How often do you practice yoga asana with an intention? There is no right or wrong answer here, however, setting a conscious intention or sankalpa may make your asana practice more impactful in your life.
Consistently setting an intention with a goal in mind is an example of sādhanā, or a means of accomplishing something. The disciplined practice of sādhanā can lead to a feeling of connection to something greater than yourself. Some people connect to a higher power, some to nature and some to something explicitly spiritual, but what matters is that whatever you are connecting to has meaning to you, and this in turn can help bring more meaning to your practice, and most likely, your life.
Some yoga classes seem to tap into a feeling of connection better than others—there’s the breath, a sense of oneness with a higher power and the freedom in our asanas. You can go back to the same instructor and they could teach the same class, but the connection you had in the class before just isn’t there. What’s going on? First of all, that’s life. We have our good days and bad days and the days in between. However, through setting an intention/ sankalpa, we do have some control over having more good days on our mats—the days that we leave not quite sure what just happened, but we know it was something beautiful.
When I first started yoga I spent a long time setting the intention to be more connected to my breath. I didn’t realize at the time I was using sankalpa (the intention itself ) to create sādhanā (practicing to reach the ultimate goal of connecting my mind and body to my breath), but I was. Every time I got in my car, I made a conscious effort to be a hundred percent focused on my breath. After about a month of practice, it started to come naturally. I was completely hooked to the melodic rush that swam through my body: my breath. And so my sādhanā began.
I can often see some students in class who make their time on the mat a true reflection of sādhanā. Whether they know they are or not, through their consistent practice, they are creating a spiritual connection. The graceful movements, the deep breaths, the sparkle in their eyes when they leave class seemingly walking on a cloud. That’s what keeps me coming back to my mat—I want that feeling as much as I can get it.
Even when I teach I need to feel a connection, a feeling of grace, to feel like I’m leading a class that will help guide students to that special place. That’s a lot of pressure to place on myself for each class, and it’s one of the reasons I only teach a few classes a week. However, with that intention comes magical moments for me as a teacher: a spiritual buzz in the room.
Now, before my classes I sit in a quiet place, recite my mantra and breathe deeply. This sādhanā starts my class off with the feeling of union with something much bigger than myself. When I’m in a lull, I make an extra effort to connect to my breath. For me, my breath joins me to the spiritual, and it allows me to feel the moment and to let go.
Here are some steps to help get you started in your sankalpa/intention in your life and foster a sense of connection in your practice.
1. Choice. Choose a pose or activity. Is there a pose that makes you feel alive, or one that makes you feel grounded? Regardless, choose a pose, and each time you come into that pose, consciously set an intention. If you don’t practice yoga, visualize something you do regularly: maybe it’s driving, taking a walk or even brushing your teeth. Each time you partake in that activity, recall and recite your intention.
2. Commitment. Decide if you’re going to do this every day or once a week. Whatever frequency you decide, commit to it. Commit to a time period as well—14 days, 30 days or maybe longer. Once your time period is up, reflect on what happened, then choose another intention for your pose or activity. Let it become more infused in your life.
3. Intention. Let’s say you choose tadasana (Mountain pose) or brushing your teeth as a time to set your intention. Sankalpa in your sādhanā is not just coming into the pose or the act of brushing your teeth, it’s connecting in a deeper way and bringing the post or action to life by using intention. With this intention, we connect. Say something to yourself–it can be any phrase, mantra or prayer that has a deeper meaning to you. If you are religious or spiritual, your intention can be something such as: “I am connected to God,” “Baruch Atah Adonai” or “Praised be you Adonai, our G-D” for someone who is Jewish), or any other prayer that you know from your religion. It can also be as simple as: “I am open to listening with my full attention” or “I am strong in body and mind.”
I hope that this practice will bring you more moments of grace on your mat and in your life.
Pam Udell has been a yoga instructor and anatomy enthusiast for over 20 years.