Setting intention: How to create a powerful Sankalpa on and off the mat

When I went to my first yoga class many moons ago and the teacher asked to set an intention for our practice, I clearly remember feeling puzzled. My mind went completely blank as I was trying to figure out what the teacher wanted me to do.

If you have ever found yourself in this position, you are not alone. Setting an intention (Sankalpa in Sanskrit) can seem quite a strange and daunting thing to do if you are not used to it. Luckily, as with most things in yoga, you can’t really get it wrongand when you understand how to do it, setting intentions will come naturally as an integral part of your practice.

What is an intention in yoga, and beyond? 

An intention is bringing your attention and awareness to a quality or virtue you wish to cultivate for your practice both on and off of the mat.
Below are some wonderful yet simple ideas for intentions you can set at the beginning of your yoga practice:

  • To love and accept yourself so you can love and accept others
  • To practice being non-judgmental
  • To invite strength and cultivate your inner power
  • To develop openness in your body so you can face the world with greater openness
  • To send the energy created by your practice to someone facing a health, emotional or real-world challenge

An intention is also a guiding principle for how you want to be, live, and show up in the world — whether at work, in relationships or in any area of your life. By setting an intention you are building a bridge between what you work through on your mat, and what you continue to focus your mind on when you step off of your mat. This intention is a powerful energetic tool to take your practice into the world.

Easy inspirations for setting your own intention

Creating your own sankalpa is a fundamental principle for offering your practice to something larger than yourself and moving your life in the direction of manifesting your intention.

Your intention should be closely tied to your personal thoughts, values and perspective on life. Intentions can be a clear and specific wish, or as simple idea you would like to align yourself with.

A good way to form an intention is thinking about these questions:

  • What are you grateful for?
  • What would you like to let go of?
  • Who would you like to forgive in your life?
  • What word(s) would you like to align yourself with?

A sankalpa can be as easy as a single word or short sentence such as ‘open my mind and heart’, ‘love’, ‘strength’, ‘be kind to myself and others’, ‘peace’, ‘be courageous’, ‘freedom’.

Intentions put to practice

The reason for setting an intention might be different for everyone. A common bottom line is that our thoughts are powerful. As we are creating a wonderful, positive energy on the mat, why not channel that energy into our reality beyond our yoga practice?

If you set an intention, try to check in with it from time to time during the practice. You can picture your intention as a little balloon or an inner flame that is getting bigger and bigger with each pose or each breath you take. Your movements are feeding energy into the intention, giving it purpose and strength.

After class you can explore carrying your intention into your day. You can revisit your intention often, especially when you feel you need an extra boost to go through life. Pin it (metaphorically) at the centre of your mind when you feel off balance go back to it and reset. Intentions are a wonderful way to help you stay grounded and reconnect with what is important.

Living by your intention will also set an example to inspire the lives of those you around you. By living your intention, you are expressing your authentic truth, embodying this wonderful energy and keeping it with you.