If you’ve ever taken a yoga class, perhaps you can remember being by your teacher to “set your intention” at the beginning of your practice — something that a lot of teachers do in their classes. It sounds simple enough, but it’s actually pretty easy to get it confused with thinking a goal instead.
The words “intention” and “goal” may be used interchangeably in everyday life, but in yoga, they’re quite different. Knowing the difference can help you turn your yoga practice into something that is much more personal, meaningful, and transformative.
What a Goal Is
A goal can be simply described as a desired outcome. It’s an end result that you don’t have yet, but came up with by using your mind to analyze your thoughts about a problem that needs solving. Emotional responses that are triggered by those thoughts then often influence your decision in setting your goal.
Let’s look at an example. You may think that your flexibility needs a lot of work, so you set a goal to eventually become flexible enough to successfully contort your body into Gandha Bherundasana — otherwise known as the pretzel-like formidable face pose where you lie on your stomach and then bring your legs way up over your head while your torso bends backwards and your feet reach the floor in front of your face. While this is a great and very ambitious yoga goal to have, it’s not really an intention.
What an Intention Is
So if a goal is some kind of desired outcome, what could an intention be? Well, you can think of intention as your energetic starting point in its purest form for your goal. It’s that powerfully authentic vow that comes from your core. It goes deeper than the mind and comes from a state of pure awareness.
The best way to determine your truest intentions is to meditate. Find a quiet place where you can sit without being interrupted, tune into your breathing and allow your mind to fall into the silence and the stillness. Once you’ve reached this state, allow your intentions be released and reveal themselves to you.
An intention may be be revealed to you in a way that makes it as simple as saying “I will breathe fully,” or “let me be strong.” It may also be more emotional than physical, like “I release all my fears,” or “let me embrace vulnerability.”
What really sets an intention apart from a goal is how an intention comes from a place of presence whereas a goal is a future projection of the mind. With an intention, you embody your authenticity in the current moment and keep it with you for as long as you need.
With a goal, on the other hand, you have to use your mind to create images of what you want your future state of being to look like, which may or may not be a reflection of your authentic truth. While you may work hard to achieve certain goals that you decide to set to set for yourself, achieving them won’t necessarily keep you satisfied and fulfilled for very long afterward if you didn’t set your intention first.
Ideally, you should be setting both intentions and goals for your practice, both on and off the mat. When combined together, your goals will be supported and supercharged by the energy that comes from embodying your intentions.
Photo (edited) via Gabriel Garcia Marengo