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Setting an Intention for Yoga

What’s the difference between an intention and a goal? According to their technical definitions, the goal is the desired outcome of your intention, which is your plan. But the modern English word “intend” is derived from the Latin word “intendere” which is made of the roots in- ‘towards’ and tendere – ‘stretch, tend.’

Often at the beginning of a yoga class the instructor asks us to find an intention for the day’s practice, or suggests one, for us to focus on during the class. Instead of thinking of this intention as a plan of action, what if we thought of this intention as something we are stretching towards?

The theme of our first weekend of yoga teacher training was “intention,” and the very first evening we were asked to reflect on this and our intention for the next eight months. If the goal is to become a yoga teacher, then why are we working for this? What do we intend to bring to others and ourselves by reaching for this goal?

I’m a goal-oriented person. I design my own planner: at the beginning of every month, I write down my monthly goals and trace out the weeks, where I leave space to write a few weekly goals every Monday. It keeps me actively working towards the things I want to accomplish, and I love it. But during this first weekend of training, I realized most of what I had initially written as intentions for the training were closer to goals. They were things I wanted to be, not things I was working towards. They were driven by my ego – things I wanted to do for my career based on what I thought were my strengths. Not that this makes them inherently bad – our identity and our goals can contribute a lot to this world. But I needed to dig deeper. I needed to examine what my heart’s desire was to reveal my true intention. I moved 500 miles to work towards this training. Something must have driven that beyond just wanting to be a yoga teacher.

Ultimately, my intention arose like this: in the middle of class, our teacher Kelly gave us the opportunity to reflect on our intention for this training. I still hadn’t come up with anything compelling, and my mind struggled to grasp on to anything that seemed plausible or important. I suddenly realized I was trying to force it, that I needed to let these verbal thoughts go. A moment later, a strong colorful abstract image arose naturally, and it almost brought me to tears. It came up again the next morning during our time for reflection and again it moved me to tears. It’s been a month, and I’m still not totally sure what it is or what it means. But that just means it’s something I get to continually stretch towards.

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