Not your usual New Year’s Eve: Setting intentions with Asheville’s wellness alternatives

LIGHTING THE PATH: Asheville's New Year's Eve events include a host of wellness-oriented approaches, including this candlelight altar from Sangita Devi's intention-setting ceremony. Photo courtesy of Taylor Johnson of Taz Digital

The numerical shift from 2015 to 2016 may have little significance to some people, but to others, the arrival of a new year offers an opportunity to review our lives, to pause in sync with nature’s behavior, just as the tree draws its energy and resources down into its roots. Just another day or not, New Year’s Eve indubitably brings a lot of energy. Growing up, you may have experienced it as staying up late to watch effervescent confetti rain from a gigantic silver ball in Times Square followed by bubbling golden drinks. The question looms: How will you spend this new year?

For those interested in having an experience that evokes mind, body and spirit this New Year’s Eve, here are several local opportunities for setting your intentions.


First, what are being “intentional” and “setting intentions” really about? “Intention came from the Latin word ‘intentio,’ which means a stretching, a directing of the mind towards something or a purpose,” says Maia Toll, founder of Witch Camp Online and co-owner of Herbiary in Asheville.  In her work, she adds, intentions usually “have to do with hooking into [your] soul’s purpose.”

Ferris Fakhoury, co-owner of Anjali Hot Yatra Yoga in South Asheville down Hendersonville Road, says that living with “intentionality means to be purposeful in our actions, to see clearly our goal and to also release or let go of the barriers to meeting our goals.”

So intention has something to do with purpose. I propose that the new year is a natural time to re-evaluate our purpose, our visions, our intentions for this life. And like trees, we may need to withdraw into the deepest core of ourselves.


“I believe that there is a large, growing population of people in this world who want to live a life full of intention.” says Taylor Johnson, member of Sangita Devi Kirtan, a yogic chanting group in Asheville. “And I believe these people want to be part of meaningful events that can uplift, inspire and build community in a unique way,” he says.

For the last 11 years, Sangita Devi has held a New Year’s Eve kirtan, intention-setting ceremony and ecstatic dance event in Asheville. Samata Amy Decori has been with the group since its inception. The New Year’s Eve event, she says, came about because members “wanted to offer an evening that was honoring the passage from one year to the next — an evening to set intentions and have a space to gather, to sing, dance and celebrate.” Decori says she “believes in the power of ritual, in taking time to reflect and honor transitions and the threshold moments in life.”

Year after year, the event has continued to grow in attendance, and group members are expecting an even larger attendance this year.

“This yearly growth is a testament to the positive experiences people have had there,” Johnson says.  He adds, jokingly, “We’re lucky in that sense, because we’re generally very bad about marketing our events.”

So what can you expect at this kind of event? First, it’s an entirely drug- and alcohol-free event. There will be no Champagne when the clock strikes midnight.

Sangita Devi Kirtan’s “New Year’s Eve event is very unique because instead of drinking alcohol and being rowdy,” Johnson explains, “people come together to sing their prayers, meditate and create intention for the future with a positive and supportive community.”

For the sensualists, there will be plenty of “amazing cacao and chocolate concoctions, thanks to Dr. Cacao and a variety of super-tasty teas brewed on-site courtesy of the Infusion Lounge,” he continues.

Kirtan is “call-and-response chanting, which can result in a deep, connected, meditative state,” Decori says. The practice is a facet of Bhakti yoga, a path to enlightenment through pure devotion.

“Imagine being in a room full of over 200 people, all singing the same thing together, over and over again,” says Johnson. Photo Courtesy of Sangita Devi Kirtan.
CHANTING FOR THE NEW YEAR: “Imagine being in a room full of over 200 people, all singing the same thing together, over and over again,” says Taylor Johnson of Sangita Devi Kirtan’s annual New Year’s eve event. Photo Courtesy of Sangita Devi Kirtan

After the kirtan, the event will transition into an intention-setting ceremony that reflects upon the past year and includes meditation. “The idea here is that after singing together for an hour and a half, and after meditating during the beginning of the ceremony, people will be in a very centered, grounded and clear place — a place that is perfect for cultivating powerful and realistic intentions for the future,” says Johnson.

The night ends with an ecstatic dance component. Ecstatic dance seems to be pretty open-ended, as in, there’s no real wrong way to do it. Johnson describes it well: “If in the dance you felt like sitting still, that would be perfect. If you felt like standing in one spot and swaying back and forth, that would be perfect. If all of a sudden you had something come up for you and you burst into tears and ended up crying on the floor, that would be perfect too. It’s a safe place to explore and express yourself, as long as you’re not hurting yourself or others.”

“I believe we are offering an experience that touches the hearts and lives of the people who attend,” says Decori. “We’re creating a space for people to connect to their inner worlds and get clear about what their vision is for their life and the world.”


Just down the street from Sangita Devi’s Kirtan event at Jubilee! in downtown Asheville, Urban Dharma will hold a candlelight vigil of release and renewal. All are welcome to meditate or chant the Vajrasattva purification mantra, says Dr. Hun Lye, spiritual director and founder.

Urban Dharma has held a service “marking the transition from the old to the new year since it started” a little over four years ago. The Vajrasattva mantra is also called the 100-syllable mantra, says Lye, describing it as “the very essence of the hundred Buddhas appearing in the form of sacred sound.”

When the chant is combined with a “relaxed attention on our behavioral, that is, karmic, patterns, we can purify and remove that which is negative so as to allow the innately pure and pristine — the Buddha-nature or the ‘kingdom of heaven within’ — to manifest,” Lye explains.

While many look toward the future and set goals and resolutions for how they will be or act in the upcoming year, Lye places more emphasis on reviewing the past.

“If we don’t reflect on the past and try to see deeply what actions we took that were conducive to the happiness of self and others, and what actions we took that were productive of suffering for self and others, then our journey onward to the next year, to the future, will always be obscured,” he says.

Through reciting the purification mantra and connecting with the limitless qualities of the Buddha, each participant can “allow the release and relinquishing of negative patterns so that [their] innate nature, which is pure and pristine, can come forward,” says Lye.

“If we could all end the old year and start the new in this way — from the position of Buddha-nature rather than egocentric self — it will make a gentler, kinder, less fearful, more joyful future for all.”


Laura Torres, owner of Laura Torres Counseling, has been creating vision boards, both personally and professionally, for the last eight years. Around this time every year, she finds herself making a new board to set her vision for the year ahead.

“In my experience, setting New Year’s resolutions alone can lead to me feeling pressured and overwhelmed, or the goals simply fall out of my awareness after a month or so,” she says. Vision boards, on the other hand, seem to work for her.

“What I love about [them] is that they help us get in touch with what is naturally calling us forward rather than what we ‘should’ be doing to get to where we want to be,” she says.

ENVISIONING YOUR RESOLUTIONS: “What I love about vision boards is that they help us get in touch with what is naturally calling us forward rather than what we ‘should’ be doing to get to where we want to be,” says Laura Torres. Photo courtesy of Laura Torres

Making a vision board can be as simple as finding some magazines and cutting out words, images and colors that resonate with what you want to bring in for 2016, Torres suggests. You create a collage from the cutouts, she explains. Torres recommends hanging the collage somewhere visible so you can revisit throughout the year.

Vision boards “help you get into the energetic and emotional state of what it feels like to be living the life you want to live by offering a powerful image of what that life looks like,” she says. The collages can be thought of as visual representation of your intentions.

On Jan. 10, the first new moon of 2016, Torres will be leading an event for women at West Asheville Yoga focused on creating a vision board for the year ahead. The event will start with a gentle yoga flow practice, followed by setting intentions and then creating your board. All materials are provided.


There are several other New Year’s Eve yoga events happening around town.

Ferris Fakhoury will lead a yoga class at her South Asheville studio. The event will feature live music by Lindsay and Adam Fields. “The first half of class will be about gratitude as we look back [on 2015], and the second half of the class will be a balance between grounding postures and heart-opening asanas to set the stage for personal growth in the upcoming year,” she says.

“The difference in going to a yoga class as a way of celebrating New Year’s Eve is that you’ve purposefully chosen an activity where you will feel physically and mentally awesome afterwards,” Fakhoury continues. “The class offers much of the same ‘big’ energy as the more traditional celebrations but also offers more. And the ‘more’ isn’t something you have to sleep off the following morning.”

Meghan Ganser agrees. She will host a 2016 Visionasana yoga workshop at West Asheville Yoga. Participants can expect “a heartfelt and inspiring asana workshop designed to state and create our visions for the world in 2016,” she says. “New Year’s Eve is recognized across our shared planet as a moment of renewal. What better time to share and state, and commit to, our visions for a better world, than in a ‘moment’ of globally connected renewal?”

However you choose to spend your New Year’s Eve, whether it be moving on your yoga mat, singing and dancing your heart out, reveling in the creativity of vision boards, or steeping in the qualities of Buddha-nature, Asheville offers an array of options to start the new year intentionally.


Maia Toll
Visit for a free intention setting booklet.

Ferris Fakhoury, Anjali Hot Yatra Yoga,

Sangita Devi Kirtan

Hun Lye, Urban Dharma, 225-6422

Laura Torres

Megan Ganser


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About Emily Nichols
Emily Nichols is a writer and photographer for the Mountain Xpress. She enjoys writing about wellness and spirituality in WNC.

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One thought on “Not your usual New Year’s Eve: Setting intentions with Asheville’s wellness alternatives

  1. Taylor

    Thank you for this awesome writeup! Really looking forward to this New Years Eve. It’s going to be special. :)

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