Practicing With Intention

One of my new students surprised me when she commented on the power of setting an intention in class the day before. It struck me how well she had grasped this part of the practice, and how quickly.  What she learned in just  a few classes has literally taken me years to fully understand.

I recall countless times being sent into an internal tailspin when the instructor would suggest ‘setting an intention’ at the start of class. My mind would run off in a mission to get it right. In the five seconds given for this task, a stream of possibilities would fill my head and I’d inevitably judge each one unworthy.

Then came the day when I arrived at class after having given much thought to how important it was that I be fully present in that particular practice. I had unknowingly set an intention: mindfulness. The result was profound. The physical practice was not only challenging, it felt surprisingly new.  I connected deeply to the class theme of ‘letting go’ and understood first hand what I’d been taught about how the body stores emotions. While doing hip openers, thoughts of a relationship I have long known I needed to release immediately came to mind.  I purposefully remained open to those thoughts and began to feel a sense of peace. Having an intention that day made my experience on the mat more deeply rewarding.

I recently read that “intention” is what separates yoga from ordinary exercise. Yoga is about connection between the mind and the body – working with an intention cultivates that connection.

Suggestions for setting an intention:

  • Focus on the path, not the destination. Whereas goals focus on future outcomes, intentions are about here and now.
  • Find inspiration in what brings you to class. Does taking time on your mat feel self-indulgent? Perhaps your intention could focus on being kind to yourself.  Do you come to yoga to escape an over-scheduled life? Then perhaps being mindful and putting everything else aside to focus solely on what is happening in the class would be a benefit.
  • Consider how you want to live. Setting an intention in yoga is a way to put into action how you want to approach all things in life. Perhaps you wish you were more understanding, start with acceptance of yourself in your practice. Wish you could cultivate courage? Set your intention on strength.
  • Keep it simple. A one word intention is very powerful — love, trust, respect, appreciation, abundance, joy, balance, truth, ease.
  • Don’t let it stress you out. If an intention doesn’t come to mind for you, just let it go.
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