by Jacqueline at Cloud Space Yoga - June 20th, 2022
The Yoga Tradition of Creating a Sankalpa
Mhe yoga tradition offers a profound formula for realizing your heartfelt desires without asking you to change who you are. It’s the practice of Sankalpa, or resolve.
Setting our intention or Sankalpa is an integral part of our yoga practice. It guides us towards what we want to create and shows us that we can manifest our desires and aspirations.
A sankalpa practice starts from the premise that you already are who you need to be to fulfill your life’s dharma. All you need to do is focus your mind, connect to your most heartfelt desires, and channel the divine energy within.
First, let’s break down the word itself:
“San” means “linked to highest consciousness or Divine Truth.”
“Kalpa” means “vow, dedication, promise, commitment.”
A sankalpa is a statement that enforces that the chief architect of life is the mind. To create the life we are meant to live, we must draw the mind again and again to our dharma, our deepest intentions, and the qualities of the divine within.
Vow or “the rule to be followed above all others” refers to a connection with the highest truth. Sankalpa then is a vow and commitment we make to support our highest truth. By definition a sankalpa should honor the deeper meaning of our life. A sankalpa becomes a statement you can call upon to remind you of your true nature and guide your choices.
Discovering a divine Truth that exists within yourself must be continually rediscovered. Our practice is not about reaching an end goal and then being done with it. It is a lifelong cultivation of Truths that requires nurturing within all modalities.
A Sankalpa is something that resonates within your body and soul and can be applied to all different parts of your life. It is not just intended to accompany your practice on the mat but rather seeks to guide your purpose off the mat as well.
Now that we’ve established what our Sankalpa’s purpose is – to provide us continual direction – let’s get clearer about our intentions as they affect us on and off our mat.
An intention is a direction that allows us to learn, taking detours without judgment, and ultimately noticing where we are. If we find ourselves on a detour, we can always pull ourselves away to choose a new direction toward our Sankalpa.
In this way, our intention is not something we judge. It does not trigger any conflicting voices in our minds and does not make us harder on ourselves for taking these detours.
The mind will naturally wander. This is not something we are attempting to get rid of. Rather, our intention recognizes our mind’s tendency to drift and gently guides it back to the path we have created for ourselves.
With goals and resolutions, we can feel conflicted when we do not meet their expectations. We may find ourselves going down a spiral of shame and negativity, seeking out other ways to overcompensate for our supposed failures.
This conflict can manifest within our bodies as well. If we put too much pressure on what we deem perfect, this makes it harder for us to untangle those negative emotions and discover our true Sankalpa.
Instead, our Sankalpa aims to work at the subtlest layers of our being through intention without conflict or judgment. If detours are taken, we are gently guided back to the path we have created for ourselves with empathy and compassion.
When compared to a New Year’s resolution, it is often that a New Year’s resolution almost always fail because they start from the assumption that who you already are is not good enough, and you must change to become good, reinforcing the mistaken belief that your happiness comes from somewhere or someplace else and is not already inside of you.
According to Richard Miller, PhD, a clinical psychologist and teacher in the Advaita Vedanta and Kashmir nondual traditions, a sankalpa arrives with everything needed to fully realize it. This includes Iccha (tremendous will and energy), kriya (action), and jnana (the wisdom of how to deliver that action) Miller says “You don’t have to ask where you’ll find the will to do it. The energy and will is already there. The sankalpa informs us of the action we’re willing to take into the world.”
Two Types of Sankalpa or Resolve
A sankalpa may take one of two forms. The first is a form of heartfelt desire, a statement that reflects your true nature. This requires no change or action. It is simply a statement of who you are, such as, “I am peace itself.” or “I am already whole, already healed.” It doesn't come from the intellectual mind. The resolve comes from deep within us, directly out of the mystery of who we ultimately are. It then informs our mind of a particular direction that we need to take, or are taking in our life.
A sankalpa may also take a second form, that of a specific intention. Setting specific intentions can help you align your moment to moment choices with your heartfelt desire. When you discover your purpose, not everything happens at once. From this perspective to live your soul’s mission, you need to reach milestones. Look forward and ask yourself what specific things need to happen to move you forward on your path. Your specific sankalpa will describe what you need to do and where you need to direct your energy, to make progress on your larger life goals. Discovering your sankalpa is a process of listening. Your heartfelt desire is already present, waiting to be seen, heard and felt. It’s not something you make, the mind doesn't have to go wildly searching for it. The listening process may be broken into three stages as delineated in the Vedanta tradition. The first is the willingness to hear the message of the heart. This may take courage and a quiet, settled mind, cultivated through meditation. The second is the act of turning to and welcoming the messenger in. When you hear the call, you must be willing to sit with it, feel it, and deeply reflect on it. The final stage is the willingness to do what the heartfelt desire requires of you. It will call you into action, into the world, you must be willing to respond.
These next ten steps will help you focus on what it is you truly aspire to be and open you up to new possibilities that can guide your intention and Sankalpa.
#1 The Space
Setting a time and place for your practice can allow you to focus on your meditation away from distractions Good places to cultivate your Sankalpa may be out in nature, at night time before, or in the morning before or after your yoga practice Make sure that this space feels safe for you to explore all possibilities You can always return to this space if you feel like you need to reassess your intention Try setting a timer to allow yourself to really commit to the moment and be present within it This way, your mind will not wonder about how much time has passed
Your meditation practice will allow your mind and consciousness to be open to new possibilities This practice of openness and serenity will ultimately allow you to identify what intention you want to cultivate for yourself You are in charge of the restrictions you set on your mind Over time, your focus will shrink smaller and smaller until you are present in the moment This is healthy for your heart, mind and soul, allowing you to naturally come to terms with anything that needs healing.
#3 Be Present
A meaningful Sankalpa comes from a willingness to be present When we are present, we allow ourselves to sense everything that comes up, including all of the inner noise that can cloud our mind If we stick with that inner noise, eventually the fog will lift and reveal valuable information that will help inform our Sankalpa Sometimes that inner noise can feel overwhelming and prompt us to spiral into a pattern of shame and negativity If you find your mind taking a detour, gently guide it back to its central focus Be sure to express compassion and empathy towards yourself Your mind will wander so don’t reprimand it for doing so
Your Intention on You When you are ready to focus on creating an intention, make sure that it is about you. Your intention is about the core of your being, something that can only be manifested within the body and soul that you have nurtured. Ask yourself the following questions to help you come to a meaningful answer when creating your intention: Where do you envision your highest self right now? What would the highest version of you do. Act in this way and you will quite literally become this version of yourself that you value. What is the highest expression of yourself? How do you want to be in this world? What makes you light up and feel alive? What does inner peace look like for you? How will you cultivate that inner peace to make it fit your needs? What makes you feel at home within yourself? How will you make this house into a home?
#5 Let It Resonate
Within You Once you find the right intention, you will feel it immediately It will resonate throughout your entire being and will feel right It should create a sense of expansion within your body and increase your capacity to feel vibrations moving through you If you do not come to this immediately, don’t worry Listen to small vibrations as you explore the different parts of yourself Follow the vibrations to lead you to greater ones Allow your body and mind to be open to all possibilities Remember this feeling Come back to it Find strength in your passion Do not limit yourself
#6 If You’re Having Trouble, Ask Yourself What It Is That You Truly Want From This Short and Precious Life?
Sometimes, identifying your Sankalpa can be a longer journey Do not fret if you are having trouble Again, this can lead to a spiral of shame and negativity which hinders your aspirations and intentions even more Allow compassion and empathy to guide you in this journey and do not try to quicken the pace of discovering your Sankalpa Try embracing the following prompts to help center your intention: What are things that make you light up and feel alive? What makes your heart sing? Do more of what you love and allow yourself to be more YOU Where do you feel the most at home within yourself? Where do you feel the most at home within your surroundings? Allow yourself to BE without judgment or shame You are aligning your intention within your body and mind by creating a deep and profound tie between your inner self and your desired direction Intention lies beyond what the body can feel or what the mind can understand Your intention is ultimately knowing that things will eventually fall into place
#7 Keep It Simple and Concise
Keeping your intention simple and concise makes it easier to recall in any given circumstance If words don’t work for you, start by making your intention an image or sense After all, your intention is something that is specifically designed for you and by you Explore the different kinds of senses you can embody including sight, smell, touch, sound, or taste Your intention is anything that works for you but should ultimately be something you can recall easily It will be something that centers you whether you are in your yoga practice or not Whether you are in a crowded grocery store or any kind of overwhelming setting, your Sankalpa should be easily accessible to you to provide comfort and lightness
#8 Phrase Your Intention Positively and in the Present Tense
Your intention should be a statement of truth even if it is something you don’t fully believe in yet It may be an aspiration or something you would like to embody Don’t worry if you are not embodying that truth yet As you start to cultivate it as a truth in your mind, you will direct your attention and energy towards your intention, manifesting it within yourself Try not to focus on negative statements as negativity does not motivate us Positivity can motivate us to change and transform into something better Focus on what you want rather than what you don’t want, or focus on what you want to create rather than what you don’t want to create A good example of a meaningful Sankalpa is: “I am at peace” A poor example of a negative Sankalpa is: “I want to be more happy” Direct your energy where you want it to go and allow yourself to explore all the possibilities within your newfound intention
#9 Translate Your Messages
If your Sankalpa does not come to you in the form of words, try translating them into words and write them down Again, your Sankalpa is anything that works for you whether that be an image or a different kind of sense But try exploring these messages and use this translation as an exercise Words are also an easy way to recall your Sankalpa You can ruminate on them throughout your practice and find different meaning within the various settings you recall your intention within Allow it to be a concise phrase that remains open to all possibilities of expression and don’t be afraid to explore its many meanings
#10 Remember That You Are Your Sankalpa
While your Sankalpa is a mantra and focal point, it is not merely a 30-second practice that you let go of It is a part of you, always It is free to be within you throughout the day and not just relegated to your practice on the mat Practice the same Sankalpa consistently rather than creating a new intention each time This will allow you to explore your Sankalpa in all modalities and apply it to every facet of your life as it guides you closer to yourself Ruminate on it to explore all of the possible meanings within and be open to different translations that may arise
Ultimately trust in your Sankalpa
Your Sankalpa is you and requires the same compassion and empathy you give to others It’s time to give that same love to yourself
Final Tips for Creating a Meaningful Sankalpa
Don’t worry if you’re struggling to find your Sankalpa. These discoveries take time and the process of finding them cannot be rushed.
Ultimately, explore your happiness in different modalities and identify what factors into your happiness across multiple settings.
When you allow yourself to trust in your own being without shame or judgment, you allow yourself a sense of freedom that can only be granted by you.
As we evolve and change within various settings and periods within our life, our Sankalpa can remain a foundational source for our continued practice to cultivate love and empathy towards our own inner light.
Allow yourself to be open to all vibrations within the universe even when you are not practicing yoga.
Your Sankalpa may appear to you in a setting you might not expect. Do not be afraid of its presence. If it occurs to you in an unexpected setting, consider the factors surrounding that experience. Did something make you feel particularly happy or at home? What prompted your Sankalpa to reveal itself at that moment? Don’t be afraid to ask yourself some hard questions.
Your Sankalpa is an effortless source of light but that does not mean the journey to discovering it is easy. Recognize the ways in which you may be closing yourself off to certain possibilities and challenge yourself to examine those wounds openly and without judgment.
Your Sankalpa can only come from within you. Don’t ask others to inform you of your intentions. While it may feel like a lonely process to begin, its benefits are beyond rewarding in your development towards enlightenment and inner peace.
Journaling is a great tool to find self resolve and go within
A meditation to connect to your Sankalpa, your heartfelt intention