When you start practicing yoga it can be helpful to consider why. Are you looking to unwind, destress or center yourself? Maybe you’re trying to be more active or wind down in-between trips to the gym, we all have different reasons. Whatever motivates you to step onto the mat, setting an intention can help you center yourself and focus on your goals, a practice that can be helpful for beginners to even seasoned yogis.
With the arrival of the new year we’re all embarking on new journeys and if you’ve decided to make yoga even a small part of that, setting intentions for your practice can help you start off on the right foot. “Setting intentions are helpful for your yoga practice because it allows you to set expectations and goals for yourself.” Explains Kelly Clifton Turner, director of education at YogaSix. So where do you start and how can you implement an intention? We reached out to Kelly and a few master trainers at YogaSix for some tips you can use even if you’ve just rolled out your mat for the first time.
Intentions are personal so the only person who can tell you what your intention should be is you. Think of it as a mini resolution with way less pressure, ask yourself, what brings you to the mat today? What are you hoping to accomplish or achieve? “Reflect on your weaknesses or address something you’d like to improve upon and use yoga to let your mind and body change for the better,” Kelly says. An intention doesn’t have to be long or intricate, just a brief positive message, a reminder to be more mindful and remember the reason you stepped on the mat today.
Maybe you’ve been stressed and want to focus on cultivating calm, your intention could be as simple as “I am at peace” or “Everything is going to be okay.” If you’re cautiously optimistic for the year ahead, your intention could be, “I am open to new opportunities.” You can keep it short and sweet, “I am present” and assign your own personal meaning to the brief phrase.
Once you have your intention or even a general idea of what you want to focus on, it’s time to get moving. While your intention can fit any practice, the trainers have a few poses that will really help focus and ground you for a few intentions. Y6’s trainers have a few suggestions below.
“Let go of the need to control everything and trust the process”
Master trainer, Valerie Lucas suggests Humble Warrior for those hoping to worry less and trust things will work out. “It opens the hips and the heart and requires you to be grounded before fully surrendering into the pose. Without grounding first, you could literally fall on your face, so this pose offers a gentle reminder to find balance between effort and ease as well as trust within the pose.” Start in Warrior 1 and interlace your hands behind your back, inhale and lift your chest and exhale bowing forward bring your head and heart to your leg and raising your arms above your back.
“Be flexible in the way you set expectations for yourself and others”
It’s vital to be kind to yourself and others, especially around this time of year when you may struggle or feel pressured to maintain your resolutions. To practice flexibility master trainer Emilie Porter-Rand suggests Tree Pose. She explains “Trees are sturdy and strong because they bend and move as the environment changes around them.” Start in a mountain pose with your feeling firmly grounded, bring your hands together at your chest, bring one knee towards your chest then outward as you gently rest your sole on the inner thigh of the opposite leg.
“Challenge yourself out of your comfort zone”
Master trainer Christine Kick recommends the Supported Fish post, “It is passive and uses blocks, which allows people to relax through the deep opening of the spine and focus their efforts on remaining calm and present.” The supported backbend requires a bit of getting out of your comfort zone and opening your heart. Start on your back using your forearms for support as you lift your back and shoulders off the mat, use blocks or a blanket under your back or head for support.
“Slow things down and be more present”
A great way to end any practice, Kelly recommends Savasana a pose the requires little to no movement. “This allows for a relaxing pause on life to integrate both the practice of yoga and your day, something that can have profound effects on your life. It can also induce productivity, creativity, and overall happiness.” Start on your back with your legs outstretched and your arms at your sides, spend this time focusing on your breath and winding down.
If you’re just beginning your yoga practice, there are a few more things to keep in mind to help you get the most out of each session. A mat or towel isn’t the only thing you’ll need, prepare for your practice by hydrating sufficiently and eating a light but healthy meal, Kelly explains, “Eat something with a nice balance of calories from protein, fat, and carbs to give you fuel a couple of hours before the practice. You shouldn’t be hungry, but you also should avoid being full.”
Stay comfortable is the right outfit, Kelly advises you wear clothes that are more form-fitting not only will you be able to flow more freely, you won’t have to worry about sweat weighing down leggings and yoga pants the way they would weigh down baggy sweatpants or a loose t-shirt. Most importantly, know your limits and customize poses to suit you, so grab those blankets and blocks at your yoga studio. Kelly explains, “Implementing modifications that suit your body is key. Using blocks in your yoga practice is a great way to modify poses, without compensating the integrity of the movement.”
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