I think it’s fair to assume that we’ve all been to a yoga class where the teacher has prompted us to set an intention for our practice. How many of us, is it fair to assume, has been secretly clueless as to what that even means, let alone how to actually do it? This is the first time I have openly admitted this, and I have been practicing yoga consistently for six years and teaching for two years, but I did not actually understand what on Earth it meant to set an intention, or how on Earth to even do that, for the first two years of my practice. And because I was too embarrassed that I might possibly be the only one, I remained ignorant in silence. Luckily, I eventually figured it out through showing up to my mat daily and experiencing that inward transformative yoga bliss often enough until it finally transformed my understanding.
It recently occurred to me, however, that I am not the only one who plunged into my yoga practice largely unguided due to my own concerns of looking foolish for admitting my confusion. You are not alone! I was not alone. And hopefully, these next few blogs will help to shed some light on your yoga path, so that you can deepen the benefits of your practice sooner rather than later.
So, first of all, what is an intention in reference to your personal yoga practice? An intention is simply a way to give your practice focus, purpose, and meaning. One of the biggest benefits of a yoga practice is not even physical! (Though obviously the physical benefits are many and undeniable.) When you step onto your mat and turn your senses inward (pratyahara) by closing your eyes and focusing on your breath, the ultimate goal here is to turn off the chatter of the mind. Closing your eyes, focusing on breath, setting an intention…these are all just different tools that we use to step out of the mind and into the body. To stop worrying about doing and just practice being. When we enter this meditative mindset, there are numerous and enormous benefits! (Not to go off on a tangent, but to name a few: switching your nervous system from sympathetic to parasympathetic or “rest and digest,” increasing your oxygen supply, lowering your blood pressure, relaxing your muscles, and reducing anxiety and depression.) And when our Western mindset again takes over at the slightest distraction, we revisit our intention which aids us by guiding us back to stillness of the mind by giving us one-pointed focus.
Now onto how to set an intention. An intention can be anything, so long as it has meaning to you. It can change like the wind with each yoga practice or you may choose to maintain the same intention for an indefinite amount of yoga practices, so long as it continues to hold meaning for you. Perhaps one day you wake up feeling so absolutely grumpy. A helpful intention for your practice on this day may be to simply smile. Or to focus on gratitude. Then every time your mind begins to slip out of stillness or away from focusing on your breath, call upon your intention by focusing completely on the sensation of a smile or the cultivation of gratitude, and allow the mind chatter to again subside. Perhaps you have dealt with low self-esteem for many months or even years, and you choose to focus on a single intention with the purpose of transforming your perception of self into something teeming with love. You may choose to focus on self-compassion, which may eventually lead to self-acceptance, and ultimately self-love.
Over the next few months I will delve deeply into a few of my favorite, timeless intentions, that always hold meaning for me, and may provide meaning for you, too! Until then, I hope that this has provided some clarity on the subject and the importance of setting an intention for your yoga practice, and that your yoga journey may blossom because of it.