The summer before I started yoga teacher training, I aggravated an old running injury and found myself with continuous knee pain. Most movement and even some sitting and lying positions hurt.
So nearly every evening that summer, I showed up to my yoga mat with the same intention: to be gentle. I chanted it to myself before every sun salutation, every forward bend, every hip opener, every last movement: “Be gentle.” If any hint of pain or tweaking arose, I would again finely tune my position to align with that intention.
That chorus of gentleness often followed me off of my yoga mat, too. If sleep eluded me and rumination wanted to take root in my mind, I reminded myself that I could be gentle with my thoughts. If a coworker was getting on my last nerve and I was tempted to say words I couldn’t take back: “Be gentle.”
That one intention brought yoga to so many facets of my life!
Yoga, after all, is more than shapes we make with our bodies and breathing exercises. It’s also a practice of connection, not only with our bodies, but with our hearts and others’ in the universe.
What matters about our time on and off the yoga mat has little to do with how efficiently we wrap ourselves into pretzels, and so much more to do with how we show up for ourselves in the process.
That’s why many yoga classes start with an invitation to set an intention. Intention-setting allows you to create deeper meaning by cultivating a tone for your yoga practice.
There are so many different ways to set an intention for your yoga practice and even more ways to carry it out into the world.
Here’s one way to set an intention:
Sit quietly with your eyes closed. Breathe deeply. Notice how you feel. Then ask yourself what quality you’d like to embody today. Keep in mind that this intention isn’t about doing (e.g., getting really flexible or mastering a challenging pose); it’s about being some way.
You may want to embody the quality of patience, peace, kindness, or courage. Today, choose just one quality that feels right to you, and really let it sink in.
To make this intention easy to chant to yourself, finish this phrase with your quality: “May I be…”
May I be patient. May I be gentle. May I be kind.
Throughout your yoga practice, come back to your intention time and again, not only repeating it as a mantra, but also by embodying it to the best of your ability in movement and in stillness.
How can I be patient (or peaceful or kind) as I move my body? As I sit quietly? As I breathe?