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The Importance of Intention in Yoga

Fitness | Motivation

Lessons from a Yoga Rookie – A weekly column by Catherine Richardson.

Intention.  We’ve all heard about it.  Some teachers stress it more than others.  Some of us take it more seriously than others.  But, as someone who has really connected with the concept, I am here to testify of its power.

That elusive moment at the beginning of a yoga class can be the most important part of the practice.  I have found that the intention I set in that moment – and the commitment I make to it – has a significant impact on how the next sixty to ninety minutes will play out.

Examples Of Intention In Yoga

One of my yoga teachers often prompts her students to set a specific intention: “let me be strong”.  This has become my “go-to” intention.  When my muscles begin to tremble, I think, “let me be strong,” and I am able to harness an inner strength I didn’t even realize was within me.  It is an amazing feeling to go deeper into a pose than you even knew possible.  That innate marriage of mind and body is where true yoga happens.

Another one of my favorite intentions is to forge a truer connection with my breath.  For each and every movement to correspond to an inhale or an exhale.  I challenge myself to go as long as possible without losing this union.  And to refocus when I get caught up in myself and lose sight of that breath.  To breathe louder than any thought or doubt.  This intention fosters that same nexus of mind and body, as the best intentions do.  This is the power of intention.

Why Do We Need Intention?

Sometimes, I will get to the moment when a teacher will instruct me to set an intention, and I just won’t be able to come up with anything.  I’ll usually think something along the lines of, “It’s okay, I’ll just focus on yoga”.  Nondescript.  Nonspecific.  But it’s sort of an intention, right?

Wrong.  The beauty of an intention is that it gives you something concrete to connect to throughout your practice.  Just “thinking about yoga” is not enough.  When you’ve been standing in Warrior II for five minutes, you are pretty darn focused on yoga.  Even if you wanted to, your screaming legs wouldn’t let you think of much else.  In a moment of this intensity, it is helpful to come back to your intention.  To concentrate on how the sensations in your body are contributing to the greater good.  To allow your mental toughness to complement your great, physical strength.

Stay Connected To Your Intentions!

As I move through my practice, even if I have set the best of intentions, I find that I lose sight of it from time to time.  My mind wanders.  I get distracted by trembling muscles, or worse, my nemesis, self-judgement (but that’s a story for another day).

Hey, I’m human.  I can’t expect to be “on” all the time.  But in yoga (and in life), we are perfect just the way we are.  So when a thoughtful teacher’s prompt reminds me of my intention, I pause.  “Let me be strong”.  And I am able to move forward with my practice, with a renewed awareness of my intention.

I believe intention makes yoga, well, yoga…

If it were up to me, I would have teachers remind us of our intentions at the start of each flow.  Before every pose, even.  Because I truly notice a difference in my yoga practice when I am able to effectively maintain an intention.  It is often the difference between a great and mediocre experience.  That is how much intention means to me.

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