How a Yoga Beginner Sets Her Intentions for Practice

I’ve been practicing at Modo Yoga for a month, and I’m starting to see some major differences in my mind and my body. Although it’s been a particularly trying month mentally, I’ve been able to view challenges a little more evenly than I was able to before. Plus, my arms actually have some visible muscles on them.

Since I live only a few blocks from the studio, I’ve incorporated my walk to and from the studio into my practice. I take that time to get into a proper mindset, and to set my intentions for that day’s practice.

Whether you consider intentions too "New Agey" or not, I can only say that setting them is worth trying. On bad days, they're nothing but encouraging words, and on the the best days they're life-giving and affirming. Either way, couldn't we all use a little bit of that magic in our lives?

Intentions have been helping me structure my practice and put meaning behind the movement. It feels good to imagine that my progress in any bend or twist is dedicated to moving me forward in a specific, intentional way.

So here is what I do on my walk to the studio.

Identify my pain points

Am I hurting today? Where? I don’t typically focus too much on my physical body, unless something throws up a red flag of potential injury. Instead, I search for anything that’s distracted me or that has been showing up negatively in my mind that day. For example, a messy kitchen, a work deadline, financial issues, schedule changes. Or the usual favorite: what the hell am I doing with my life?

Zoom out

From there, I try to take a broader view of the most nagging thought. Why am I feeling that way? What part of me is resisting or fighting against it? I find that what motivates my worst feelings is most often my ego, and most often it’s a very fearful ego. Other feelings like guilt, shame, sadness and anger show up now and again, but fear is usually what I end up focusing on.

Make it actionable

Next, ask yourself what you need from this practice to work through those feelings. Let’s say you’re feeling afraid of what you should do next in your life. You’ll need things like courage, strength, concentration, direction and motivation. Which of those speak to you today? Strength and direction speak to me, especially in the context of a yoga practice.

Boil down what you need into a couple words or a phrase that make you feel good. I typically try to stay away from negatives (like “don’t worry” or “stop belittling yourself so much”). Conversely, I stay away from anything too positive that can tip me over into sadness or self-loathing if I can’t get it right (things like “be better” are too difficult and vague). Instead, I like to stick to more objective and realistic terms like “take up space in this world” and “celebrate today.”

Keep yourself in line

When my mind starts drifting, usually in Shavasana when my muscles are not being challenged, I have to remind myself of what brought me to the mat. I repeat my intention in my mind and gently let other thoughts drift away. 

Eventually, I let the intention go too and work on quieting my mind completely. My intention is the last bit of conscious thought I hold onto before I wipe everything clean. (As clean as I can, my meditation can be quite noisy).

Reflect on what you learn

On my walk home, I ask myself “what did I learn in practice today?” It’s not always related to my intention. Some days I learn that I hold serious amounts of tension in my shoulders, which massively interrupts my breathing. Some days I learn that I am stronger than I thought I was, physically, mentally or both.

Last week when my intention focused on “purpose,” I had a realization on the walk home. I found that I didn’t love the word “purpose,” because it feels too predestined, uncontrollable, and it doesn’t allow for change. And I want the freedom to change. So from here on I’ll be using words like “direction” or “intention” to guide my practice.

It's pretty cool stuff. Usually, my mind knows exactly what it got from the practice. I just need to ask the right questions.

To wrap this up, I thought I’d share a few of the intentions that I’ve been setting for myself this month. I’ve even been taping some to my yoga mat to serve as a reminder each time I unroll it before practice.

  • Take up your space in this world
  • Celebrate today
  • Be still, be peace
  • Move forward and through fear
  • Wildly unburden yourself
  • Lay aside the burden on your spirit
  • Seek direction
  • Find the strength/courage to pursue your goals
  • I am open, I am happy, I am healing (I wrap up my practice with this one)

What intentions do you set on or off the yoga mat?