I firmly believe that the most powerful way to deepen your yoga practice is to confidently set an intention before the class begins. In the Ashtanga tradition, we set this intention while standing in samastitihi (equal attention pose) which grounds us in the space before we begin moving. Standing tall, pressing equally into the four corners of our feet, we listen for the sound of our breath to experience present moment awareness. Your intention, or sankalpa, can be set while you are seated, while you are lying down, or while you are parking your car on the street before even entering the studio. It is important to set an intention for each practice that is deeper than ‘I’d like to tone my inner thighs, please,’ or ‘Today I will master handstands.’
The Buddha is attributed with saying, “Our life is shaped by our mind; we become what we think.” This is meant to remind us that our bodies are a physical manifestation of our thought energy. Your practice is only as deep as your intention for it. If your mind is busy planning your grocery shopping list (like mine often is on Thursday mornings before I head to Trader Joe’s that evening) then your practice will be superficial as well. If all it took was a strong handstand to achieve enlightenment, then every college mascot would be living the high life. My undergrad mascot happened to be played by a very close friend of mine, and I would absolutely attribute Zac as being (top 10) one of the funniest people I know, but perhaps his ability to walk down a flight of stairs on his hands (true story) didn’t ultimately lead him to a state of blissful Union. In other words: our practice is intimately influenced by the quality of our thoughts.
I ask students to choose one word that represents a quality they would like to cultivate in their lives. Patience. Kindness. Healing. Energy. Strength. This thought can be your intention. After a few months of practicing with me, my friend Adelaide confided in me that her recent move back to the Midwest and recent job change in the competitive world of advertising had resulted in a sense of insecurity. For several years she’d practiced yoga on and off, but now had re-committed to daily practice, and this had changed everything. She sent me this e-mail:
“You have honestly made a difference in my life and helped me restore confidence and self-acceptance that I had let wane during recent tense life moments.
I feel immensely better about myself and my surroundings since I’ve chosen to incorporate yoga and your teachings into the flow of how I live.”
The movement of your practice is not what is special: what is special is your intention behind the movement. Yoga designed to develop faith, grace, and reconciliation with your own body. Yoga is designed to heal.
Set an intention at the beginning of every class. Every practice. Every time. It may be helpful to repeat a personal script that firmly sets an intention. You can write your own, or you can just use mine. I think it works pretty well. (I mean, I’m not enlightened yet, but I’m working on it!)
“With my breath, I set my intention for this practice. I renew my commitment to practice with integrity and with passion.
With my breath, I set aside this time for me. Everything that happened before this practice and everything that will happen after this practice can wait outside. I dedicate this time to healing myself so that I can bring healing and hope to my community.
May I breathe for myself and also for my neighbors. May I be a vessel of Divine Love and Grace. May this practice be a blessing of health, happiness, and wholeness.”
Happy practicing, with love,