At some point in your yoga practice, you’ve probably been asked to set an intention or sankalpa. Setting an intention is a wonderful way to start your practice, your day, or any new beginning, but in doing so it’s always good to step back and ask why you’re doing it. What is intention? What does intention mean to me?
Intention is the ability to stay in touch with the core values you wish to live by as you pursue your goals and interact with others. One of the things I love about yoga is that if you truly pay attention to what you’re working on in class, you’ll probably find a connection to something you’re working on in your life off the mat. For example, you may set an intention to be more open to trying a new pose instead of taking the option to do a pose you’re already comfortable with. Later, at work, you may realize that the stuck feeling you’ve been experiencing is due to not taking on new tasks that challenge you, as you’ve become comfortable with your current workload. So you make the intention off the mat to take the necessary steps to challenge yourself more at work.
How to set an intention:
Determining what intention means to you is a very personal path that involves many steps; as with any practice, patience is key. Here are three steps I’ve found helpful to setting an intention — on and off the yoga mat.
Pare down. The first step requires delving into your mind to explore the thoughts and patterns you have formed. In doing so, you may be confronted with the fact that you need to clear some of the busy work on your to-do lists to slow down and prioritize healthy habits like yoga and meditation.
Tune in. The next step involves tuning in to your heart, where pain and disappointment from the past can sometimes get lost and hide the truth of what really stirs the love for self and others. I find my meditation practice helps me the most in this area — by visualizing people I love and those I am trying to understand better, I am able to tune in to my compassionate center.
Trust your gut. The final step involves going deeper — to your core, where you can open up to the areas that are blocking you at the gut level and reconnect with your power, authenticity, and truth. Your core is your center of support and should be used as the foundation to building an authentic life. When I first started doing yoga, I thought of my core in the way most Americans do: as a muscle to conquer and flatten. However, after many years of yoga, I’ve come to appreciate my core as my center of strength and stability, both mentally and physically.
Intention is important, especially if we use it to keep us on track with living a purposeful life according to our own core values. Through intention, we learn to look inside ourselves in order to step outside ourselves, recognizing and eliminating inner barriers and habits that are no longer serving us and understanding the purpose that they served.