Good Intentions: Using intention-setting for daily life

One of my favorite yoga teachers I’ve ever had also happens to be a really good friend of mine. What I adored about her classes was the simple way in which she encouraged her students to go deeper into the spiritual side of their practice. One such tool she used was setting an intention.


At the beginning of many of her classes, she would have us begin seated on our yoga mats. She’d often talk about some books she’d be reading or common themes recurring in her daily life. Then, she would ask us to set an intention for our practice that day.

It could be a person, something we desired, or a word we wished to embody. The idea was to have something to infuse our practice with more meaning.

At first, it may not sound like much. Yet the more we used the technique, the more I realized how subtly and significantly setting an intention changed my experience of the class. When a pose was difficult or I felt tired, I thought of the intention I set. When meditating, my intention gave me a place to hang my thoughts. It often made me feel, quite simply, more positive about whatever thing I was thinking about.

Into the real world

I’ve been working with a coach, Lauren, for about a year now. I adore her approach. While having a coach is a helpful way to hold yourself accountable, what I admire most about Lauren is her ability to draw the questions – and answers – out of me. She helps me to get out of my own way.

In one of our calls, we were talking about tactics to help me deal with what is, essentially, imposter syndrome. To help combat a lack of confidence or anxiety, she suggested setting an intention for that particular task. “I know how to do this!” I thought.

Public speaking is a skill that does not come naturally to me, nor is it something I enjoy. At all. At times, though, I need to do it. In cases like this, I’ve used an intention to help guide me through the process. If I’m speaking before a group of peers, I pause for a moment. I ask myself, “What is my intention here?”

In some cases, it might be something like “communicate effectively,” “raise awareness” or even something simpler, like “be present.” I don’t do it all the time, but know it’s there as a tool in my toolkit.

How it helps me

Logically, it’s just a word (or a couple of words). However, I find that when I go through the exercise of setting an intention, it does two things:

  • It forces me to dig deep into what it is I’m truly trying to achieve.
  • It moves some of the pressure off of me and into a larger context.

In the case of my public speaking jitters, setting an intention beforehand certainly has not made me stutter less, speak more clearly, or keep my hands from getting clammy. Instead, it helps me deal with how I feel afterwards in a more productive way.

If I stumbled over my words, but still felt that I effectively communicated my message, then I achieved what I intended, didn’t I? If I spoke too softly or too quickly, but one or two people decided to hop on board with the idea, then I raised awareness. If I felt my heart raising but decided to take a deep breath instead of running away panicked, I was able to stay present.

It’s the subtlest of shifts, but it’s had such a profound impact for me. Yes, I still use it in my yoga practice from time to time. I use it even more on a daily basis in my work and personal life. It’s a quick but powerful way to help me get out of my own way.

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