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Let me set the scene for you.

You’re sitting in a comfortable cross-legged seat. Your eyes are closed. There’s some kind of nice-smelling essential oil burning, and soft music playing. You’ve had a long, hard day and you’re ready to move dat body. But before the movement begins, your yoga teacher encourages you to set an intention to carry with you for your yoga practice. Aaaand your mind goes blank.

If you’ve ever had that experience in a yoga class, you’re not alone. Setting an intention can be kind of daunting or seem a little strange at first. But – like most things in yoga – you can’t really do it wrong. And it’s definitely worth trying out.

What is an intention?

An intention is basically a quality that you want to carry with you for the duration of your practice – and maybe beyond. The Sanskrit word for intention is Sankalpa. Kalpa means vow, and San means a connection with our highest truth. A Sankalpa, then, is a promise that we make to support our highest truth. As such, any intention that we set should be something that really rings true for us personally – not just something we think we should do. Setting an intention for your yoga practice is simply bringing your attention to a quality that you would like to emulate for your time on – and off – the mat. That quality could be gratitude, strength, awareness of breath – whatever you want to cultivate.

Why do we set intentions in yoga?

Intention-setting takes yoga beyond being just a physical practice, and brings it off your yoga mat and into your life. It’s kind of like a mini New Year’s Resolution that we get to make every time we come the mat. How amazing is that?

Setting intentions is so powerful because not only do we focus on it during our yoga practice, but our mind will often continue to be drawn to it outside of class. It can be nice to work with the same intention for a while, until you feel that you are really embodying the qualities you want to.

How to set an intention

First, just focus on your breath, and the beating of your heart. Let the rest of your day melt away as you come back to yourself. Turning your awareness inward, meditate on what really matters to you. Bring your awareness to a virtue that you would like to embody. It can be anything you like. Be careful of your wording and try to keep it positive – for example, instead of saying ‘I won’t take my body for granted’, say ‘I am grateful and full of love for my beautiful, healthy body.’

You can draw your intention back to your mind at any point during your practice, especially when things get challenging. Focusing on an intention of strength or gratitude during boat pose, or self-love when you’re staring at your tummy in shoulderstand helps make the posture feel way easier, and gives it some more meaning beyond the purely physical.