"Set your intention for your practice today."
The first time I heard this in a yoga class I thought "What the hell is this woman talking about?" Seriously?!?
My intention at my first yoga class was not to look like a complete fool or die. (Keep in mind, I equated yoga to other group exercise classes. You know, step, or something like that. Keep up, don't die, and don't fall off the step and bash your face on the floor.) Obviously my thoughts about that have changed over time, but I have to remind myself of that when I have a new person come to class.
The personal wellness scene has evolved greatly since the first time I attended a yoga class 15+ years ago, but I still don't take it for granted that everyone knows what this means. Words like intention, affirmation and mantras get thrown around yoga circles without a second thought. I realize that is not the norm everywhere.
So what is an intention? Per Miriam-Webster, it's a noun that means
1. a determination to act in a certain way : resolve
2. import, significance
3. a: what one intends to do or bring about
b: the object for which a prayer, mass, or pious act is offered
4. a process or manner of healing of incised wounds
5. concept; especially :a concept considered as the product of attention
directed to an object of knowledge
6. intentions plural :purpose with respect to marriage
When you set your intention for your practice, it's important to do so thoughtfully, while reflecting on your life. To simply say I will think about yoga, is well, obvious. What are you grateful for, is there something acting as a burden on your soul (perhaps you need to forgive or be forgiven), where do you need to find peace in your life? Spend some time before your practice thinking, praying, or even journaling.
When you get to your mat, cary your intention through. This is where an affirmation or mantra can help. Perhaps you are grateful for your family, or particular person. Your affirmation could be "God please help me let my love and compassion show through to the people important to me" or "I love and I am loved."
To make your intention relevant, you have to take what you affirm and intend for your life off the mat. From my perspective, doing this is probably the biggest part of my personal definition of yoga.
It's my sincere hope that this helps clear up, or at least peel away some of the mystery about intention.