It’s your first yoga class. You’re sitting cross-legged on your mat, eyes shut, breathing deeply, and you’re ready to get moving. But right when you think you’re about to move into cat-cow, the instructor tells the class to set an “intention.” You peek around the room, searching frantically for an answer. What is an intention? What does an intention have to do with yoga? And how do I find mine?
Chances are, we’ve all been there, whether it’s your first or fiftieth yoga class. But whether you know it or not, intention-setting can be a pivotal part of yoga. It can be the difference between your yoga practice simply being a workout and being a key aspect of your lifestyle. However, while many yoga instructors encourage intention-setting during class, there is often little to no guidance about what an intention really is and how to find your own. It may seem daunting or even a bit strange at first, but once you find your intention, you’ll undoubtedly reap the benefits. So, whether you’re a beginner or a seasoned yogi who still hasn’t found your authentic intention, here are some pointers on how to get started.
What is an intention?
Setting an intention means to bring awareness to a quality or virtue you would like to cultivate not just on the mat, but throughout your everyday life. The word “intention” comes from the Sanskrit word “Sankalpa” — Kalpa meaning “vow” and San meaning “a connection with our highest truth.” So, according to Yoga Hub, “a Sankalpa is “a promise that we make to support our highest truth.” Thus, when you decide your intention, it’s not about choosing what you or anyone else thinks it should be, but rather what you personally feel is true for you. In this way, an intention is somewhat like a mini New Year’s resolution, something that you can dedicate yourself to and work toward. Some examples of intentions are gratitude, peace, kindness, strength, confidence, or awareness, but there are so many other qualities or virtues that you can choose from as well. Luckily, like most aspects of yoga, there’s really no such thing as a wrong intention. It’s a personal choice that you can make depending on your season of life, how you want to live, and who you want to be.
Why do we set intentions?
Now that you know what an intention is, it’s important to understand why it is a part of your yoga practice. One of the most unique things about yoga is that it isn’t simply a physical practice — rather, it involves the body, mind, and spirit, and all are interconnected. Thus, setting an intention allows you to stay grounded during your practice and bring awareness to your full self, not just the body. For instance, if your intention is, “I am at peace,” but your muscles tense up during Chaturanga and your breath is all over the place, then you may be losing sight of your intention. But with practice and patience, you can continue to remind yourself of your intention to be “at peace,” which will, over time, carry over into your physical postures.
Furthermore, setting an intention allows you to carry your yoga practice into your everyday life by taking the same mindset and goals you form on the mat and allowing them to become a part of who you are. Yoga isn’t something that has to be separate from your day-to-day life — instead, by setting an intention that seamlessly carries into your daily activities, yoga can become an aspect of your lifestyle. Even after yoga class has ended, you can continue to mull over your intention outside of yoga class until you start to truly embody those qualities and virtues.
How do we set an intention?
Now it’s time to get to work. Since you likely won’t have much time to decide on your intention during class, it might be helpful to think about your intention before the start of class. Here are some steps to building an authentic intention:
1. Start with where you are.
Before settling on an intention, it’s important to recognize your personal starting point. It doesn’t matter where the person next to you is starting from, or even where you wish you were starting from. What season of life are you in right now? Many intentions are often linked to healing or resolution, so think about areas where you might be hurting. Are there any physical or emotional wounds that are holding you back? Are there any unresolved conflicts? Think about what quality or virtue could help bring healing to these areas. However, remember that an intention is not a “goal.” Rather, it is something that flows through everything in your words, thoughts, and actions.
2. Make it realistic and attainable.
If you choose an intention that doesn’t feel attainable at this point in your life, then you may be less likely to stick with it — and that’s okay! If you’ve recently experienced loss or tragedy, and being “happy” or “strong” just doesn’t feel possible at the moment, then don’t force yourself to make that your intention. Choose something that is challenging and growth-filled, yes, but make sure it also feels realistic and attainable.
3. Keep it simple.
There’s no need to build an intention that’s drawn-out and wordy. If it’s too difficult for you to remember, especially in the middle of an intense yoga flow, then maybe you should shorten or simplify it. If you’re taking on too many different qualities or virtues in your intention, is there one that stands out from the rest as most important? Is there another word that encompasses them all? Think about what feels most applicable to you in the moment, and try to keep it short and sweet.
4. Take it off the mat.
Last, but most importantly, keep in mind that intention-setting is not just for when you’re on the yoga mat. By building awareness and mindfulness, you can begin to set intentions throughout your life, not just in your yoga practice. Try setting an intention each morning when you wake up or writing it on a sticky note and putting it on your desk. As you continue to bring your mind back to your intention, over time, you’ll begin to see it manifest in other areas of your life, leading you closer and closer to your truest self.