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Why We Set Intentions in Yoga and Meditation Practice

woman doing yoga at sunset

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Key Takeaways

  • Research shows that considering and setting intentions can help us achieve goals more easily.
  • Setting intentions in yoga or meditation strengthen the mind-body connection, but self-doubt can lead us to question whether we’re “doing it right.”
  • Starting with gratitude and considering the purpose of our practice can help us set intentions that align with our goals.

Your yoga class has just begun, and your instructor invites you to set an intention for your practice. Maybe you've done this before, choosing a purpose or hope for the effort you put forth on the mat. But sometimes the invitation to set an intention can come with confusion, pressure, or the question of, "Am I doing this right?"

Intentions are important to any such mindful practice as yoga or meditation. They can manifest as a word or phrase that helps us align our mental and physical energy. While there's no wrong way to set them, the concept itself can feel mysterious. If we don't fully understand the purpose and effect of intentions, doubt can creep in as to whether we're using them correctly.

The Purpose of Intention-Setting

Intentions aren't exclusive to yoga or meditation practice. Research shows that goals are more often achieved when intentions are considered and set at the outset. They can have a powerful impact on our lives and potentially the world around us: A 2016 study suggested that even water can be influenced by intention.

But during a mindful practice, intentions often play an important role in connecting the mind and body. Jasmine Allen, a certified trauma-informed yoga teacher based in California, considers intention-setting the first step to grounding down into your practice.

"Setting your intention, I find, helps to focus on the things you do have control over, which is your energy, your focus," Allen says. "When I start a yoga class or meditation, I encourage my students to consider what their intention might be for class. I'm hoping that they're able to use that intention to anchor themselves during the practice because it's normal for the mind to wander off."

Allen provides intention suggestions for students, such as being kind yourself, being gentle to your body or focusing on your own practice without comparing yourself to those around you. Listening to your body and focusing on what you want out of that particular practice are the building blocks of intention-setting.

Dealing with Doubts

But what about when doubt creeps in? Psychotherapist Joyce Marter, LCPC, author of "The Financial Mindset Fix: A Mental Fitness Program for an Abundant Life", says questioning whether you're doing it right is completely normal.

"Setting an intention is a form of abstract thinking that utilizes our more intuitive, open and creative mind," she says. "It’s our ego that judges whether we are doing it right... The ego is our mind’s understanding of ourselves and our experiences and our inner saboteur is an aspect of ego that criticizes and judges us."

When that inner saboteur kicks in, it can be difficult to shake those negative feelings, which can hinder performance and lead to more judgment and criticism.

Joyce Marter, LCPC

It’s our ego that judges whether we are doing it right... The ego is our mind’s understanding of ourselves and our experiences and our inner saboteur is an aspect of ego that criticizes and judges us.

— Joyce Marter, LCPC

"Self-doubt leads to self-fulfilling prophecies," Marter says. "If we don’t believe we can do something, we won’t achieve it."

Marter recommends naming your inner saboteur to help distance yourself from that negative, destructive voice in your head. You cultivate self-compassion by telling that voice to step aside.

Setting an Intention

Self-doubting or not, the important thing to keep in mind is that even considering setting an intention in the first place means you’re on the right track.

"Outside of safety, there is no right or wrong," Allen says. "The focus isn't being the most flexible or the strongest person. The focus is getting connected to your body, it’s calming your mind."

Focusing on gratitude or considering the reasons you’re practicing yoga or meditation, whether that’s stress-relief, working toward a larger goal or something else, can help you align with an intention. Marter points to present-tense examples like “I am calm and peaceful” or “I surrender my worries and fears” to bring mindful awareness to your practice.

Jasmine Allen, Trauma-Informed Yoga Instructor

When I start a yoga class or meditation, I encourage my students to consider what their intention might be for class. I'm hoping that they're able to use that intention to anchor themselves during the practice because it's normal for the mind to wander off.

— Jasmine Allen, Trauma-Informed Yoga Instructor

"Personally, I’ll never forget a yoga class where the teacher asked that we set an intention for the practice and I said, 'I release all that is not mine to carry,'" Marter says. "As a therapist, mother and empath, I tend to carry the emotions of others. After that class, I felt a tremendous release and had an almost uncontrollable need to sleep. It was a very powerful and healing experience that gave me deep respect for the power of intention."

The mind-body connection can be strengthened by the power of intention. While it’s likely that self-doubt and negative self-talk will seep into your yoga or meditation practice at some point, a positive intention can be incredibly empowering as an anchor for the mind.

“Stop and remind yourself, ‘I’m doing the best that I can,” Allen says.

What This Means For You

Setting an intention for your meditation or yoga practice is a powerful way to align the mind and body. Consider the “why” of your practice to choose an intention that aligns with your journey and goals.

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