January is the time of year associated with New Year Resolutions and setting goals for the year ahead. As I write this, it is the beginning of 2022 and I, personally, have already been bombarded with adverts for fitness platforms, weight-loss apps and everything else related to 'New Year, new you'. It is exhausting!
The constant quest for self-improvement can be overwhelming and in a Capitalist society the emphasis is always on growth. We always need to striving for more; doing more, being more and having more.
The concept of a Sankalpa (or intention) in the yogic tradition, and especially in the practice of Yoga Nidra, offers you an alternative path. Why not, this year, take the more self-compassionate approach by setting an intention?
What is a Sankalpa?
Sankalpa is the Sanskrit word for intention-setting. 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 theme. In every Yoga Nidra and sometimes at the beginning of a yoga class, you are invited to work with a Sankalpa. This intention is intended to be a reminder of why you practise yoga, meditation and/or Yoga Nidra and acts as a tool to help you remain present in your practice. Intentions aim to create focus, determination, motivation, patience, and perseverance.
Where goals and resolutions stem from the idea that you are not good enough and prescribe the notion that happiness depends on acquiring what you want, a Sankalpa recognises that this heartfelt desire is held deep inside you. Setting an intention creates time for you to recognise, acknowledge and reinforce this virtue or quality in order to cultivate more of it in your life.
The practice of using an intention during yoga, meditation and Yoga Nidra can offer profound transformation for both your internal landscape and external life. The practice allows you to greet yourself with kindness, compassion, gentleness and in a non-judgemental way.
How do you create your own Sankalpa?
You always state your Sankalpa in the present tense so that the intention helps you to recognise that this quality, this heartfelt desire or specific goal is already held within you. All you need to do is focus your attention and your energy on it. By expressing your intention in the present tense, you allow your subconscious mind to acknowledge your intentions as actualities, instead of possibilities, and therefore, this gives your intentions greater power to materialise.
Your Sankalpa is positive. This creates a simple psychological shift that means that the change you are making isn't coming from a place where you think something is wrong with you, but instead, from a more positive and empowering perspective.
In simple terms, if your New Year's Resolution or goal is to stop smoking, if you use the Sankalpa approach then you need to ask yourself why you would like to achieve this goal. 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". Your perspective shifts from focusing on something that you are doing wrong and something you need to stop, and instead, recognises that you are someone who loves and cares for their body by avoiding smoking.
You can explore a broad range of themes when creating your intention including; relationships, health, wellbeing, family, friends, work, home, emotions, memories, past experiences, feelings, beliefs, values and many more. Examples of a Sankalpa can be:
I am at ease and open to insight
I am compassionate to myself and others
I speak and act from love, kindness and truth
I eat for health and energy
My meditation practice enriches every aspect of my life
I practise practise yoga consistently with kindness and gentleness
I receive and accept help when I need it
I am confident and self-assured
I feel the anger that is present, and I am open to what it has to show me
I am okay as I am
No intention is too frivolous or quixotic. You can set them for a particular practice or work with them over a long period of time. You can work with emotions and beliefs or focus on aspects of your life you would like to cultivate more of. Be gentle with yourself as you navigate the journey to discovering your Sankalpa and allow fluidity for that intention to evolve and change over time. You can begin with a broad intention, such as; "I am at ease and open to insight" and allow yourself to discover your Sankalpa at your own pace. The aim is to create an intention that is bespoke and personal for you.
When do you use your Sankalpa?
When practising Yoga Nidra, you affirm your intention at the beginning and the end of your practice. You can also return to your Sankalpa throughout the practice as an anchor to bring you back to the present moment and as a tool to remind you of why you are practising. In a yoga class, you can use your intention in a similar way. The idea is that you return to your Sankalpa again, and again, so that this seed of growth in your life has your full attention.
I hope that you enjoyed learning more about Sankalpa and how important intention-setting is for a Yoga Nidra practice. My name is Ailsa and I am Scottish yoga teacher based in Bristol, United Kingdom. I have been practising yoga for almost 15 years and teaching since 2017. I specialise in Yoga Nidra and if you would like to practise Yoga Nidra with me for free then I have dedicated playlists on my YouTube channel and you can practise with me on Insight Timer.