Any yogi has certainly heard this from their yoga teacher at some point:
“Take a moment and set your intention for class.”
I’m asking my students the same and have heard this sentence in almost every Jivamukti class. But what does this actually mean?
Our intention at the beginning of class and our intention for our yoga or meditation practice is a seed we plant. It’s not exactly a goal, it’s not exactly a purpose, but rather an aim—a direction toward which the energy generated in our practice flows. After all, we are dealing with prana, life force energy, in yoga, and prana directed in a certain way can remove blockages, release tension, and bring about change in all areas of our life.
When practicing Ashtanga every day last year, I set my intention to use the practice as a way to release my karma. Any kind of karma. A mishap in a crystal healing treatment in India, which left my energy all over the place and myself quite shaken, had me intensely focused in my yoga practice. Yoga was the only way I could bring my energy back into place and release karma so that this misaligned energy would not happen again.
Over the years, I had different intentions for different purposes, but last year marked a shift that was “all or nothing” for me. What I didn’t know at that time was that the practice of Ashtanga (the eight-limbed path of yoga) would lead me exactly along the path of the yoga sutras, namely leaving the asanas (the third limb) behind and going deep into meditation (the seventh limb).
With an intention, we channel our energy like a river in one direction or the other. Where we reap its benefits depends on where we’re directing our intention—like water given to a plant.
If our intention for yoga practice is to lose weight, get more flexible, or feel peace of mind when we leave class, it will certainly benefit us in this way. If our intention is to advance from “Ashtanga Primary” to “Ashtanga Intermediate,” it will happen one way or the other. If our intention is to become stronger, master the most difficult asanas, hold our breath for more than a minute, and release toxins through the practice, it will definitely provide us with these benefits too.
But is that all there is to the practice?
I’ve seen many Ashtanga students get hung up completely on the physical aspect of the practice. The desire to advance in asanas and get that extra adjustment from the teacher. I’ve also seen a lot of people new to yoga entirely fixed on the fitness aspect of it: to lose weight, get into shape, and look good for summer. I’ve also seen the other crowd that uses class as a stage to show off how good they are, which new apparel they are wearing, and how awesome their yogic lifestyle is.
Nothing wrong with that; everyone finds happiness in their own way and in their own process of learning. But is that all there is to the practice?
“Those whose consciousness is unified abandon all attachment to the results of action and attain supreme peace. But those whose desires are fragmented, who are selfishly attached to the results of their work, are bound in everything they do.” ~ The Bhaghavat Gita
You can also see it this way: A practice without intention is empty. A practice with intention toward a physical or material goal is limited to only that. A practice with intention toward a spiritual goal is unlimited in its possibilities.
When I set my intention to release karma, my intense Ashtanga practice, and even India, the resulting synchronized events brought me to a powerful meditation spot. Once meditation started there, not only did my body change, but my prana increased (like ants running all over my body), my mind started to shift, and things in my life started to change. In the end, it shifted something so dramatically that I left my Ashatanga practice behind and settled into meditation for hours.
Set the intention right and magic happens.
Yoga is a path to freedom. It’s a path to balance our emotions, health, and mind and get rid of drama, illnesses, and unnecessary problems. It helps us to feel good about ourselves and ultimately transforms the body. But above all, yoga means “union”—a merging with the divine. It is a spiritual practice to transform all aspects of our lives in order to merge with something greater than our limited sense of self.
Intention is a powerful container for a seed to blossom and become a beautiful flower. The practice itself is simply a way to tend to the blossoming process of the flower. It’s the sun, the rain, and the nutrients the flower needs on its way from a seedling out of the hard shell of the seed, up through the darkness of the earth to reach above the ground, through the different stages of growth until the final blossoming happens.
Once the flower is fully blooming, our practice might change or even fall away. Once transformation has taken place, that very same practice is not needed anymore. But until then, the practice is the essence. And the intention is the driving force behind.
So, what is your intention for your practice, today and everyday?
Author: Anne Haack
Image: Kristl Lefevere
Editor: Danielle Beutell
Copy Editor: Callie Rushton
Social Editor: Yoli Rammazina