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Sankalpa: Why do we set intentions in yoga?

Happy New Year to everyone! I hope you are welcoming 2018 with open arms, hearts and minds. It really feels like this year is going to be an incredible year and if seeing Oprah on the Golden Globes is anything to go by then it is going to be the year of female empowerment! Anyway, I am sure you have read countless articles and headlines across the internet talking about the time between Christmas and New Year and January onwards being the time of reflection on the past year and a time to think about New Year's resolutions and intentions. This time of year can be tricky for some and I, personally, find it quite overwhelming. The constant quest for self improvement and for MORE; doing more, being more, having's endless. This is where the yogic concept of Sankalpa, and where yoga in general, might be a wholly more forgiving endeavour.

Sankalpa comes from the Sanskrit San, meaning 'altogether' and Kalpa, which comes from Kalpana, meaning 'vow' or 'idea'. Sankalpa means an intention formed by the heart and mind - a solemn vow, determination, or will, a one-pointed resolve to focus both psychologically and philosophically on a specific goal. You may have attended a yoga class and were invited to set an intention or invited to dedicate your yoga practise to someone. Setting an intention is literally setting a Sankalpa. You might wonder what you are supposed to be thinking in those moments and sometimes it can feel quite vacuous which is why in my classes I like to suggest an intention or a dedication to guide my students. However, if you would like to delve deeper then this article might help you.

Most New Year's resolutions stem from the idea that you are not good enough and prescribes the notion that happiness depends on acquiring what you want. Whereas, Sankalpa brings your attention and awareness to a quality or virtue you wish to cultivate in your life. It recognises that this heartfelt desire or specific goal is held deep inside you and that you simply have to recognise, acknowledge and reinforce this virtue or specific goal. You state your Sankalpa in the present tense in order to recognise that this quality, heartfelt desire or specific goal is already held within you, you just need to focus your energy on it. In simple terms, if your New Year's resolution or intention is to quit smoking, if you use the Sankalpa approach to intention setting then you need to ask yourself why you would like to achieve this intention? Perhaps you want to take better care of your body? Perhaps you want to love your body more? Therefore, your Sankalpa is "I love and take care of my body". This intention then moves from a perspective of being something that you need to give up and rather recognises that you are someone who loves and cares for their own body by avoiding smoking. It is simple psychological shift that means that the change you are making isn't coming from a place where you think that something is wrong with you that you need to fix but rather from a more positive and empowering perspective.

Using the English term, intention, throws up a slightly different meaning to Sankalpa. Upon researching this article, I discovered that the word intention comes from the Latin word intendere or intentio, which means both 'stretching' and 'purpose'. Interpreting this meaning, if you are living up to your intention then you are stretching yourself beyond the place you are currently at towards a different state of mind, a new action or new life path. I still find it to be an empowering approach to creating focus to your practise. It differentiates it from simply exercising, adds dimension and will soon start to translate into your life off the mat. With both Sankalpa and the English interpretation of intention, perhaps the hardest thing is to detach yourself from the outcome, simply focusing on doing your best and letting go of any sense of 'failure' you may be feeling.

It links quite nicely to my own intention or Sankalpa for 2018. I am asking myself, and my students, to be kind to themselves this year. Detach yourself from your goal and appreciate every step you take towards recognising your Sankalpa of 'loving yourself'. I have a tendency to overcommit, stretch myself and to have unrealistic expectations of myself and therefore this year, my intention during my practise will be to 'be kind to myself and celebrate myself'. To quote Rumi who tells us to embrace our inner power and to recognise that happiness comes from inside yourself: "Why are you so enchanted by this world, when a mine of gold lies within you?". I also have a Sankalpa linked to a specific goal which transforms my intention to: "I am kind to myself and the world around me, I celebrate myself". Last year was a year of discovery for me, learning more and more about our negative impact on the world around us. I have always been aware of this but I feel like everything culminated to a point where I felt like I had to make more of a conscious effort. Therefore, throughout 2018 I will be reducing my impact on the environment around me especially in relation to plastic consumption. The primary focus of the articles I share on my blog will be around reducing waste, environmental impact and with a special emphasis on how you can live more ethically in Bristol in the United Kingdom (where I live and work as a yoga teacher and marketing freelancer). I am hardly revolutionary on this path so I will be sharing articles from other bloggers who are far ahead of me. If you have any tips to share, I would love to hear from you or if you have anything that you would like to specifically read about that I can research, then please let me know in the comments below!



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