Setting your intentions with Sankalpa
As we approach the end of January, how are you doing with those new year resolutions? If the answer is ‘not great’, you’re not alone. Studies show that 80% of new year resolutions have failed by the start of February. Why is that, when generally we set resolutions aimed at improving our lives in some way?
Perhaps if we consider the ancient yogic practice of Sankalpa (setting intentions), we may find some answers… and an approach that offers us more success!
In Sanskrit, the word comes from San, which signifies a connection to the highest truth, and Kalpa, which is a sacred vow. This implies that any intention we set should align us with our highest truth and not our base desires. Here perhaps we can see the first difference to our usual ‘resolution setting’. Sankalpa is not about asking for a desired object or an event to unfold, rather, it’s a selfless resolution that serves the highest good of an individual, a community and the world at large. It is setting an intention from a place of being, not a place of wanting, and is therefore not driven by ego or willpower (which soon runs out!), as is generally the case when we set our new year resolutions.
The concept of Sankalpa can be traced back through the whole history of Yoga, mentioned in the Vedas and Upanishads - some of the earliest yogic texts. According to the Varaha Upanishad, the entire universe evolves by Sankalpa; one becomes what one thinks.
So how do we go about setting our Sankalpa? Firstly, it’s important to take a little time in breath work and meditation, so that we start to quiet the noise of the mind and bring our awareness within. By focussing on the breath, we begin to pay less attention to our thoughts, which by their very nature come and go and are subject to constant change. From a place of equanimity, instead of using our minds to generate our intentions, we allow our Sankalpa to come to us from a place of deeper wisdom.
Secondly, we frame our Sankalpa in the present tense, and in positive terms. How many times have your resolutions felt like a wagging finger of “I must not…”. Psychologically this either sets us up for failure or rebellion (also ending in failure!). Instead of “I mustn’t eat sugar.”, our Sankalpa might be “I make healthy choices”. Instead of “I want a boyfriend”, it may be “I am loving and lovable.”
When your Sankalpa comes to you, repeat it 3 times - breathing into the heartspace and
breathing out to fill every cell of your being with that intention. It’s a good idea to do this fairly regularly, checking in with, and repeating your Sankalpa during meditation or at the beginning or end of your regular yoga practice. In this way, you’ll find that it brings you peace and positivity, and you’ll soon be reaping the benefits of your Sankalpa practice x