a blog by Ellen Davies

What does it mean to “set your intention”?

Often at the beginning of a yoga class, you’ll hear the instructor say, “Set your intention for practice.” What does that even mean?

I used to feel a flash of anxiety when I was told to set an intention. What should I pick? It needs to be something pithy, like peace. No, world peace. No, inner peace! No–what about forgiveness? Wait, what was I thinking about yesterday that would make a good intention? Something about being fearless… Oops, I missed what she just said and I don’t have an intention yet! 

I always had the nagging feeling that my intention wasn’t special enough. That was probably because I didn’t fully understand what an intention is, and how it was supposed to help me.

Setting an intention for your yoga practice is a way to be mindful about your practice. You pause for a moment to consider what you want to get out of your practice, or what you want to focus on. It’s very simple, actually.

These days, I tell my classes that your intention doesn’t have to be anything profound, or anything you might want to embroider on a pillow. It is simply a positive thought, word or image, or maybe even a person to whom you want to dedicate your practice.

Once I understood this concept myself, I started using the word listen. I was learning that when I was able to quiet my mind, I received new insights. My intention became to be still and listen. When my thoughts distracted me during class, I practiced bringing my mind back to my intention, to listen.

One of my favorite intention images is a daisy. A simple, beautiful, bright flower that symbolizes freshness and purity.

Some days I’ll dedicate my practice to someone. Usually this is when I’m thinking about someone (or worrying about someone) and I want to send the person peace and love.

At the end of practice, sometimes I tell my students to recall their intention, and let it go. Then I ask them to form a new intention for the rest of their day. Doing this is a great way to take yoga off your mat and into the world.

This is similar to “segment intending,” which I learned about from Esther and Jerry Hick’s book, The Law of Attraction. Instead of just moving through your day at random, segment intending brings mindfulness to every part of your day.

For example, when I’m driving to the studio to teach a yoga class, my intention is to arrive safely, arrive on time, and clear my mind so I can teach well. Right before class, I set an intention to open myself to the wisdom of yoga and the energy in the room, so I can serve my students. Later, I may set an intention to drive home safely and finish the items on my to-do list.

You can do this, too. Once you set the intention, you draw it towards you. (The Law of Attraction!)

Having an intention also helps me to stay focused. If my intention is to study, or to run errands, then I can more easily stay on track when other things pop up. For instance, I won’t let myself be distracted by wandering into HomeGoods, wasting time on Facebook or playing Bejeweled Blitz.

Try segment intending today, for maybe just the next segment of your day. Let me know how it goes.


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