Last month, Sarah Lynn wrote about achieving mind-body wholeness through yoga. While my own yoga practice has ebbed and flowed over the years, yoga continues to be something I lovingly turn to when I’m feeling out of balance, stressed, or simply stiff. When asked to write this week’s article, I was inspired to connect yoga’s potential for emotional and spiritual transformation with the celebration of WRAP’s 20th birthday that I wrote about last week.
One of my first yoga teachers was a man named John. In many ways, I credit John for my lasting love of yoga. In addition to being a superb teacher, he always reminded the class to connect our yoga with our daily life by setting an intention for our practice.
An intention is a virtue or aspiration you want to be the focus of your attention and to cultivate through your practice. It’s the vehicle you use to connect your practice with your life off the mat. It’s a tool for conscious transformation. Some examples of intentions include patience, gratitude, staying present, or (not so) simply staying aware of your breath. You might set a new intention every time you step on the mat, or you might stick with the same one each time.
Setting an intention might feel like an awkward task at first—I know it did for me—but practicing deliberate self-reflection can help the process. Every year, just before New Year’s Day, John publishes a blog post with his “Year in Review” exercise—a step-by-step description of a writing activity for developing an intention for the year to come. And, although John posts this in anticipation of the new calendar year, it’s completely appropriate to do on a birthday or any day.
Below is the general gist of John’s exercise, but if you choose to do it, I encourage you to read the full instructions posted on his blog. You’ll need three pieces of paper, a sticky note, and a pen. You might also want to have your calendar, planner, journal, or even your WRAP on hand. Find a comfy and quiet spot and set aside 20–30 minutes.
- Reflect on the last year and use the first piece of paper to write what you’re leaving behind. What do you refuse to carry with you into the next year?
- On the second piece of paper, write what you’ve learned and how you’ve grown in the last year. What have you accomplished? What did you overcome?
- On the third piece of paper, write how you’ll be happy and healthy in the year ahead. What will you do? How will you feel? How will you take care of yourself?
- Ponder, or meditate, on this final page. Choose a word or phrase that sums it up and take that on as your mantra for the year and as the intention you carry with you.
- Write your intention on the sticky note and stick it somewhere you’ll see it daily. Read it. Repeat it. Use it in your yoga practice on and off the mat.
I do this every year instead of setting a New Year’s resolution, and I revisit it whenever I feel the need to reconnect with my intention. I like this exercise because it’s useful even if you don’t practice yoga. You might even use it to help update your WRAP.
As we celebrate WRAP’s 20th birthday, I encourage you to try this exercise on your next birthday, before your next yoga class, or perhaps today. Today is a great day to set your intention for the year ahead.
Amanda Aykanian, PhD, is a former program associate at Advocates for Human Potential.