Why Set an Intention?

I hear it often in the beginning of class. It’s usually said in those first few minutes as we sit or lie with eyes closed and shift into the space from our days: take a moment and, if you wish, set an intention for the practice.

Sometimes it’s only there at the beginning, while at other times we might be invited to set an intention that we can take with us off our mats. The intention is ours. It may or may not be linked with any particular theme the teacher has structured his or her class around. Of course, we also don’t have to set an intention and can just take the time to connect with the breath. It’s our own choice.

So why set one?

While said as cautionary, many may have come across a this proverb – or quote – at some point (I’ve shortened it here to relate to intention): “Be careful of your thoughts, for your thoughts become your words. Be careful of your words, for your words become your actions. Be careful of your actions, for your actions become your habits.”

I use this portion of the quote to highlight the (forgive the pun) intent behind an intention. An intention may be something we wish to continue or to manifest in our lives. It may be something we think and that we want to become habit, to become a part of ourselves. It might be to practice more, to take the class as an invitation to cultivate a self-practice, or to eat more healthy. Maybe it’s even to take more time for one’s self, or to call up loved ones more often. Practice patience, non-judgement. It’s what you make it.

The act of setting the intention focuses our thoughts to that goal, or to that mentality. That may, with practice, become habits.

Why I set an intention

To me it’s a way of consciously reminding myself of something to which I’m working in myself. If I had a long day, and I step onto my mat and remind myself that I am trying to live a more healthy life, then maybe I’ll hold that reminder when I get home and am making a decision between a quick snack from or preparing a salad for dinner. And sometimes it can carry over to the next morning when the decision might be between going to a yoga class or the gym, or sleeping for another half hour.

And sometimes it’s a way to bring me more fully into class. After a crazy day, I might be lying there on my mat thinking of the things I still have to do, or wondering about the the things I didn’t get done and when I might. But then when I’m invited to set my intention, I start to think about why I’m in class. I came for the physical and mental practice and it’s time to shift into the mindset of breath and movement focus.

I may not always come back to my intention in class, but when a teacher invites us to revisit the intention at the end of class before closing the practice, I often feel a renewed sense of energy. To me, it stems from the gratitude of taking the time for myself to flow, to do something good for my body and my mind and the desire to carry it forward into my days. 

This is the part of a series of posts for The Mat yoga studio, sharing my thoughts and observations as a student only. The views and opinions are my own.


Patricia returned to Texas after spending several years on both coasts. She's a writer, amateur photographer and traveler.

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