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Intentional Practice: A Guide to Discovering What You Really Want from Yoga

Intentional Practice: A Guide to Discovering What You Really Want from Yoga

Sankalpa, the yogic practice of setting intentions, is something you do whether you mean to or not. Unconsciously we always set goals for ourselves, but these desires were probably a lot closer to the surface when you first began practicing. After a few weeks or months on the mat, it can be easy to settle into routine. You may not take time now to consciously acknowledge what it is you came here looking for. The guide below will help you adapt that practice to draw out your intentions and honor your highest self.

Want What You Want

A lot of the research on fitness these days is focused on motivation: internal versus external rewards. One reason it can be so difficult to acknowledge what you really want from your practice is that it’s often driven by outward expectations, which, while important, and not particularly great at getting you on the mat every day.

It can be hard to admit to yourself that what you really want is time for quiet reflection, especially when you think you should want to lose weight or get fit. Yoga can satisfy many different needs at once, though, so there’s room to integrate different aspects into your practice.

If you’ve been focused on fast practices, try including some slower, meditative poses into your routine, like bends and twists. I also like to end each practice with a 10 to 15 minute session of yoga nidra, known as “the meditative heart of yoga.” It doesn’t involve any muscle work at all—instead you slowly relax each body part, and then focus on evoking various emotions, sadness, warmth, boredom, excitement, fear, joy. It’s kind of like stretching for your soul.

Live Your Intentions as Though They Were Accomplished Fact

Maybe you’ve heard the old saying “if wishes and buts were candy and nuts, oh what a party we’d have?” Constantly focusing on what we wish we had is one of the seeds of dissatisfaction. It ensures that you’d constantly in a state of almost arriving, instead of being exactly where you are, in your body and your current emotional framework.

When you find an intention, practice living it as an already-accomplished fact. Say to yourself, “I am strong,” or “I am at peace.” This is a small change linguistically, but it has a huge psychological impact. It opens up room to explore how it really feels to be at peace, to be strong, or whatever it is your heart most desires.

Don’t Be Afraid to Change

The beauty of life is that we grow and change. In yoga, we watch our bodies get stronger and more flexible. Meanwhile, our personalities are changing. It doesn’t make sense to repeat the same mantra to yourself every day. Over time, what you need from your practice may change. In fact, if you’re experiencing a lot of transitions in your daily life, your wants and needs could shift as frequently as every few hours.

When you integrate mindfulness into your practice, you begin to recognize and accept your needs just as they are. Maybe today’s intention is to shake off stress and do some self care, rather than performing the perfect wheelbarrow. It’s okay to change your intention throughout the days or even in the course of a single practice. For this reason, it’s good to check in with yourself both when you start and end a practice. In fact, it’s pretty exciting to see how a good stint on the mat can change your perceptions. It’s truly one of the greatest gifts of yoga.


Jesse Silkoff is an avid runner and tennis player. He currently resides in Austin, TX where he works as the President and Co-Founder of FitnessTrainer, the leading online marketplace to find a local personal trainer that can help you achieve your health and wellness goals.

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