Setting Your Intention
As a yoga student I have always been drawn to classes and teachers that set intentions. It can seem silly to some people to hear things such as, “Open your heart,” or “Move forward towards your goal,” but in my opinion, having a class designed around an intention enables the yoga asana practice to become more than the physical poses. I respect people who come to yoga for the physical aspect, it certainly will grow your strength and flexibility, but for me it’s just so much more.
The meaning of the word yoga is union. Possibly more than at any other time throughout your day, you are asked to focus on your breath, and then move your body into the asana with that focus. This is one union of yoga; breath and movement. Union then extends to the mind and body. Day to-day life tends to be busy and even chaotic, full of to-do lists, work, family, social life/media, etc. All of the jumping around from thought to thought creates anxiety and stress for most of us. One goal of a yoga class is to calm the mind and one way to do so is to set an intention for your practice.
One example of an intention that I find myself sharing again and again as a teacher, is focusing the mind on a sought after goal. This goal might be as simple as completing one of those pesky tasks on your to-do list instead of pushing it aside for the umpteenth time, or it could be something larger, a long-term goal say, like moving up in your career. I also like to suggest to students that it could be a goal in your yoga practice. Maybe there’s a challenging pose that you saw online and would like to one day achieve. Then the idea is to practice the class and bring your mind back to the intention, which I cue, and hopefully off the mat you will feel inspired to set that goal in motion.
You can try this now, where you are. Here is the text to a short, guided breath work and intention. Click here for the recording of it so that you can do it with full concentration and closed eyes.
“If you are in a chair, then place your feet firmly on the floor with your knees directly in front of your hips. Play around with shifting to the front of the chair until you feel most comfortable. Closing your eyes will help you concentrate, so do so now.Then inhale your shoulders up towards your ears and exhale them down your back. Rest your hands in your lap, palms up or down, whichever feels best. You should feel taller with this posture.With your eyes closed, begin to breathe through your nose. Make your breath as long as you can and try to get the inhalation and exhalation to be the same length. Measure this by counting it silently in your head. First count your inhalation (1,2,3,) pause at the end of the inhalation, and now count the exhalation (1,2,3.) Aim to get the count a little bit higher with each round, it might not happen today, if so then stay with the count of three. Now, with your mind clear and your breath controlled, think of the intention, chose a goal you would like to work towards reaching. Chose just one to really focus on. In your mind, envision yourself with that goal achieved. See yourself in the future as you would be once you succeed at the goal. Hold that vision as you breathe for as little as five seconds up to as long as you like. This vision of you might bring you joy, so maybe you gently smile to yourself. When you are ready, inhale and bring your hands up to your chest, as you do so imagine that you are bringing that goal in towards your heart. Bring the palms together, your thumbs touch your sternum, this is namaskar mudra, or hands in prayer (mudra means hand gesture in Sanskrit, the language of yoga,) hug your elbows into your ribs so that they don’t splay out far away from you. When you are ready, inhale and slowly open your eyes.”
At first doing a practice like this might feel funny or odd because we tend not to practice mindfulness, but as you practice more and more, it will lose that novelty feeling and become a great tool. Now go out there and get those gears in motion towards your goal.