Sometimes in our yoga practice, we may hear the teacher asking us to “set an intention” for the practice. What does it actually mean? How does it work? And why do we do it?
If you look up intention in the big ol’ book of words, it says something along the lines of, ” intention is the act or instance of determining mentally on some action or result”. It’s also been defined as “the end or object intended”. In many different definitions the two main recurring themes of the word intention are the end result and this idea of a mental state.
In my view, there are two (both equally good) different ways of practicing yoga. One is working from the outside in, the other is working from the inside out. Working from the outside in, we arrive on our yoga mat, we use the body and the breath as a guide to tap into what is going on in our minds. We work with the body and our physical restrictions/limitations/abilities of that day to go deeper into our emotional and mental state and start shedding those layers from the outside in. Perhaps the jaw keeps clenching? Perhaps there is tightness in the shoulders? Using these kinds of physical cues to explore a little bit deeper into what is happening in our emotional/mental body. Working and softening the body to heal and soften the heart and mind.
Working from the inside out is where intention comes in. Before we even begin our practice we decide on a mental state to guide our practice. Perhaps our intention is to move with compassion, love and kindness towards the body. Perhaps our intention is to try something new, to challenge ourselves, to be brave, to move past fear. In this way, we use our intentioned mental state to explore the edges of our physical body.
In an oversimplified example, the cat/cow variations can be used as an example of moving with or without intention. In one way we can move by following directions, flowing from the outside in, following the breath –
During a yoga class, much like the breath, we use intentions to keep us focused and centred within our practice. Any time we find our minds wandering, getting lost in thoughts – or perhaps whenever we feel that we are pushing ourselves too hard, or not stepping passed our comfort zones enough, is the moment we return back to our intention. Re-set, focus back on that internal state and begin again.
Setting an intention is not only useful for our yoga practice, but useful for moving throughout our day. Every morning when we wake up, we have the choice to set an intention for our day: an actively chosen mental state to guide our actions in order to create a particular desired outcome. When we move through our day with a predetermined intention, we are less likely to be affected by external circumstances: bad weather, traffic, irritable bosses, long queues, lots of work etc, because our day is governed by an internal source, our mental state, which is something we can always return to, no matter what.
Intentions that add value/benefit/inspiration to our lives or the lives of those around us, are often the easiest to take off the mat. Examples of these being –
+ Moving with kindness and compassion
+ Letting go of negative thought patterns
+ Breaking through fear and embracing challenges
+ Allowing more love in
+ Being open
+ Adopting a sense of trust
+ Releasing anything that no longer serves you
+ Accepting where we are right now
An intention is something that comes from within, so before setting one spend a few quiet moments asking yourself what is it that you really need at this present moment. Perhaps it is more compassion towards yourself, maybe it is to break through self-limiting beliefs – whatever it is, focus on an intention that best meets your needs right now. If nothing particular comes to mind, set an intention that is grounded in gratitude (acceptance), forgiveness (letting go) or love. Use this as a guide throughout your practice. Return to it whenever you need.
What are your thoughts about intentions? Do you set them? Do you have reminders that help bring you back to your intention throughout the day? I’d love to hear your thoughts! Leave a comment below or pop me a message on the Ché Dyer yoga Facebook page.