Setting Yoga Intentions: A Guide

“Our intention creates our reality.”  – Wayne Dyer

Does your yoga teacher ever instruct you to “set an intention for your practice?” Teachers often invite students to set yoga intentions, but rarely do they explain how or why.

Intentions are desires that we activate with our thoughts, words and actions.

More grounded than a wish. More serious than a resolution. Less complicated than either.

Setting an intention for your yoga practice is simply bringing your attention to a quality that you wish to cultivate.

That could something very yogic, such as contentment, self-compassion, acceptance or non-attachment, or a more tangible request like building physical strength, concentrating on your breath, being gentle with your body or inviting a sense of playfulness.

Your practice does not need to be advanced to work with intention. You just need to understand what an intention is, how to set one and how it can impact your yoga, on and off the mat.

Setting Yoga Intentions A Guide

What is an Intention?

INTENTION

ɪnˈtɛnʃ(ə)n/ noun

1. an aim or plan

​ 2. medicine; the healing process of a wound

Yoga tradition refers to intention as Sankalpa, which is defined as an intention, solemn vow, determination or will formed by the heart and mind. Sankalpa has little or no regard for the outcome –  it’s about how you are being now.

Intentions and goals are different.

  • Intention includes your motivation – the attitude you want to cultivate, the feeling you want to feed. It’s internal, and it will help you maintain the right spirit as you endeavor. 
  • Goals are quantifiable – you should be able to articulate them clearly. They are external, meaning that someone watching would be able to assess objectively whether or not they are met.
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Having both clear intentions and clear goals is critical for success.

  • Intention provides mental and spiritual inspiration and focus, and without it it’s easy to give in to challenges.
  • Goals help you apply the right physical effort to the task at hand. Without goals, you miss out on the opportunity to act, and without action, there is no growth.

Why Set an Intention?

Intention gives you purpose, as well as the inspiration and motivation to achieve your purpose. 

On the Mat

By acknowledging how you desire to feel on the mat, you can approach practice with clarity. Your yoga intentions can help guide you through your yoga practice.

Your yoga intentions can be whatever you feel you need. They can help guide you through your yoga practice by keeping you positively focused, motivated and inspired.

Off the Mat

When you define how you want to feel off the mat, you can make decisions that create the life you truly desire to live.

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How to Set an Intention

Time spent mindfully, or aware – on and off the mat – is a chance to centre, become quiet and discover what you may not even know you’re seeking.

Intentions illuminate that you are in control of your thoughts, experiences and reality.  Working with intention is powerful for personal and collective growth and healing, inspiring change and elevating awareness – in all of life.

“By banishing doubt and trusting your intuitive feelings, you clear a space for the power of intention to flow through.” – Wayne Dyer

How To Set Yoga Intentions On the Mat – 5 Steps

Intention, or sankalpa, can be used in yoga practice in the form of yoga intentions to remind yourself why you came to your mat. Or you may use yoga intentions to influence the focus or vibe of your practice.

Usually, we set intentions at the beginning of practice, so… Sit down. Look around. Flutter your eyes partially or all the way closed. Take a few deep breaths. And…

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1. Ask yourself: What do I need in my practice today?

Perhaps it’s stress relief, anxiety reduction, strength building, peace in mind, fun at heart, self-acceptance…

2. Choose one intention.

Choose yoga intentions to thread throughout your class or practice. It may be an idea, phrase, mantra, image… Repeat it in your mind consistently, such as each time you come to stand at the top of the mat.

3. Reflect on your intention.

Embody the idea by conjuring the physical sensation of already having what you desire. How does it physically feel to be calm or content or whatever your intention is? Perhaps your belly softens or your breath slows.

4. Come back.

Inevitably the mind wanders. Our task is not to keep it from wandering, but to gently guide it back when it does. Intention is a beautiful way to remind ourselves why we’ve come to the practice – in general, and in the moment.

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5. Take it off the mat.

You may wish to carry your intention away from your practice, or set a new one to take into the world!

How To Set Intentions Off the Mat – 5 Steps

Intention setting can be practiced off the mat, anytime. Casually, whilst brushing your teeth, or more ceremonially.

Try this. Create a cosy sacred space with pillows and blankets. Move – have a shake, a dance, a mini yoga practice or some kind of combo, gentle or wild. Snuggle into your nest. Take a few slow rounds of breath with awareness. And…

1. Ask yourself: How do I want to feel?

Intentions are focused on feelings. What we’re actually seeking is the feeling that we think will arrive alongside our wish.

If you wish to find your soulmate, what is it that you really want to feel once you have found Prince(cess) Charming? Desired, loved, safe, sexy, nurtured, excited, part of a team, playfulness, seen, heard…

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2. Become what you seek.

Don’t wait for the person, achievement or thing you are manifesting to show up. Feel the feelings you want now. If you wait to cultivate the qualities you desire, you might miss it! Thus is the science of manifesting – The Law of Attraction: Like attracts like.

You naturally draw in the essence of what you are. What you radiate is what you magnetize. And practice makes perfect, so practice feeling and being exactly what you desire – loved, safe, sexy, nurtured, excited, etc – in your life NOW.

3. Clarify.

Get super clear on why you want what you want. What are you really seeking? Our desires and needs are ever-evolving. Make sure you are manifesting what you want now – not old news.

Re-evaluate regularly by asking yourself:

  • What feelings am I seeking?
  • Is there something that’s even more aligned with my soul’s ethos?
  • Am I trying to please someone else, or following someone else’s path?
  • Questioning your motivation allows you to become even more refined with your intention setting. Often we are unconsciously motivated by internalized voices – a parent or partner, our own ego… Clarify your motivation.
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4. Physically feel how it feels.

How does being loved and understood feel in your body? Warm and tingly? Relaxed? Peaceful?

Where do you feel it and what do you feel – perhaps you’ve let your shoulders or your belly soften? Bringing your desired feelings into your body gives them roots in your present life because you’re creating new neural pathways and teaching your nervous system how to feel and be.

Again, practice makes perfect – practice feeling at ease and content. Feel your intentions by attaching the emotions to physical sensations – the body recognizes signals before the mind does, so training ourselves to physically feel emotions prepares us to recognize the stuff that is working right now and receive more of it.

5. Let go.

Trust that all is happening for a reason and that when you are super clear with your intention, the Universe conspires to support you in every way.

Your Higher Self/Source/Spirit/God (your choice of Higher Power!) activates to make your intention reality. Let that Power take care of the details – what you think you want will likely end up looking different than what you envisioned, it will be even better.

When we are attached, we constrict and resist anything that doesn’t look like what we thought it would. This blocks the flow of energy, so:

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  • Take a deep breath.
  • Let go. Surrender. Detach from the outcome. Exhale.
  • Await magic, and expect the unexpected.
  • Gratefully, graciously receive.
  • Feel contentment, joy, happiness, peace, sexiness, etc.

Intentions can be long-term or short – try setting an intention for your day, or even just the length of your yoga practice or walk to work. Start small, set yourself up for success, and take it from there!

Yoga intentions amplify the power of the yoga practice to calm, focus, strengthen, uplift, inspire, optimise and even heal both body and mind.

This simple yet powerful tool can help you focus and gain clarity. Setting intentions draws that clarity onto your mat and into your life.

There is no right or wrong when it comes to setting an intention – on or off the mat.

“When your intention is clear so is the way” – Alan Cohen

Searching for the perfect practice to set yoga intentions to?

Why not try Restorative Yoga?

Our article will guide you through 8 restorative yoga poses, the perfect backdrop for you to set some powerful yoga intentions.

Anna Sugarman
UK-based yogini, transformational yoga teacher trainer, blessed mom, grateful soulmate, courageous wanderluster, academic goddess, glamorous gypsy, love lover – in awe of life and passionate about supporting others in optimizing theirs.

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