As I write this on the last day of 2023, I’m aware that this is the time of year when words like “resolutions” and “manifesting” are incredibly popular as we navigate the end of one year and welcome another.
I’ve never been a fan of New Year Resolutions, usually determinedly announcing that my NY resolution is not to make any resolutions. My main gripes with them have been how achievable and relevant they are or indeed aren’t and that often they start from an assumption that we aren’t good enough/need to change/reinforcing a belief that happiness depends upon acquiring what we want.
Also, it is the middle of winter here in the Northern Hemisphere and I’ve always doubted whether the middle of winter is the ideal time to embark upon intense fitness regimes or dietary changes when instead we might prefer to be gently and mindfully easing ourselves into a new year with as much kindness as we can muster. That’s not to say that a good declutter after the excesses of the festive season isn’t a good idea!
So, it’s a big no from me for embarking upon new year resolutions which may set us up to fail and feel rubbish about ourselves. But that doesn’t mean we cannot start to consider achievable goals which connect with our heart’s highest intention and use qualities within us to take steps toward them at a future date. This is where the yoga practice of discovering our Sankalpa can add such a richness and depth to our practice both on and off the mat.
If you attend classes or workshops with me, you may already be familiar with Sankalpas and how I encourage starting a class with them and weaving them into our yoga practice on the mat or during a quieter contemplation and consideration of them in yoga nidra.
As a positive and encouraging way to set intentions Sankalpas can be practiced whenever we like. Personally, I have always felt that Spring is a great time to really focus on them and this is something I will be exploring in my next London workshop/afternoon retreat in March 2024.
What is a Sankalpa?
A Sanskrit term in yoga philosophy which refers to a heartfelt desire. “San” means “a connection with the highest truth”, “Kalpa” means “vow” so “Sankalpa” can be interpreted as a promise or intention to support something which really rings true to us personally.
A Sankalpa is not a resolution (which are often negative/seek to deny us something/change something about ourselves) but has the distinct advantage of accepting us as already whole ( the essence of non-dualistic teachings) and who we need to be but encouraging a connection with our deepest intentions, a tapping into a quality or behaviour which we would like to emulate both on and off the mat.
A positive declaration or affirmation rather than an ego driven/goal focused resolution.
We generally consider two types of Sankalpas although these are very much interconnected.
1. Heartfelt desire - which might be a statement reflecting upon our true nature, for example “compassion is my true nature” or “peacefully is how I will continue through this year ahead.”
2. Specific Intention – this might mean identifying something which needs to happen to move you forward and considering where to direct your energy and qualities/attributes you already possess to move in that direction, for example “curiosity” or “determination”.
Sankalpas are stated in the present tense acknowledging that we are already complete. Another benefit of Sankalpas is taking yoga beyond a purely physical practice, enabling us to focus on our Sankalpa as we practice yoga but also off our mats and into our daily lives.
This wonderful quote from Rod Stryker describes Sankalpas so well,
“By definition, a Sankalpa should honour the deeper meaning of our life. A sankalpa speaks to the larger arc of our lives, our dharma – our overriding purpose for being there.”
How might we start a Sankalpa practice?
Sankalpas are often discovered and repeated during Yoga Nidra as we enter a more meditative state allowing our subconscious to be more receptive to influence but there is no reason not to focus on your Sankalpa separately (perhaps during seated meditation with hands in a Sankalpa mudra), during the morning as you first get out of bed or at the start of the class if preferred.
Below is one way I invite an exploration of sankalpas outside of yoga nidra. It is a lovely way to start to discover what your Sankalpa might be and of course this can change frequently!
1. Starting seated in a comfortable position focusing on your breath with a calming simple breathing technique (deep abdominal breathing is perfect here) and the beating of your heart.
2. Let what has come before this moment and what is to follow melt away.
3. Turn your awareness inwards.
4. Focus on what really matters to you/where you wish to direct your energy?
5. Bring your awareness to a quality or virtue you would like to embody. Keep it positive and in the present tense,
6. Draw your attention to your intention at any point in your practice (especially when things get challenging) and take it with you as you proceed through the day/days ahead.
When considering what your Sankalpa might be you might like to reflect upon challenges ahead, the qualities you possess which can help you overcome challenges, the qualities you have which may have the most positive impact upon your life and the life of others. If for example you wish for more peace in your life rather than stating that as a goal which implies controlling areas of your life you may have no control over, you might instead repeat “peace is my true nature” at challenging times and use that to encourage peaceful thoughts and actions. If hoping to pursue a more fulfilling job/career then rather than stating that as a goal, reflect upon attributes/qualities you have which might help you achieve that (tenacity, courage etc.) or maybe a statement which moves you in the right direction, “I wake up excited for what the day ahead holds”.
Sankalpas encourage a turning inwards, a quiet reflection, a gentle focus on an intention, a rediscovery of heartfelt desires forgotten, the implementation of positive habits without force or frustration and a clearing away of what prevents you from achieving the best version of yourself.
Sankalpas unlike goals/resolutions move the focus away from the “external” and through an invitation of the turning inwards enable a focus on what wonderful attributes we already possess.
Should you wish to discover more about Sankalpas then do join me on my afternoon retreat and workshop in London on Sunday 3rd March 2024 where in addition to a physical asana and pranayama practice, we shall spend a little time exploring our heartfelt desires as we shift slowly from winter into spring.
“Gather for Turning of the Seasons” provides an opportunity to practice yoga with me and yoga philosophy with the wonderful Charlie Anderson Sumner.
More details can be found in the Events section on my website, or you can send me an email to find out more.