Why does my yoga teacher ask me to set an intention?
At the start of class many yoga teachers, myself included, ask their students to set an intention for their practice. When I first started yoga I didn't know what sort of intention I should be setting, nor did I understand why I was doing it.
In order to get to the 'what', you need to start with the 'why'. In the modern, western world, 'yoga' has become synonymous with the physical practice of postures, or asana, but it is in fact a holistic practice and a way of life. Many are only interested in the physical, but even if that is you, you will notice yoga seeping into your life off the mat. This could just be the way yoga makes you feel great, even when class has ended, or you might find it has calmed you down, or lifted your spirits and therefore you bring a little extra joy or energy to those around you. Setting an intention is about bringing a bit of that extra yoga something to your practice. It allows you to dedicate your practice to something other than your ego and gives you something that lasts longer than that particular class on that particular day.
Let's expand into the 'what'. One type of intention is to set yourself a goal for the class. This isn't necessarily a physical goal, but rather an intentional goal. For example, rather than your intention being 'I'm going to do a wheel today', perhaps it could be 'I'm going to be open to trying new things today'. Even though you may set this intention for the class, it then gives you something to take through your day or week with you and into future classes. It might be that being open to trying new things in a class means you are open to new experiences off the mat. It could also be that in setting that intention you had more fun in class, or found a pose you didn't know was available to you, encouraging you to try new things more often.
Alternatively, you might want to set your intention for something off the mat, by identifying something you want to bring more of into your life. You might begin to notice this coming onto your mat too. For example, your intention could be to show more love, which could lead you to being a little kinder to yourself in your practice.
A similar practice to setting an intention is to dedicate your practice to someone. Again, this enables you to make your practice less about your ego and more about the bigger picture. I was initially cynical of this when I first practiced with teachers who told me to dedicate my practice to someone else. I didn't see how doing some stretching for an hour in a class could possibly benefit anyone else. But I slowly began to realise that, for me at least, it's not about what happens on the mat but afterwards. I channel those endorphins, clarity of mind and good feelings I get after a class to the person, or cause, I dedicated it to. It can be as simple as giving a person in the street a smile, phoning a loved one, or making someone a cup of tea.
The types of intentions you can set are limitless, but the key is to take yoga off your mat with you and into the wider world.