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What is an Intention in Yoga Practice?

It’s your very first yoga class. You sit down. The instructor asks you to close your eyes and tune in to your body, mind and breath. Then she invites you to “set an intention for your practice.” Huh? What does that mean? What’s an intention and how do I “set” one?

Intention is a loose translation of the Sanskrit word ‘sankalpa’. "San" (variation of “sam”) is a prefex that means ‘together with’ or that intensifies the meaning of the root word it is paired with. It also connotes “completion, perfection or beauty”. "Kalpa" is a resolve, determination or “manner of acting”. (See the history and etymology here.)

A sankalpa, then, is more than just a statement of intent. It has heart, soul and will behind it. Initially, the idea of setting an intention may seem like our western concept of goal-setting. In yoga, however, the focus isn’t on the outcome, but rather the mindset with which we practice.

The invitation to set an intention at the beginning of a yoga practice is a recognition of the fact that we are all works-in-progress. It is our time to decide how we want to approach each moment of our time on the mat and the qualities we wish to cultivate in our lives.

An intention is a statement reflecting your deepest desires. Your intention should resonate with you; it should “feel" right.

So, how to you "Set an intention for your yoga practice?" Here are some tips...

1. Make it accessible.

“I am happy.”

While this might work perfectly fine for some people, if it doesn’t ring true in the moment it may feel inauthentic. Instead you might use words like “I invite”, “I welcome” or “I cultivate” to make the intention feel more accessible:

“I welcome happiness.”

"I am able to be happy."

2. Make it positive

Focus on what you want… not what you don’t want. Instead of “I won't be stressed out.” you might state:

“I am calm and peaceful.”

“I live with ease.”

3. Make it simple.

You may be tempted to set a lengthy intention: “My body and mind are strong and flexible and I trust myself.” might simply be:

“I am healthy.”

“I listen to and respect myself.”

4. Make it even more simple.

There is nothing wrong with a 1-word intention:





5. If you’re drawing a blank or nothing feels right, try dedicating your practice to someone (or a higher power) or make your intention more universal:

“Holding you in my heart, Mike.”

“I send peace into the world.”

"I dedicate my practice to _____."

Some people set the same intention each time they step on their mat. Others set a new intention daily, weekly or monthly according to their focus or what is happening in their life at the time.

If intention-setting resonates with you, take the practice off your mat. Try setting a sankalpa in that dreamy, barely-awake state before you open your eyes in the morning. Breath it in. Allow your intention to set the tone for your day, priming you to act in alignment with your heart and soul.

Want to try setting an intention? Join me for a complimentary yoga class. Book here and use code FIRSTFREE. I'll meet you on the mat!

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