How to set an intention for your yoga practice


Do you know what kind of life you want to live? Do you know what what you want from your yoga practice?

I started practicing yoga in 2004. I was attracted to the physical side of it. I had injured my knee and was looking for a way to keep exercising. Yoga made my body strong and helped me to heal. But I also realized that I was getting much more than just physical benefit.

My energetic twin boys (then toddlers) pre-occupied much of my time, energy and brainpower. Yoga let me relax and re-focus. It gave me space in my day, my body and my mind.

Yoga is about being mindful and living intentionally. This means being aware of your thoughts, feeling and environment. This awareness helps you to consciously make choices and not just react to things. An intention can be a great guide.

Why set an intention for your practice?

Setting an intention helps you create direction for your yoga practice. This can extend into your day and ripple out into all aspects of your life.

How to set an intention

At the start of a yoga class, the instructor might invite you to set an intention for the class. This may induce feelings of panic as you madly try to come up with one! ”Ummmm oh no, what should my intention be? I can’t even think of an intention. Ok how about world peace? Nah…”

It doesn’t have to be this way! An intention can be simple. It is about you, your truth and why you practice. It doesn’t have to solve world hunger to be meaningful.

An intention can be something physical like “I want to stretch and strengthen my low back.” It could be something deeply personal, “I want to build courage.” Or it may be something related to your practice itself, such as “to focus on breath.”

A few thoughts to help you set an intention:

  1. There is no right or wrong way to do it. Be open to whatever comes to mind (a word, phrase or mantra).
  2. An intention is not the same as a goal. It focuses on what would be of value to your right now, in the present moment.
  3. Keeping your intention concrete may help you to maintain focus. But if specifics don’t come to you, just go with what does (see #1!)
  4. It might be revealing to ask yourself “why.” Why are you practicing yoga today? What brought you to your mat in the first place?
  5. Start with how you feel and then build your intention from there. Perhaps you feel insecure. Your intention might be to build courage and confidence. Embody that in your poses.
  6. Let intuition guide you. Don’t overthink it!

How to work with your intention

Once you set an intention, return to it throughout your yoga practice. For example, in a challenging pose, recall your intention of courage. Camel pose freaks me out. This would be a good place for me to embody courage!

An intention gives you a way to stay connected to your true self. It acts as an anchor – like a guidepost as you make decisions.  Ask yourself, “Does this align with my intention?”

In her book, Guiding yoga’s Light, Nancy Gerstein outlines a short Intention Vinyasa. (A vinyasa is a sequence of poses connected with breath). I was doing it last night and really enjoyed the combination of energizing and inward-focused postures.

Focus on synchronicity of breath as you move through it. You could use this short vinyasa in a number of ways:

  • Do it at the beginning of your practice as you create your intention.
  • Do it once more in the middle to bring awareness back to your intention.
  • At then end, finish with the vinyasa as a way of sealing your intention.
  • I think it would also be a nice on its own. Perhaps do a few to start your morning and set an intention for your day.

Intention Vinyasa (from Guiding Yoga’s Light)

  1. Child’s Pose (Inhale deeply, Exhale patiently)
  2. Downward Facing Dog (Inhale up)
  3. Upward Facing Dog or Cobra (Exhale forward)
  4. Child’s Pose (Inhale back, Exhale and let go)

​Have a look at my demo Intention Vinyasa in this video:

Intentionally thinking about what you want from your practice and your life puts you in the driver’s seat. Philosophers across time have said the same thing in many different ways:  you see what you expect to see.

The world is full of magic things, patiently waiting for our senses to grow sharper.” ~W.B. Yeats

Intention setting has not been a regular part of my yoga practice. This week I intend to try it out 😉 And I expect to uncover a few of those magic things.

How about it? Are you in?

Photo courtesy of Be Zen

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