The word yoga has 2 meanings in Sanskrit: one definition is to yoke or union, as in the way we bring together the physical body and mind with postures and breathing. We also use the word yoga to describe a state of being where we do everything in life with more awareness. What we do and say to ourselves in class becomes a mirror into who we are and our self talk in life. How do we respond when we are challenged in a pose? Do we painfully push our way through, degrade ourselves, get angry, or compare ourselves to others? When the practice appears easy or uneventful, do we mistake relaxation for boredom, have difficulty surrendering or does our mind wander off?
An important component of yoga as a state of awareness is setting an intention. An intention can help guide us through the physical poses and choose the modifications that are right for our body and mind that day. Heartfelt intention also brings positive energy like gratitude, acceptance, peace or unconditional love to ourselves and others. The teacher will typically ask you to set an intention at the beginning of class. It is your responsibility to bring the mind back to your personal purpose throughout class. When the intention is made from the heart, it is simple, pure and feels expansive, as if it is already a part of us that maybe we just forgot about or misplaced. Intention may be the same for days, weeks, or even years, and comes out of a commitment to support our highest self. Where there is nothing wrong with doing yoga just for the exercise and physical benefits, setting an intention helps to make yoga part of your life!
A few suggestions if you are new to setting intention:
Sometimes an intention doesn’t come up right away. Don’t pressure yourself. Keep the space open for something to formulate any time during or after class.
Simply ask yourself any of these questions: what brought you to your mat today? What does grace mean to you? What makes you feel strong? How do you find calmness? What can you let go of today?
Think of something or someone you are grateful for; or think of the idea of gratitude.
If you come up with several purposes for your practice and have a difficult time choosing one, politely ask your heart what it wants.
When you are experiencing physical discomfort or disease in your body, set your intention to continually send healing thoughts and energy into that place.
Ayurveda sees the Self as a 3 legged stool; one leg is the physical body, one is the mental/emotional body, and one is the spiritual body. If one leg of your stool has been neglected, set your intention to focus on that leg!
Feeling exceptionally joyful? Consider dedicating your practice to someone else who could benefit from your practice like a prayer. Imagine them watching you and send them your blessings at the end of class.
If the spiritual, esoteric and philosophical components of yoga do not appeal to you, set an intention purely for the physical body. On a scale of 1 to 10, with one being completely easeful and 10 being extremely challenging, pick a number for your practice and honor that.
And if you don’t practice yoga, you can still benefit from the daily mindfulness of intention.