Ross, creator of the TaijiFit™ Experience, seven-time U.S. national champion, world silver medalist and two-time world bronze medalist in tai chi. “People thought all they had to do was think positive thoughts to get what they wanted. While many of us think positively about having a lot of money, very few of us have an armored car drive up to our front door and drop it off. People missed the critical component of taking action. As fitness professionals know, it’s important to think positively about fitness, but you also have to combine it with actual work.”

“The whole idea that there’s some awesome way to wish that will make things happen is completely unfounded and narcissistic,” says Will Marre, founder and CEO of the REALeadership Alliance, and co-founder and former president of the Covey Leadership Center. “If it were that easy, everyone would be doing it. In its worst form, the law of attraction can encourage blaming the victim for tragedies. It can also give people the idea they don’t have to act, or take as much action, because envisioning will be enough.”

Highly successful people get that way by being extraordinary at something and working hard at it, says Marre. “We hear the manifesting success stories, but not the failures. For every superstar, there are hundreds or thousands whose dreams don’t come true.” Despite Marre’s skepticism, he does believe that positive thoughts can lead to success. “We shouldn’t wait for our best life to start. It’s happening right now! Being able to imagine your goals is necessary but insufficient. You have to take action consistent with that vision. The genius of the law of attraction is that you think about what you want and pay attention to opportunities you otherwise wouldn’t see. You get better at paying attention to what has already been there. If you find and develop your ‘superpower,’ or an area in which you are extraordinary, you’ll be successful. On the other hand, if you tell yourself negative things—for example, that you’ll never get clients who will pay you what you are worth—you are much less likely to see opportunities or take action.”

While authors and experts have different views on how the process works, they tend to agree that action is critical to manifesting success, and that success is not guaranteed—too much of life is simply beyond our understanding.

Gloria Keeling, a personal trainer in Santa Monica, California, and founder of Strong, Stretched & Centered Mind/Body Fitness Training Institute, notes, “I’ve been an intention-setter and manifester my whole life, and I’ve learned that manifesting does not solve every problem. For example, you can create intentions until the cows come home, but when Mother Nature says it’s time, it’s time.”

Real-Life Stories

Who has successfully turned dreams into reality? It happens quite frequently! Kate Larsen, MCC, BCC, CWC, executive coach and author of Progress Not Perfection (Expert Publisher 2007), created a cardboard collage in high school, including a picture of a husband and wife, an English Tudor house, a boat and several children. When she found it recently in her hope chest, she was surprised to see that the scene matched her family and her life, down to the style of her home. “There was even a candlestick in the collage.

My kids notice if I don’t put a candle on the table. I have candles everywhere. [A candle is] a symbol of my intention to be a light in the world. Who I am today started with a vision, even before I knew what the vision was.”

Keeling says her most meaningful manifestation began on her 35th birthday. “I was teaching fitness on Maui. It was the first time I realized that I wouldn’t live forever, and I started to pray to the universe to use me, because I had a sense of something big that I could contribute. I meditated on it, and within a few weeks, I had the idea of creating a global mind-body fitness training program.”

Wahe Guru Kaur, kundalini yoga instructor and owner of The Awareness Center in Pasadena, California, wanted to be a mother but, at 39, believed the opportunity had passed her by. She created a vision board and wrote out her intentions with her husband. Together they did an intention-setting process that involved creating sentences, words and a symbol to represent what they both intended. “We looked at the vision board every day and meditated on the symbol.

Gradually I realized that I no longer believed being a mother was impossible for me. There was a point when I suddenly ‘knew’ I was a mother. I quickly became pregnant. Later someone looked at the board and asked if I realized all my pictures were of boys. I hadn’t noticed it—but we have boys, and they look uncannily like the pictures.”

Tom Terwilliger, online coach, international speaker and author, turned his intentions into success when he earned the title of Mr. America. He describes his process in 7 Rules of Achievement (Morgan James Publishing 2010). “I have experienced a lot of manifesting in my life, including this interview! Several days ago, I decided that I needed to bring in more interviews. I took action, because that changes the energy of things. I booked several interviews, and I got this call, with a topic of manifesting—holy mackerel! That wasn’t a result that I had expected. I’m still amazed by the interesting synchronicities that happen.”

The 3-Pound Universe

In The Biology of Belief (Hay House 2007), author Bruce Lipton describes how thoughts, or the mind’s energy, directly influence the body’s physiology. For example, he explains that thought energy can activate or inhibit a cell’s function-producing proteins. Harnessing the power of the mind can be more effective than drugs in many cases, he believes, because energy is a more efficient means of affecting matter than chemicals.

We still have a long way to go in understanding the process or utilizing it effectively, Lipton explains, although it may ultimately be an area where science and spirituality intersect. “Learning how to harness your mind to promote growth is the secret of life. . . . Of course the secret of life is not a secret at all. Teachers like Buddha and Jesus have been telling us the same story for millennia. Now science is pointing in the same direction. It is not our genes but our beliefs that control our lives.”

In The Intention Experiment (Free Press 2007), author Lynn McTaggart notes that successful athletes have been employing the power of thought for decades, using vivid, highly detailed internal images and run-throughs of their entire performance. She says, “A sizable body of research exploring the nature of consciousness, carried on for more than thirty years in prestigious scientific institutions around the world, shows that thoughts are capable of affecting everything from the simplest machines to the most complex living beings. This evidence suggests that human thoughts and intentions are an actual physical ‘something’ with the astonishing power to change our world. Every thought we have is a tangible energy with the power to transform.”

Michele Hébert, master raja yoga and meditation teacher, and author of The Tenth Door (Emerald Book Company 2011), says that “in the yogic school we believe that everything that happens to us we create. We craft our lives in three ways—[with] our speech, actions and thoughts. Many believe our thoughts are the most powerful. When we align our thoughts with divine will, or the energy of the universe, we can move mountains.”

In Wishes Fulfilled, Dyer recommends continually shifting your attention from the day-to-day material world to a plane of nonphysical awareness that represents your spirit or higher self, the part of you that is a “fragment of the universal soul.” The more you develop your awareness of a higher level of consciousness with infinite possibility, the more you are able to discard self-limiting beliefs. The idea is not to try to change negative thoughts but simply to choose better ones, says Dyer, by constantly asking yourself if you are coming from your ego or from your higher self.

Moorjani says she prefers the word allowing to attracting, and that the external world is only a reflection of our internal one, so it’s critical that we don’t harbor fear and judgment, especially toward ourselves. “If there’s something I desire, the idea isn’t to go out and get it, but to expand my own consciousness to allow universal energy to bring it into my reality here.”

In May Cause Miracles, Bernstein also emphasizes the importance of positive thoughts and attitudes, particularly toward ourselves and our bodies. “When we carry around resentments, self-hatred and judgment, we attack our bodies with low-level thoughts and energy, separating ourselves from love,” she says. Instead of identifying with our ego and believing we are our bodies, she suggests, we can view the body as a learning device through which to reconnect with our true essence—which is love—and to serve the world rather than get something from it.

Says Ross, “Personally I do believe in a divine and cosmic force at work that wants us to be abundant and happy and that loves us in the same way I love my own children. When we express love, we are aligning with the divine and we attract positive things into our lives.”

Many spiritual leaders, including Deepak Chopra, MD, FACP, and physicist Menas C. Kafatos, PhD, believe this macrocosm of love and abundance may exist within the microcosm of our mind, referring to it as the “3-pound universe” that is our brain.

“Where is all of this coming from?” asks Hébert. “It is coming from within us.”

The Physics of Energy

Personal trainer and mind-body energy coach Steve Jack, founder of Team Dynamix and a TRX® master trainer, has studied manifesting with scientists, shamans and wellness teachers around the globe. He believes the process of creating reality through intention is a matter of physics, not philosophy.

“A model of how this works is based on the quantum physics discovery that our body, thoughts and everything around us are a field of energy. In this model, our thoughts or intentions are crystalline light energy that exists in the nonphysical plane as well as in the physical dimension.

Particulates of light order themselves around our intention to create a template that ultimately becomes reality in the physical plane. The energy of our consciousness creates a frequency, and the higher the frequency, the stronger the establishment of the template. If you go into anxiety or fear, the frequency drops and the template formed by the light collapses. The challenge is maintaining the emotional and mental stability to hold the vibrational frequency.”

In this energetic model of intention setting, manifesting is helped by aligning and strengthening the hara line, which relates to the chakra system of kundalini energy in yoga and the Chinese concept of the dan tien, centerpoints in the body from which you move and direct power. In Chinese martial arts traditions, energy of the body, earth and sky (or universe) is referred to as chi. “Chi animates everything,” says Michael Chavez, Dayan qigong and tai chi instructor and founder of Los Angeles River Tai Chi Chuan & Qigong Club. “With the arts of tai chi and qigong, we develop awareness of chi and learn to direct and extend it.”

Many experts believe it isn’t just the thought that matters when it comes to manifesting; it’s also the emotion attached to the thought. “Love has a high vibrational frequency, and fear has a low vibrational frequency,” says Jack. “We want to think our way through life, but I don’t think the essence of manifesting is about thinking processes like goal setting. It’s much better to set a deeper intention with a feeling of love, asking for the outcome that is for the highest good of all. Holding a specific outcome in your mind can limit the possibilities. Divine presence will bring it about in a more expansive way.”

Says Chavez, “We want to manifest something worthwhile, and the only thing worth manifesting is something lasting and for the greater good. The metaphor is the quest of ancient alchemists to create gold—ultimately, the gold we seek is not wealth, but spirit.”

What Do You Want?

Practically speaking, the question of what you want to manifest is more complex than it sounds. “The number-one thing that will get in the way is not slowing down and thinking about what we really desire in the first place,” says Larsen. “Fitness pros need to think about the price they might pay for what they want. Will working too many hours cost you your marriage or the chance to have a family? Will getting this great promotion today keep you from starting the business you’ve dreamed of? Listen to your gut, especially if something doesn’t feel right. Talk to the people you love, and take time to reflect. If you don’t, 20 years can fly by before you wonder why you haven’t manifested what you hoped for.”

Trainers and coaches also have a great opportunity to get clients to think about what they really want, even from their workouts. “People say they want to exercise more,” says Larsen. “But I say, ‘No, what you really want is the benefit. What will exercise bring you?’ That is really what your client wants to manifest.”

Honoring Intentions
Great and Small

Fitness pros have to expand their own vision first and then encourage their clients to do the same, says Terwilliger. “A few years ago I thought that owning several personal training studios was good enough for me. Then I started to wonder how I could impact millions of lives, so I expanded my vision and, as a result, became one of the top online coaches and wrote a book. We all either shrink or expand, depending on our vision of ourselves. First we have to ask ourselves and our clients questions, such as, ‘What do you see for yourself in the future?’ Then we have to ask, ‘What if you went a little bigger?’”

Helping clients with the process of manifesting is individual and circumstantial, says Wahe Guru Kaur. “On the most basic level, we need to be compassionate and accept wherever they are, so they can accept themselves without judgment as a beginning point [from which] to manifest change.”

Keeling, who is herself 70, trains older adults. “My client Ruth, who died of congestive heart failure at the age of 92, told me near the end that she was ready to go. Why then, I asked, was she still working out with me twice a week? She told me she wanted to be the best she could be while she was here. Everyone wants to be the best they can be in the moment. It’s our job to honor that.”

Keeling has clients who can barely breathe or walk. “Working out is the only thing that’s keeping them functioning. That doesn’t mean they’re not manifesting. Their intention is to be alive and well while they’re here. My intention is to be there for them at whatever level they need me, and to expand their awareness of being a human to as big as they can get it. What matters is the spirit in which we train. We have a glorious opportunity to raise people up, to help them manifest their best selves.”

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