The yogic concept of Sankalpa, which means a vow, resolve, or commitment to support our highest truth, is very similar to the more common practice of intention setting. An intention is a compassionate agreement we make with ourselves about what we intend to be, do and say. It could be physical, emotional, mental or spiritual, or all of the above.
“Its [a Sankalpa’s] effect is to awaken the willpower within by uniting the conscious awareness with the unconscious forces lying dormant.” – Satyananda
With strong intention and Sankalpa, actions will start to align with your higher purpose and desires. To reach our highest truth requires great effort. Sankalpa is about our highest purpose in life, and it draws understanding and inspiration from the higher purposes of yoga as a whole, which include:
- Self-knowledge – to know oneself (Chit)
- Awakening – recognition, remembrance, self-realization, enlightenment, (Shiva)
- Creative expression – to enjoy the freedom of being (Ananda)
- Celebration – to make beauty, serve the increased joy of the whole, flowing with heart (Shakti)
A Sankalpa is a way to put positive thinking and desires into action, which is separate from the action or achievement itself. It is based on our present moment experience, while goals are external and future-oriented. When you begin to understand what you are seeking from your practice and from your life as a whole, you will be able to direct energy and actions in order to get there.
Crafting Your Sankalpa
1. Pick a theme that is meaningful to you. Aligning with your Sankalpa requires you to know why the intention is so important. Some examples of Sanklapa themes include (but are in no way limited to) connecting to breath, accepting something that is hard, showing up/being present, opening your heart, finding balance, working with your “story”, letting go, or working with fear.
2. See what ideas or imagery come to mind. Your Sankalpa could be in the form of an image, not words. You might even create an altar or shrine. Images and objects that carry meaning remind us of our deeper intentions and aspirations. Your altar could include traditional representations of a religious icon or historical figure, pictures of a mentor, teacher or relative, a poem or quote, or objects from nature like flowers, stones or seashells – anything that uplifts and brings you into a quiet space of remembering the best in yourself.
3. Inquire. Ask yourself: how does my Sanklapa show up in my body? How does it show up in my thinking?
4. Visit your asana practice. Consider if there are specific yoga postures, breathing practices, or meditations that might support your intention.
Put Your Vision into Action
“However many holy words you read, however many you speak, what good will they do you if you do not act upon them?” – Buddha
1. Think of a short phrase or sentence, clearly expressed, focusing on your Sankalpa. Try not to focus on something you don’t want. This can be in the form of an affirmation, like “I am…” or a wish, like “May I be…”.
2. Commit yourself to the process. You can feel it inside when you know you’re going to make something happen. You know yourself best, so use your creativity to figure out how to best keep a strong resolve and follow through. Some people find it helpful to write it down, or to tell someone else who can hold you accountable.
3. Use repetition. Repeat your intention to yourself throughout your yoga practice, meditation and daily activities.
4. Practice forgiveness towards yourself. Life is unpredictable and things come up. If you take a mis-step don’t berate yourself, just regroup and put your attention on gathering energy to get started again. The more days in a row you can practice, the easier it will be to continue.
5. Then, let go. Don’t cling to the outcome. Trust the Universe.