7 Steps to Adding Intention to your Yoga Practice

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 12.13.16 PMWe all come to our mats for different reasons. Some of us for just a moment to breathe, some to sweat, some to sit, and sometimes, well sometimes we’re not quite sure how we got here.  While we may find ourselves chanting and flowing mat-to-mat, so close its not clear whether thats your sweat or your neighbors puddling beside you, but the truth is that even in a studio, yoga is still intensely personal. By cultivating intention in our practices we can start to bring the real yoga back into focus.

 1. Set one. You’ve probably heard the often used “set your intention” promptly followed by a few Sun Salutations. On days of, lets say, less than enthusiasm for the physical practice, my own lovely little internal voice has replied with a snarky “to get through this damn class”. It may not sound like a very yogic intention, and it’s certainly not the stuff of Namaste’s, rainbows, and unicorns, but it is authentic. Even if you’re first thought isn’t of gratitude or forgiveness, don’t discount what your body and mind are telling you. Intention doesn’t have to be grandiose and you certainly don’t have to think of your sick grandmother every time you jump back to chaturanga. Try to remember why you stepped on your mat in the first place today. If your find yourself praying just to make it through class, its likely your really trying to tell yourself to listen to your body. That in these moments your intention is to simply be mindful and take only what you need regardless of whats happening around you.

2. Turn off your phone. It feels crazy to even have to say this, but turn off your damn phone. It’s amazing how that little whistle, a soft vibration, even the imagination of one, can completely pull you out of the moment. Your emails will still be there, Instagram won’t flag your account for inactivity, and you brain will thank you for it.

 3. Create a safe space. It may mean exploring every teacher in town until you find the one. It may also mean putting in a little extra effort at home to set up a distraction free zone. Think about those practices you’ve had that have been truly wonderful or transformative. Where have you felt safe and supported? Maybe its the lighting, music or no music, props, or aromatherapy? How can you inject that feeling into your own practice space?

 4. Listen to your body. We simply can’t be mindful if we’re fighting ourselves the whole time. We’ve all been there, quit pushing on that door that clearly says PULL. Set aside what you thought your practice was going to be, what you think it looks like, and start stepping into the reality of what it is. That doesn’t have to mean settle, or don’t work hard. It just means that everyday is different, why would we expect our practices to always be the same?

Screen Shot 2014-09-22 at 12.15.00 PM5. Remember pranayama. It’s easy to roll out your mat and jump right into a flow. Try slowing down as you start practice and notice your breath. Notice it in down dog, notice it in Tadasansa, notice it in handstand. Counting the breaths can often be very helpful to gently crowd out unrelenting thoughts. Kapalabhati can be powerful heat building breath work to stoke the belly fires and focus the mind early. Let your breath do the focusing for you.

 6. Savor savasana. Five  minutes of Savasana is a gift. Ten minutes is winning the lottery. Allow yourself to revel in this time sans outside stimulation and see where it takes you. If you find yourself making grocery lists or rehearsing imaginary conversations, try not to force it. Just come back to where you started. Soften your muscles, soften your breath and give yourself the gift of ease.

 7. Remember that its a practice. Every time we step onto our mats is a new experience, and a new opportunity. Resist the urge to berate yourself if you find your mind wandering or miss a day of asana. Cultivating intention is just as much of a practice as Surya Namaskar B.

CarlingHarpsheadshotCarling Harps is a yoga doer & teacher, move maker, kick aficionado, sloth & kitten enthusiast who loves helping students build a strong foundation to explore their practice through alignment, self inquiry, and being rooted in the present moment. 

Website: www.patrickandcarling.com

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