If you’ve ever taken a yoga class before, the teacher most likely began by asking everyone to “set their intention” for the class. This reflective moment may just be the most crucial part of any practice, because it allows you to establish a healthy affirmation that can translate both on AND off your yoga mat. Think of it as a positive mantra that you can silently repeat during times of difficulty. It sets the foundation for how you want to feel in the present moment – whether that be when your muscles are quivering in chaturanga or when you’re feeling overwhelmed during a stressful presentation at the office.
I’ll be the first to admit that there are many times when I can’t seem to think of a good intention, in which case… I typically start daydreaming. And it’s during those times when I never seem to feel as fulfilled at the end of my practice, because I’ve allowed my mind to wander aimlessly during each asana.
It’s one of the reasons why I started developing a list of “go-to” intentions, in order to fill my mind with positivity, instead of thoughts of what I’ll be cooking for dinner later or whether or not my favorite character is going to die on Downtown Abbey (yes I’m very behind on that tv show, so no spoilers please 😝).
So how do you set realistic intentions?
Start by asking yourself how you are currently feeling in your life, and if you want to continue to amplify that feeling or instead, change it around completely. For example, if you’re suffering from continuous self-doubt, your intention could be as simple and powerful as “I am strong.” If you’re feeling like you’re being pulled in a million directions, a satisfying intention could be “I can find balance”. Or another one of my favorites that works whether I’m feeling happy or even when things aren’t going my way – “I am thankful.”
Whatever you decide your intention should be, make it personal, keep it short and focus on those words to get you through the present moment.
Wait – what about yoga goals?
Something that used to confuse me plenty when I first started practicing yoga was differentiating between setting intentions and establishing goals. To me they sounded exactly the same, and as a very goal oriented person I would always lean towards the latter. I would begin my yoga sessions thinking about the future outcome – ie. holding plank for 30 seconds longer than last time or mastering a new yoga pose. These little aspirations were vital to my practice and yet very different than setting positive intentions. If your mind is always thinking of the future, it has no room to think of the present – and that’s what I was missing.
To put it simply: goals put the emphasis on future outcomes, while intentions focus on the present moment. Goals are quantifiable and something to build your practice towards, whereas intentions are all about achieving inner harmony and rooting yourself in a positive feeling.
How do you establish the right yoga goal?
Whether you’re a seasoned yoga practitioner or you’ve literally just bought your very first yoga mat, establishing obtainable goals is pivotal to getting the most out of your practice. Start by asking yourself what it is you want yoga to do for you. Do you want it to bring you less stress? Do you want to increase your flexibility? Do you want to be able to do a handstand?
Now that you’ve determined what you want to obtain from your practice, it’s time to come up with a plan and steps to get there. My tip? Always start with the basics. For example, when I first started practicing yoga my original goal was to become strong enough to do an arm balance – like bakasana (crow pose). It wasn’t until after I worked on strengthening my core and being able to comfortably hold plank, that I finally attempted crow pose a month later and was able to hold it without falling.
Short-term vs. Long-term goals
It’s super important to establish short-term and long-term goals to keep your yoga practice from becoming stale. Before you enter a class or begin a home practice, set at least 1 small goal that you will strive to obtain by the time you lay down in savasana. This short-term goal can be as simple as “I will try a new inversion” or “I will hold Warrior II for an extra 30 seconds”.
When thinking of a long-term goal, it’s important to factor in where you currently are and what limitations your body may have. We are all built differently and what takes someone else 2 weeks to master may take you 5 years to feel comfortable in. There are also some poses that you may NEVER be able to do, due to previous injuries or even the way your body is built. That’s why it’s so important to keep your goals realistic to you and give yourself the proper steps and time to get there.
Both goals and intentions are the building blocks to creating a beautifully powerful yoga practice, where you exercise yourself both physically and emotionally. My intention today is “I am at peace” because it allows me to accept the things I can not change and be thankful for all the blessings in my life. My short-term goal for today’s practice is to try several new poses that I haven’t attempted in the past year (I’ll update you on how that goes later!).
Whatever your intentions and goals may be, I hope they will bring you much joy and allow you to gain more from your yoga practice. 💖