It may have taken you years, like me, to truly understand the purpose of setting an intention in your practice, or maybe it still hasn’t really sunk in. That’s the beauty of yoga – there is always something new to learn, some nuance to more deeply understand. The concept of setting an intention is really important to the yoga practice, as it’s something that helps to shift the practice away from being so one-dimensional/one-size-fits-all. When you take the time to set an intention it can help to transform any yoga practice into something much more individualized.
So what is an intention? I think it took me about 3 years of practice to really stop and ask myself this question. I just never really paid attention. Well, it’s just what it sounds like – how do you intend to approach your practice, or what to you intend to focus on, to gain, to get out of your practice. It’s basically an opportunity for you to bring a specific focus or motivation into your practice. What’s so fascinating to me about this is that you can have 20 people in the same class, doing the same sequence, but having completely individual experiences, simply based on the different intentions that are, or aren’t, set.
Your intention may just be a reminder of a goal you’re working towards. Maybe it’s to push yourself harder because you are working towards your goal weight. Maybe it’s to take it easier because you’re nursing an injury. Maybe your intention is to focus on your breath more, because you’re trying to reduce anxiety and stress. Focusing on a goal will help you to keep motivated throughout your practice. This approach can help you to really honor the place you’re starting from.
Your intention could also be a dedication to someone, and yes, it could be a dedication to yourself as well. By bringing your focus into this arena, you allow yourself to see your practice almost as a gift, something carefully crafted and personalized by you to be given, with love, to an important person or cause. Dedicating a practice can be an act of selflessness that gives us a deeper sense of connectedness with the cause or person we are dedicating it to. It can also create a very deep and emotional connection with your practice. I’ve cried my way through many a savasana after dedicating my practice to someone dear. It’s a beautiful thing.
Your intention could also be something as simple as a word or a phrase that inspires you. As someone that struggles with anxiety, I often find that there are days when I just need more of an affirmation, and those days I choose a simple mantra like ‘I am worthy’ or ‘I am enough’ – something to give you the extra little push to get through your practice. Setting your intention in the form of a mantra can allow you to link the movements and breaths of your practice with that mantra, allowing it to become more real to you. I love setting mantras as intentions because I find that it really helps me to manifest that mantra – to allow myself to live that mantra more fully and to allow it to become my truth.
Whatever you choose as your intention, I encourage you to come back to it throughout your practice and just check in. Notice if you’re really keeping in line with that intention, or if you’ve started to drift away from it. I like to come back to it whenever I come back to Child’s Pose or to Downward Dog, but without judgment. Don’t beat yourself up if you let it slip your mind for a few breaths, or, heck, for the whole class. We call it a practice for a reason – there’s a LOT going on in a yoga class, breathing, moving, shifting gazes, balance, stretching, strengthening – no one would fault you for losing track of that intention. What’s important is this – if you notice you’ve begun to move away from that intention, just pause to recognize that, and work to move back towards it again. Yoga is a practice of observation and compassion. So keep at it, and maybe next class, you’ll be able to hold it in the back of your mind a little longer. And if not the next practice, then maybe the next one.