Ask Aunt Yoga - Setting an Intention for Your Yoga Practice

Setting an Intention in Yoga
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Dear Aunt Yoga,

My teacher used to use an "intention" for each class, such as grace, self-love, forgiveness, compassion, etc. She would work the intention into the entire class. It really helped me to have something positive to focus on while doing the poses. Is this a common practice? Is there a list of recommended intentions?

Namaste,

SJ

Dear SJ,

Many yoga teachers (depending on the style of yoga they teach) will invite you to set an intention at the beginning of class or offer one up for the entire class to work with.

As you point out, this can be very helpful in giving you that extra something to focus your attention on. Sometimes teachers will also suggest you dedicate your practice to someone or something outside of yourself, which is another really nice way to increase the positive flow of energy. My teacher will occasionally challenge students to devote a class to someone that they don't particularly care for, which is a super interesting experience that has really stuck with me. 

If your teacher doesn't offer an intention, by all means feel free to set your own. You might begin with some of your favorites from past classes, but since you are now working with a personal intention, you can tailor it to whatever your particular need is that day. For instance, if you are feeling vulnerable one day, you might encourage yourself to be strong and fierce so you feel strong enough to go after a tough pose like handstand or full wheel.

Or you might tell yourself to be gentle with your body if you have an injury or just need to take it easy. Sometimes it's nice to remind yourself to accept yourself as you are or not to feel competitive with those around you. Setting your own intention is a great way get even more in tune with your body and its individual needs.

Sometimes the teacher will allow a few moments for each students to privately come up with their own intention. It's not uncommon for your mind to go completely blank on such occasions as you feel put on the spot to come up the most meaningful intention of all time. If that happens, just relax. This is an entirely personal exercise and no one will ever know what you did or didn't think of. Take a deep breath and go with the first thing that pops into your head, even if it seems silly. You can actually come up with some personally profound things that way, things that you didn't even realize were on your mind or in your body. If nothing comes up, that's ok too. Something may occur to you later in your practice. Don't let coming up with an intention be stressful.

Namaste,

Aunt Yoga

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