Sometimes, at the beginning of a yoga class, the teacher will ask you to “set an intention.” What does that mean? Does it mean something like, “ Boy, I hope I lose a few pounds in class today!” or, “ I’d really like that new BMW I saw on the street the other day.” Or, “ I hope we get back together. “ Do any of those things run through your head as intentions? Is that what the spirit of an “intention” is?
I like to ask people to set an intention. Setting an intention is a way of making a commitment to being on the mat. It stops you from the hustle and bustle of thinking (come on, we all are still deep in thought, mind racing, especially at the beginning of a yoga class) and gives you an opportunity to make a deliberate connection between your practice and a way of being. That’s really what an intention is: a way of being. It could be related to your health, a particular mindset, a desire or a wish. It’s less about material things and more about a feeling or a behavior you might like to embody. Or it could be a request to a higher power for help.
One of the reasons that setting an intention before yoga practice can be so powerful is that the practice itself connects mind to body through movement and deep breathing. This, just like meditation, becomes fertile ground for planting the seeds of intention. Deepak Chopra calls it, “ the gap;” that calm, steady feeling you have when practicing or meditating that is the perfect opportunity for identifying an intention. Athletes use something similar to this when they use visualization before competing to “see” their bodies in action, performing at their peak, before actually taking that first step.
Setting an intention is not a technique to be used to wish for material things. It’s not a way to reinforce negative thinking about your body (“I wish I weighed less”) or to wish something negative to happen to someone else. Think of it as a way to leverage the magic of your practice and the meditative feeling that comes along with it, to create some movement in a positive direction. Setting an intention also shifts your practice from just an exercise event to one that is a mindfulness practice as well as a physical one.
Some intentions I’ve used and love:
“I wish to be more open-hearted, despite being hurt in the past.”
“I wish to ask for help from those around me and have compassion for myself.”
“ I wish to treat myself with love and respect.”
“ I wish for my practice and my actions today to be centered around what is best for me.”
“ I wish for peace in my heart.”
When you next step on the yoga mat, take a moment, even if the teacher does not ask you to do it, and set an intention. Close your eyes, take a deep breath and make that wish. Send it up to the universe and have faith that it will come true through right action.