Setting Intention: Free Your Attention + Self-Expression Will Follow

With these words, I hope to underline the importance of setting an intention — in yoga and in life — to become more peaceful and fulfilled in our sentient state. 

There. I just did it. In my mind and on the page, I articulated my intention. Like you, I’m practicing, too.

Setting an intention isn’t quite the same as setting a goal, setting an objective, or even articulating a desire. 

[Related: 5 Steps to Intention Setting During Your Yoga Practice]

Intentions are less specific. They’re more about the kind of experience you wish to enjoy, manifest, or co-create. In the yogic philosophy, setting an intention is a heartfelt forward projection of how you would like to align your life to your purpose and move toward reaching that experience.

Focus Clears Your Vision

Here’s a story for you. I once taught a yoga class that centered on prosperity. At the beginning of the hour, I asked each person in the class to set an intention. One student’s intention was to focus on the potential experience of working in a field she loved — photography. I asked that the class feel the experience of their intentions. She didn’t ask for money, yet within a day, a previous employer sent her a check, without explanation, that covered the amount she needed to buy the camera and lens she had her eye on but couldn’t afford. Jackpot!

Now, I’m not promising that a check will come in the mail, but I do believe that if you’re in tune with what you really want and need, you can get what you desire. It’s old wisdom restated: Ask and you shall receive.

When yoga meets intent, the stage is set for a fuller and more meaningful life. By aligning your practice with your true intentions and controlling the thoughts in your mind, you enter a space where miraculous, inexplicable, funny, poetic things start to happen.

How can you practice setting intention, both on and off your mat?

1.    Turn on by tuning out the monkeys.

Sit quietly, and breathe in and out three times. Hear your “monkey mind” — you know, that constant chatter of internal dialogue — and practice quieting it down. Observe the thoughts and internal arguments, which are often contradictory. Once you start, you’ll laugh at how the monkeys contradict each other.

In his book The Untethered Soul, Michael Singer reminds us that the narratives we create in our own minds will always be running (after all, we’re story-making creatures), but it’s up to us to choose where to place our attention.

2.    Listen to what your best self needs.

Once you’ve tuned your mind’s radio to a better station, one that disavows self-doubt and self-sabotage, you can begin to focus on your own unique expression and formulate an intention that’s aligned with that. Your extrasensory capabilities will then have a chance to rise up from the quagmire of grocery lists, parking tickets, carpools, emails, and all of life’s other distractions. 

I’m reminded of many students I teach who continue yoga practice in the face of chronic pain or cancer. In fact, they continue because of their ailments. They inspire me, and the greatest gift a teacher can receive is to see students heal and thrive despite terrible prognoses. These students attract healing by listening to their inner wisdom and setting intentions beyond just “getting better.” Through intention, they embody healing energy itself and make space for it within themselves.

Listen to the best parts of yourself, and let them come forward. Silence the voices of fear, worst-case scenarios, and pain. You’ll receive what you put forth.

What do you hear? What do you need from the universe? Health? Money? Wellness? Relationships?

Wayne Dyer, whose life was powerfully dedicated to helping others set intention to positively affect their lives, suggests a new law of attraction in his book The Power of Intention: You don’t attract what you want; you attract what you are.  

3.    Create light to help navigate life’s turns.

It’s time to choose your intention. Intention is a forward spotlight that illuminates your journey. You may not know what lies ahead of you, but if you’re tuning in and listening to your body and spirit, they’ll direct you and move you toward something good. 

Like driving a fine-tuned racecar that smoothly and effortlessly glides over small obstacles and around treacherous bends in the road, staying in tune with your intention allows you to use cruise control — you’re still present and engaged, but many of the car’s extra bells and whistles aren’t necessary. By setting intention, we can leave the busyness behind and be human beings, not human doings.

First thing every morning, write three pages of whatever comes to mind, as recommended by Julia Cameron in The Artist’s Way. Doing this simple task, which she calls morning pages, will fill you with a sense of possibility and direction, leaving less space for your inner critic, worry, and anxiety. 

Starting with the premise that thoughts create reality (i.e., our thoughts drive the car), writing our intentions, then, is like programming our GPS at the beginning of the day. By choosing to pay attention to the power of our bodies, spirits, and minds, we gain control over where we’re heading.

4. Express and Feel Gratitude

Awareness makes all the difference. Where and how we choose to see ourselves within our world is closely linked to our intentions. Are they erratic and random? Do they contradict themselves? Or are they considered, weighed, and meaningful?

Even before you begin to see changes in your own life, give thanks. It’s powerful beyond words. Even the small things, like when my son and I got his first baseball uniform the other day, become moments of supreme joy when I see intentions around my family and their joy being fulfilled. 

Likewise, in the yogic world, even simple poses like downward dog can teach you something new and powerful every time if you approach them with intent, curiosity, and, as Shunryu Suzuki says, a beginner’s mind.

Allow your intentions to be a positive influence by sharing your intentionality with others, and your ripples of consciousness will radiate and reflect back as your joyful, unique self-expression and experience.

Photo: iStock


Paresh Shah is an experienced entrepreneur, strategy and innovation expert, executive, yoga instructor, life coach, and dad of four kids. He’s the founder and CEO of Glimpulse, the Human Expression Company that creates products to challenge, inspire, and equip people to be happier and healthier by sharing the giving, loving impulse we all have. Follow Paresh on Twitter at @pareshLA