In Yoga we can design a Sankalpa to connect us to our deepest, most fulfilling purpose, and the deep desires of our wise inner self.
Unlike a resolution, a Sankalpa, in order to be effective, comes from the assumption that you are already enough.
Any perception of lack, or “not good enough” or that there’s something to be fixed, and the Sankalpa will not have the power of positive feeling behind it that carries it to fruition.
There is a world of difference between the desire of our ego (or our fear of “not enough”), and the desire of our higher self, or our soul. True Sankalpas are born out of love, not fear.
A Sankalpa is not about will-power, or even discipline. It becomes a guiding light, illuminating the path toward our full potential and removing the the shadows of distraction, or lack of clarity.
When a Sankalpa is just right for you, it comes with a tremendous positive energy, a strong feeling of desire that provides fuel for the engine of intention.
The practice of Sankalpa involves shaping the desire of our wise inner self into a short, precise, positive phrase; preferably just one sentence of carefully chosen, feeling-charged words, in the present tense.
A Sankalpa is very different from an ordinary resolution or goal...
We may have set goals or resolutions in the past and discovered that they don’t last or that we develop negative feelings about them if we feel we’ve failed to stick to them.
Often, these resolutions or goals may have been based on something we perceive is wrong with us. We decide we want to lose weight, or “get fitter”; the assumption being that we’re not good enough as we are, or that there’s something wrong with us. Instead, a Sankalpa might focus on a sense of complete and wonderful well-being and radiant health. Which of these do you reckon is going to generate more enthusiasm and passion?
Even if we’re wanting to do something really challenging, like giving up smoking for example, we can go deeper with a Sankalpa. Instead of the goal “I will give up smoking this month”, we could reflect on what not being addicted to something might mean for us emotionally, and the outcome of that in our lives. Then, we might end up developing a Sankalpa that focuses on complete freedom, or a deep sense of health & well-being. Or going even deeper still, we might discover that an addiction is a distraction, a way of avoiding being still, or a way of avoiding loneliness. Then our Sankalpa might be about being at ease with stillness, or with ourselves, or about feeling (or embodying) connection and love.
What if our behaviours don’t match our Sankalpa?
With a Sankalpa, the conflict between our intention and our behaviour is not a failure, but where the practice really begins. The power of the practice is right there in that dissonance.
When we find ourselves engaging in behaviours that seem to oppose our Sankalpa and our true natures, we have a very useful opportunity for practice. At those times, we can take a moment to pause, breathe, reconnect with ourselves, and recall our Sankalpa and the positive feelings it is charged with. This can be a very practical and effective way to both break habits and super-charge our Sankalpa even further.
If we’ve set a Sankalpa that feels true and feels positive for us, then if we stray from it – if we look around us and suddenly find that we are far from the feeling we desired – then we don’t have to beat ourselves up. The Sankalpa is a reflection of our true selves; in a way it’s who we already are. We haven’t failed, we’ve simply forgotten. So we use the Sankalpa to remind ourselves of our true essence again. We remember who we really are, and continue.
One of the most amazing things about a Sankalpa is that it primes us to not only notice the dissonances, but also to notice all the small ways in which we may already be having our desires fulfilled. We start to notice the feeling or quality of our Sankalpa showing up everywhere. We end up leaning in and becoming tuned in to these small events or synchronicities, and where our attention goes, so does our energy and our thoughts. Our Sankalpa starts to feel like “Yes! More of this please!” instead of something we have to will into existence by our own efforts.
Some tips for setting and using your Sankalpa...
Set a Sankalpa that is more to do with “being” than “needing”.
In keeping with the principle that a Sankalpa cannot come from a sense of lack, think of your deepest desire less as something you want to receive, and more of something that you would like to feel you embody. For example, instead of wanting more love in life, how can you set a Sankalpa that is about actually being love? Or instead of setting a Sankalpa about wanting more security and safety, how can we set a Sankalpa that gives us the intention of not needing security? Of feeling instead completely at ease at all times with ourselves and in the world?
Give it time to develop
Some of the Sankalpas I’ve worked with came immediately and easily, while others took months to feel right. Both have been equally powerful. Don’t worry if your Sankalpa doesn’t feel right immediately. Live with it for a while, keep gently reflecting, and give it time to develop. Start with something that feels right for you and be willing for it to teach you what it needs to become.
Do it in a way that fits for you
Start with some journalling, or some moments of quiet reflection each day for a week, or start intuitively with a heart-felt desire and without too much thinking at all and see where it leads you. If you’re a more visual or kinesthetic thinker, you might like to try drawing or creating a Mandala and see where it takes you. If you’re more into words, you could write a list of words that call to you and reflect your desires for well-being on any level, and then highlight the ones that stand out the most, until you have just a few that you can then grow into a Sankalpa.
Plant it like a seed, instead of using it like a rule
In my practice and teaching I’ve noticed over the years that we will often take any opportunity to beat ourselves up our boss ourselves around! The practice of Yoga and particularly the Yamas & Niyamas of the Yoga Sutras invite us to undo those habits; to let go & allow, rather than try to control or be over-effortful.
In this spirit, we mentally repeat the Sankalpa just a few times in the practice of Yoga Nidra deep relaxation, planting the Sankalpa like a seed that we trust to grow on its own. The deep relaxation of the practice provides the best environment for the seed, and then we trust it to grow by itself, without striving or controlling.
Here’s a basic Yoga Nidra you can listen to or download, with which to use your Sankalpa once you’ve created it (click the link below):
In the Yoga to Nurture Program we also explore other ways of using our Sankalpa in daily life, for example to help us dissolve habitual behaviours as we catch them happening… always within the context of compassion and deep acceptance.
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