Setting an intention on the mat via the medium of tattoos. By Victoria Jackson
Do you set an intention for your practice when you step onto your mat? I asked a friend this question recently, as we chatted over lunch. I always love the idea of doing this. In my head it will have a transformative effect on my practice, but in reality I can never stick with it. So I was after some inspiration: what sort of intentions does she set and how does she stay focused so that this supports her practice? What she then described to me sounded so beautiful because it was natural to her and her creative soul. But I couldn’t figure out how to translate any of it into my own more prosaic approach. I was going to have to find my own way – that’s how it always is with yoga, of course.
For a long time I have had some Sanskrit words written in black felt-tip at the top of my mat, a little quote from the Bhagavad Gita. Curious neighbours in class sometimes ask me what it says. Maybe it looks show-offy, but it’s simply my reminder of the qualities I hope to bring into my practice. It works well enough for me when it’s right in front of my nose but when the sequence flows into standing postures it becomes out of sight, out of mind. How could I carry my intention with me when I am up on my feet, let alone when I step off the mat and out into life?
The answer I’m exploring at the moment is through the ultimate way of embodying a message – a tattoo. But in the spirit of accepting the impermanence of all things – or because I’m a coward with a low pain threshold – I’ve settled for temporary tattoos. This means I can play with different intentions, allowing one to fade away naturally before I choose to renew it or change it. I started with lokāh samastāh sukhino bhavantu written in Sanskrit on one forearm. This is often translated as ‘may all beings be happy and free’ and it certainly gave me something new to talk about with my mat neighbours. There are so many layers of meaning to contemplate. Then when this faded away, I played with simple ‘peace’ and ‘love’ before moving on to a more poetic ‘connect with your heart’.
I found having the words written on my own skin rather than on my mat was a curiously powerful experience. Even though I still often forgot my intentions, I would catch sight of my tattoo at moments during my practice, or at any time during the day, and this offered a gentle wake-up call: it brought me back to the essence of my yoga no matter what I was doing. It also provoked some interesting discussions with friends and strangers alike, and curious work colleagues wanted to know more about yoga. I just should have warned my mum before she came for a visit! !
Victoria Jackson lives and practices in Oxford. She is registered with Yoga Alliance as a vinyasa yoga teacher