What Does “Setting an Intention for Your Yoga Practice?” Really Mean?

yoga intention 3.pngSetting an intention… huh?!

For years I thought (or pretended) to understand what my yoga teacher meant when he or she invited us to “set an intention for your practice”. I’d usually choose a “goal” for something I wanted in my life; ‘calm’ or ‘less stress’ or ‘relaxed’ and then usually not think about it again for the rest of the class.

Recently, I’ve begun to think about and explore what this instruction / guidance really means. And it’s been an enlightening discovery!

On the blog Yoga Flavored Life, the author Charlotte suggests that we use intention setting to ask ourselves, “How am I going to be in this practice?”

Notice the importance of presence here; the intention is not for the future, but for the now; the practice, the time on the mat.

She also references an article by Phillip Moffat in an article for Yoga Journal:

“Setting [an] intention, at least according to Buddhist teachings, is quite different than goal making. It is not oriented toward a future outcome. Instead, it is a path or practice that is focused on how you are being in the present moment”

Note the difference between setting an intention, vs. attaining a goal; a distinction I was failing for a long time to make. The intention is how you are going to approach the class, not what you want the class to provide you with afterwards.

yoga intention 2.pngMat intentions can translate to life goals too, though

Although there is common agreement that the intention should be set for the NOW, the present, the approach to this class, it is agreed by many that this intention can then be extended from the mat into your day, and moving forward, your life.

This reminds me of one of my favourite quotes:

How we spend our days is, of course, how we spend our lives.” — Annie Dillard

And that is the point – and the awesomeness – of setting an intention for your yoga practice; you pinpoint a certain quality that you want to cultivate more of in your life by forcing you to see what you need to bring to the mat right now.

So what kind of intentions can you set for your yoga practice?

Well, quite frankly, whatever you darn please! Don’t overthink it; let your subconscious bring whatever needs attention in your life right now to the surface.

Taking the time at the beginning of a class to acknowledge how you are feeling – both physically and mentally, whether this is positive or negative – is a great way to set your intention.

Here are some ideas:

Health & Wellness

Are you injured, feeling sluggish, tired or out of shape? Suffering from body image issues? Stressed? Your intention in this class might be:

  • To be kind to myself
  • To take it easy
  • To respect my body’s limits
  • To be proud of myself for getting to class
  • To love and appreciate my body’s amazingness


Maybe you’re having trouble, disagreement or conflict in your personal or work life and it’s left you feeling angsty in class. You could bring the following intentions to the mat:

  • Patience
  • Peace
  • Understanding

Or maybe you’re feeling great?!

  • Gratitude and positivity are also great intentions.

How to use the intention in class

I used to be quite good at choosing an intention, but then I rarely thought about it again for the rest of class. But you can – and should – refer to the intention throughout your class. Come back to it when your mind wanders, when you find yourself looking at the clock, when you’re feeling physically challenged or if you’re wanting to give in.


Some more ideas for intention setting:

  • Patience
  • Gratitude
  • Kindness
  • Empathy
  • Presence
  • Forgiveness
  • Fearlessness
  • Positivity
  • Abundance
  • Strength
  • Love / appreciation for your body
  • Peace
  • Understanding
  • Light
  • Awe

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