When you start a class or a home practice, you probably begin with some kind of intention, even if you don’t verbalize it. Maybe you are trying to improve your balance. Maybe you need to decompress after a hectic day. You might be using this time to work through an injury. Whatever it is, you use that thought as you practice and it will affect the choices you make in the poses, as well as your focus.
But, there is more to intention than that. While that’s a great place to start, making your intentions more mindful can deepen both your physical and mental yoga practice. According to Yoga Journal, the Buddhist teaching of intent is very specific. It means “volition,” or the conscious choices you make. It does mean setting goals, although that is also a healthy part of your yoga practice. When you set an intention, you are not committing to achieving a certain thing. What you are committing to is your experience of the present moment.
At their deepest, intentions are a tool for you to move closer to a right-thinking, right-doing lifestyle. If that is how you want to use your practice, you might want to try setting an intention of exploring one thing you feel you need to work on. Maybe you tend to get impatient in traffic or with coworkers who need more detailed instructions than most. So, you might set your intention as experiencing each moment fully. As you move through the class, try to keep your mind from moving ahead—to the next pose, to whatever you have to do after class or to the next day. If you are trying to be more understanding, start with yourself. Commit to only thinking more positive thoughts about yourself for the duration of the class. If you wobble in Virabhadrasana III (Warrior III Pose), think of how much stronger you are becoming, for example. Maybe you are trying to be less materialistic and orient yourself more toward inward things. You might want to try using the time in class to try not to push yourself toward the most “advanced” outward expression of a pose. Instead, let yourself find contentment where your body can go comfortably.
Maybe you’re not ready to go that deep today, or maybe you have a physical injury that needs attention. Even so, you can set an intention for your practice. If you have, say, a tight hamstring, your intention could be simply to breathe into the soreness throughout the practice, and maybe visualize space being created in the back of your leg. Or maybe your goal is to build strength in your core. Use the class to be aware of those muscles as you work.
Whether your intention is physical or metaphysical, it’s a great tool to help clear your mind during your practice. And, intention can come off the mat too. Try taking your intention from class out into your life. Use the time you spent in class committing to experiencing the moment in line with that affirmation to help you. And remember, there is no grade on intention. You won’t be able to make each day perfect, but as long as you are trying to express your intentions, you are moving in the right direction.