Every person attending a yoga or Pilates class does so with an intention in mind. Quite simply, an intention is a commitment to achieve some specific purpose. The intention of an exerciser might relate directly to improving health or enhancing physical appearance ─ or it might be limited to making social contacts. Since only the client can realize his or her own intention, you as the wellness professional must be keenly aware of your client’s intention so that you can offer appropriate expertise and support.

Setting an intention is a good starting point for a client. However, staying committed to the intention can be challenging. You can help your client succeed at each stage: first, by making sure the client has stated the intention in the most effective way for producing results; second, by encouraging the client to use strategies that will support a commitment to this intention.

Set an Effective Intention

Intentions are most effective when they remain broad. An intention that is too specific may be harder to achieve, thus leading to disappointment ─ and possibly even noncompliance ─ if the intention is not realized.

In the beginning stages of setting an intention, it is useful not to get bogged down with how the intention will be accomplished. The details will become apparent in time. If the intention is prematurely specific, the results may be disheartening. On the other hand, if the client sets a broad intention (for example, to improve flexibility and balance), any positive outcome resulting from practice will satisfactorily achieve the intention. This in turn can encourage compliance.

Since life can never be predictable, no one can know exactly how an intention will play out. When a client is intently focused on the outcome of a very specific intention and fails to realize the desired result, the person may decide that exercise is not worth the effort. Holding the big picture and not worrying about the details allows the specifics to unfold within the natural flow of a client’s life.

Focus Attention on the Intention

One of the most effective ways a client can stay committed to an intention is to focus attention on the intention as often as possible. This is a useful strategy for keeping an intention in one’s consciousness.

How can a client keep attention on her intention? By thinking about the intention as often as possible. You can help by encouraging your client to remember her intention. Since she is not yet in the habit of focusing attention on her intention, she may require some “attention reminders.”

For example, imagine that a client named Robin sets the intention to develop healthy eating habits. To remind Robin of her intention when she is around food, Robin’s lifestyle coach recommends that she make a 2- by 3-inch place card that says “Eat Mindfully” and that she put it in front of her plate before each meal. Her coach also suggests that she stick notes that say “Choose Mindfully” inside the food pantry and the refrigerator. Robin may even want to create a shopping list that says “Shop Mindfully” at the top.

Imagine How Good It Will Feel

Another way you can help a client or class participant stay focused on an intention is by taking a few minutes at the start of each session to have the client imagine what it would feel like to be living that intention right now.

This activity serves two functions. First, the good feelings created when a client imagines himself living his intention right now can be motivating and inspiring. Second, the activity reminds the client why he is in the session in the first place. This will help him stay focused on the various physical activities throughout the exercise session.

While every participant has a purpose in starting an exercise program, how successfully that purpose is realized depends on how effectively each person sets an intention and how well he or she maintains attention on that intention. As a wellness professional, you have the opportunity to guide your clients in setting effective intentions and in helping them stay focused on their intentions throughout each exercise session. Successful realization of an exercise intention is an important key to exercise compliance.