Quite regularly at the beginning of class I’ll ask my students to think about their intention for that day’s practice. I often give them examples too – such as moving through the practice with ease, being kind to themselves, or working with a sense of the ground beneath their feet.

I’m conscious though that the idea of an intention is very easily confused with that of a goal, even though the two are vastly different. Sometimes I’ll try and explain this as I open class but other times I decide that there’s quite enough of me blathering on as it is!

Long story short then I decided to write it all down – so I can give people some food for thought before they come to class (and even if they’re not coming to class at all!).

Differentiating intentions from goals

A really simple way of differentiating intentions from goals is to remember that whereas intentions are internally-focused (about how your inner self relates with itself and others) and very much about the present moment, goals are externally-focused and driven by our desires for the future.

Put a different way, if an intention is about how we wish to behave, a goal is about what we want to achieve.

Let’s take an example – the age-old ‘I want to/need to/am going to lose half a stone’. It’s all about the destination (the future), and about how we appear to the outside world. ‘I’m going to make mindful decisions about what I eat’ on the other hand is both about the now (the present) and our internal decision-making processes – our relationship with ourselves.

Unsurprisingly perhaps, a set of (considered) intentions can actually help manifest the goals that we have set in life so it’s true that one may lead to the other (or it may not!) but crucially you can sense that there’s an authenticity, or truth, to the latter that just isn’t present in the former. There’s a kindness too – a more gentle touch.

Intentions guide us in our decision-making – not just once but many times, over and over. So to come back to the example, mindful decision-making about food is around for the long-term, whereas the half a stone weight loss is here and gone – forgotten once it’s achieved, or if never achieved at all providing us with yet another stick with which to beat ourselves.

Why intentions?

We tend to think that happiness is caught up in what we have or how we look – it’s perhaps why we have such goals in the first place. But the reality is that focusing on the external to affect the internal is, frankly put, a road to nowhere. There’s no happiness in this, bar a fleeting rush of adrenaline as the goal is achieved. And what happens next? You just set yourself another, and kick the whole cycle off again.

The reality is that true happiness is borne of living authentic, in touch with ourselves, lives. And one of the ways that we can facilitate this is in setting and living by intentions – because, when they are true and authentic, these intentions have immense power to both change the way that we live and to change our experience of life.

But how?

Now all this is well and good, but how do we go about setting our intentions? Let’s take a look…

We set goals by using the mind to create an apparently desirable picture of the future. So it stands to reason that to generate authentic intentions we have to bypass the mind, and get a bit deeper. Meditation is one way, and asana (the physical practice of yoga) another. Simply allowing oneself to exist in silence for a little while too can work – the common theme being the removal of distraction and tuning in to that subtler, harder to hear, voice within.

When we’re working on setting intentions and something arises say it out loud if you can, or test it quietly in your head if you’d rather. Remember that your intentions are meant to be guides not dictates, so check in with how it makes you feel. Empowered? Or disempowered? If the latter, it’s probably time to start again.

My own intentions

To conclude this entry then, how about a look at my own intentions? I have a number – including a few that I’ve been working with for some time! Here’s a quick peek:

  • I intend to make mindful decisions about what I do with my time (I’m prone to people-pleasing and exhausting myself doing the things I think others want me to do)
  • I intend to be kind to myself, to be my own best friend (I can easily be my own worst critic – and there’s really nothing more miserable and demoralising than listening to yourself give yourself a hard time)
  • I intend to find ease, in even the most difficult of situations
  • I intend to live a life that is authentically mine

What about you?

What are your intentions?

(And if you’re not quite sure perhaps this was the prompt you needed to begin an intention of exploring what it is to live from the inside out, rather than the outside in…)