As a teacher, I start every class the same; Eyes closed, deep breaths, and time spent on letting an intention sink into mind and body. Sometimes I have a specific intention in mind for the practice, other times I prefer to leave it open to the individual. “Why is it that you showed up today. How is it you want to feel when you leave your mat?”
Why do I do this? Because this is the essence of yoga. It’s what makes our yoga practice more than just a workout, or a series of poses. The mind is a powerful thing, and a big part of yoga is about uniting mind and body. What better way to do that than setting a specific goal for your practice, before you start moving? Intentions can be anything. The intentions for my own practices vary depending on what I need. Some days my intention is to simply be present. At other times my intentions are more physical in nature, such as trying a new pose or holding a certain pose for 5 breaths longer than last time.
Using an intention on your mat most simply allows you to direct your focus to something specific. Intention setting directs our conscious thought and energy in a certain direction, which in turn keeps the subconscious mind more focused. Why does it matter? Icek Ajzen (1985) explains it like this:
“Human social behavior can best be described as following along lines of more or less well-formulated plans… Consider such a relatively routine behavior as typing a letter. When setting this activity as a goal, we anticipate the need to locate a typewriter, insert a sheet of paper, adjust the margins, formulate words and sentences, strike the appropriate keys, and so forth. Some parts of the plan are more routine, and require less conscious thought than others, but without an explicit or implicit plan to guide the required sequence of acts, no letter would get typed.”
Our lives are driven by our minds. We need the driving force of a thought — a goal — to achieve just about anything and everything. Without plans, we’d simply be wandering around aimless and without direction. All we need to evolve is a few moments of focus and breath — The space and time to set an intention before initiating our actions.