It is still dark outside. I hear the early morning cacophony of birdsong, the dawn chorus inviting me to get up and begin the new day. Nestled in the warmth of a white down comforter, I resist their singing, roll over and close my eyes. Oh how I would love to stay here, snuggled into a nest of quiet and safety away from the demands of life. Except, I know it is not feasible or even remotely practical to indulge in my desire to linger in bed as I have responsibilities and commitments that need attention today.

I have never been one to bolt out of bed in the morning. The thought of abruptly ending my peaceful state of slumber is utterly senseless. It feels much more reasonable to savor the moment as I slowly transition into a state of being fully awake. Pressing the snooze button on my phone alarm is always a temptation for me, a way to extend the pleasure of sleeping a bit longer. It’s not a horrible choice to enjoy an extra five minutes of lingering, and when I am feeling tired a little more time to rest is a nice option.

On most days, I choose to press “off” on the alarm and start the day on my yoga mat. I am never disappointed in the magic of the pre dawn hours. There is a palpable stillness in the world as the sun begins to lighten the sky. And unlike any other time of day, being in the quiet of the early morning creates a very special, sacred space for my practice of yoga.

The joy of practice comes from meeting myself exactly where I am as the new day arrives. It is also the time when I set an intention for the day. I like intentions because unlike goals that are future oriented, intentions are more about how I am “being” in any moment. The intentions I set are based upon my inner values, the beliefs I hold that help me participate consciously in the world. Setting an intention each day has become the foundation of my yoga practice and my life. They serve as a guide to help me make skillful choices especially when things get challenging. Without clear intentions it would be easy for me to react instead of respond, to be critical instead of being compassionate and to be impatient instead of being grateful.

Allowing time each day to set an intention is important to me, but it is only the beginning of the practice. The real works comes when life delivers something I don’t want, from a simple inconvenience like getting stuck in traffic to hearing the tragic news of an untimely death of someone I love. I know I cannot change what happens outside of me but I can choose how I will respond. Having clear intentions helps me navigate through the challenges of life by reminding me how to make a choice that is in alignment with my values.

The best way I know to put the practice of setting intentions into action is to take a breath and pause before I respond. By creating this space I am able to stay present and make a choice that is consistent with my intention. Like the physical practice of yoga, setting intentions is a practice. I have found that making a commitment to my intentions has helped me feel a greater sense of peace and ease when challenging moments arise.

Every new day reminds me that I have a chance to begin again, even if I messed up along the way, I can start over. Practice is not about being perfect or never making a mistake, it’s about consciously setting the intentions that will serve as guides to living a peaceful, happy life.