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What are "Intentions" in a Yoga Class?

Updated: Feb 19, 2022

In my opinion, the practice of yoga is intimidating. There are alot of words and routines that are unfamiliar for people. There can be some judgement around what it means to "be a yogi." I once had a negative experience with someone who questioned my "level of yogi" based on her definition of one.

That's what I'm here for. To help you understand yoga. To help you understand that there is no such thing as a "level of yogi", nor is anything in that line of thinking important.

What matters is this: are you feeling mental and physical relief from your yoga practice? Is it helping you be a little softer toward yourself and others? If yes, you're doing it "right".

Moving forward with that mindset, let's explore yoga together. This blog is a great place for that. Each post is meant to help you understand a little more about yoga, making the practice less intimidating, and allowing for more people to benefit from the joy of the practice.

Today I want to go over what it means to set an intention in a yoga class. We use the term intention alot at Journey Forward - read on to learn about what we mean!


Scenes From My First Yoga Class

Me, 2016, just starting to take public yoga classes. I make it to the class. I have no idea what to expect. The teacher begins leading us through poses. I don't know if I'm doing them right, so I'm peeking around at other people and trying not to seem creepy about it. It's only been a few minutes, and I'm already kinda lost. We get to a standing position, and the teacher starts talking about choosing an intention for class (I'm like - lady, my intention is to survive this class). She says I can choose my own, or take her intention of "gratitude", now my mind starts going - what should I pick? I'm in a crisis trying to figure out both the poses and the intention. As we go through she is giving us ideas for thinking about the intention while we flow through the poses, and I'm sorry but I'm not feeling alot of gratitude in Extended Side Angle today.

Maybe this sounds familiar, maybe I'm a little out there...?


What is an Intention in Yoga?

An intention is a purpose for being on the yoga mat.

I always say it in class. You could come to yoga without a purpose and still get something out of it.

But it's so much more helpful to come with a purpose. There is a reason we choose yoga over other forms of exercise. It's because it's good for our body AND mind. The "mind" part is what the intention feeds. It's not just something to work with ON the mat.

We take it with us when we leave.


Choosing Intentions as a Yoga Teacher

As a yoga teacher, your responsibility is to hold space for your students. That space should be calm, even, and full of potential. It should not be distracting, and should always be encouraging.

An intention is a part of that space the teacher creates. It needs to be authentic and relatable. It needs to be broad enough to allow the students to take it where they need to take it. It needs to go with the flow of the class, not against it.

In an effort to achieve this at Journey Forward, we chose to have one intention for the entire month. This helps the students and teachers stay focused, and really dive into one area for a longer period of time. As many of our students were relatively new to yoga philosophy, we chose to begin with the Yamas and Niyamas, which we felt were very relatable (truth, kindness, generosity, contentment, discipline, etc.)

As teachers go through class, part of our job is to continue reminding the students of the intention. In doing this, the teacher reminds - let's not get lost in all these poses. Let's not forget that yoga is MORE. Let's not forget that you are more than a body.

As you can see, there is alot of thought that has to go into choosing intentions for yoga teachers! The best teachers are the ones that work tirelessly to find this balance - try and fail, try and succeed, over and over again.


Choosing Intentions as a Student

As the scene from my first yoga class showed, intentions can be hard to pick! Unless you are coming to the mat with a very specific intention, my advice is to take the intention the teacher suggests. This will stop your mind from moving in different directions, trying to pick the "perfect" intention.

Listen to the teacher, but don't be afraid to let their voice fade more into the background. This yoga practice is about you. Not everything a teacher says is gold, not everything a teacher says is your style. Take what works, and leave the rest. At the same time, there have been things I thought weren't for me, but they actually could've been helpful:

Me, in class: Kindness? Why do I need to focus on that? I'm already kind.

Me, trying to park in Boston 30 min later: Oh. Oops. I get it now.

If you're wondering how the process goes to pick your own intention, my suggestion is to choose one word that sums up what you want to work on (patience, gratitude, acceptance, etc.). Bring that word to class and hold it in your mind as you flow. Another powerful way to approach it is to make it into a mantra, a statement that you repeat - (I am patient / I have gratitude for all I have / I accept myself and others for who they are.)


In yoga, we work on more than just the poses. We work with our minds. We work with our personal goals. Intentions bridge that body - mind practice. Intentions pull us through the practice, helping us see the larger picture. We take the intention with us when we leave the mat, and it brightens and improves our lives.



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