Many students, faced with the challenge of practicing yoga at home, are defeated before they even begin. They feel overwhelmed by the possibilities of what they could do and are not sure how to proceed. Beginning teachers face the same quandary; what do I do to get started well? To reduce the size of this problem it is helpful to think, before you even start your practice, about your intention. Once you have your intention clear in your mind it becomes easy to choose the asanas you will do. We looked at choosing asanas in the previous chapter. Now let’s look at intention.
Why are you going to do yoga today? You may never have asked yourself this question, and yet you still feel driven to practice. Why? There are no wrong answers to this question: anything that brings you to your mat is to be respected. But understanding your inner drive will help you focus on your goal.
Reminding yourself of the reason you are doing yoga throughout your practice will help you achieve your purpose. For some students, the reason for doing yoga is to gain health. If this is your reason, remind yourself to feel your state of health as you practice, feel the healing energies flowing through you. You will heal faster when you remember this intention.
For others, the purpose of their practice is to strengthen the body or open it up. Maybe your intention today is to work on opening those stubborn hips. Perhaps in your yang practice you have gotten stuck in some pose, and no further progress has been coming. After years of effort in prasarita-padottanasana,  your head and the floor are still in two different time zones. Maybe your wheel is more like a sausage. What may be holding you back is not the flexibility of your muscles – it may be that your joints and ligaments are too tight. So your intention today may be to work deeply into those areas.
Perhaps you are going through a very hectic time in your life right now – you need to slow down. Yin Yoga will provide that balance, so that will become your goal today: balance. Some people do their yoga as part of a meditation practice. Many people do it just because they know they will feel better after they are finished. They like it.
These are all perfectly valid reasons for doing yoga. But there can be more – we can set an intention beyond our own benefit. This can be done at the beginning of each and every practice. Certainly all the other physical, psychological, and emotional benefits will still be there but we can achieve even more than that. Prayer for centuries has been used in the same manner; we dedicate our efforts to a greater purpose than ourselves.
In the yoga texts, this is called “ishvara-pranidhana” – a surrendering of your efforts to something greater than yourself. As you sit or stand at the beginning of your practice, bring to mind someone or something that needs special assistance, attention, or gratitude. Dedicate your efforts during your practice to that person or thing. This dedication fills you with a resolve to actually do the practice with full attention along with the intention. As you practice, remind yourself why you are practicing. When a challenging time comes up in the practice (and it usually will), you will find the extra strength you need because of your dedication. Higher intentions allow the fruits of your practice to go beyond yourself. Paradoxically, this makes you even stronger, but that is not the point.
- — Wide-legged standing forward fold.