Sometimes I lose sight of why I do yoga. Although yoga certainly offers several physical benefits, there’s a host of other exercise styles I could choose if just staying fit was my goal. Like most yogis, I come to yoga for more than that—yet I some mornings I roll out my mat with the sole purpose of getting exercise, and I don’t take a moment to more holistically honor the practice.
Of course, there’s nothing wrong with doing yoga for the sake of being active. After all, many popular styles offer a nice blend of stretching, light cardio, and strength building. I find that get so much more from my practice when I treat it as something more, however. One way of incorporating yoga’s bigger picture into your practice is setting an intention at the beginning of your practice.
You may have heard a yoga instructor encourage you and your fellow yogis at the beginning of class to set an intention for your practice, and you may have asked yourself what does that even mean? When I first started yoga, I wondered the same thing. I would come up with something vague like “have a peaceful practice” or “have a good yoga day” without really understanding what these phrases meant to me. Sometimes the intentions I set seemed to jibe with my entire practice—what a great feeling!—other times I forgot what intention I set by the time savasana rolled around.
Recently, I decided to give more serious attention to intention setting. For a period of weeks, I’d been feeling separated from my essence. Feelings of negativity were getting between me and that lush joy of being truly connected to myself. A combination of obsessively following the news (and fretting over it) and not giving my creative desires enough space was a recipe for feeling spiritually null, and I knew I had to make a conscious effort to invite peace and positivity into my life.
Fortuitously, I stumbled upon a few words of intention-setting advice that made me feel excited to set powerful intentions for my practice (and understand the whole process of doing so). Hopefully, these tips will help you create special intentions the way they’ve helped me.
How to Set Intentions for Your Yoga Practice
—Katie Silcox, author of Healthy, Happy, Sexy – Ayurveda Wisdom for Modern Women, encourages us to turn inward when setting intentions. We must establish “intimacy with our own inner essence — the quiet voice of our inner teacher that speaks in terms of love, silence, knowingness, kindness, and bliss.” The Sanskrit word for intention is sankalpa. It’s a vow that stems from the center of your heart, your deepest self.
— Yoga instructor Ahlia Hoffman distinguishes between an intention and a dedication. An intention for your practice helps you translate the lessons you learn on the mat to life situations. In other words, your intention is an ongoing focus on a virtue or quality you want to cultivate—both on and off the mat. Gratitude, love, patience, presence, and peace are just a few of the virtues you could include in an intention. A dedication, on the other hand, sends positive energy to something or something (a concept, a goal, or a project) you’re currently thinking about or working on.
—There is no need to put great pressure on yourself to come up with a profound intention. Simply relax and turn inward. In fact, “turning inward” alone is a lovely intention.
—Honor your intention throughout your practice by repeating in silently or aloud whenever your return to a particular asana. For example, you could repeat your intention every time your stand in tadanasa or overtime you have a quiet moment in child’s pose.
—If you ever feel unenthused about setting an intention, or if you’re ever unsure of what intention to set, beginning with the intention to be present and simply observe the sensations in your body is always a good place to start.
—Note your intentions in your journal. Writing them down may help you continue to bring them into your practice and your life off the mat.
Do you set intentions for you yoga practice? Do you have any advice for those of us looking to slow down and turn inward?
Related: How to Create a Home Yoga Space
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Photo: Katie Silcox via Instagram