Written by Tricia-Rose Robinson
The Sanskrit word sankalpa can be defined as a solemn vow, a declaration of purpose and a resolution of the heart. By beginning our yoga classes with our attention tuned to a sankalpa we set the tone for our practice. Considering our purpose prompts us to inquire, why are we on the mat? What do we hope to gain? How do we want to be? It can benefit our entire practice (and life) to contemplate these questions more deeply in our own time. Responses such as “I’m here to get fit” or “my doctor told me to try it” may be valid and true however they do not necessarily represent the values of our innermost consciousness.
An authentic sankalpa is a deeply nourishing statement of truth about ourselves which we are ready to affirm and act upon. A little digging around might loosen up heartfelt potential sankalpas such as, “I prioritise my wellbeing”, “I am healing” or “I allow myself joy”. These affirm our purpose, strengthen our resolve and empower our autonomy. Moving through our practice with clarity of intent magnifies our gains and minimises our likelihood of giving in to minor distractions. During our yoga practice we are exercising our body in the same way a gardener tills the ground. We are preparing it to grow something, in yoga this something is our sankalpa.
Swami Satyananda Saraswati introduced the western world to sankalpa through his Yoga Nidra teachings in the 1960’s describing it as an opportunity to “transform the whole life pattern, not only physically but also mentally and spiritually” (Yoga Nidra, Bihar School of yoga, 1976). Satyananda encouraged the use of sankalpas prior to any yoga practice as well as first thing in the morning and throughout the day.
Traditionally sankalpas were taught to be phrased “I will” but in the modern western world when we say we will do something the intention often fizzles away e.g. “I will give up coffee… tomorrow… maybe”. Starting with “I am” or phrasing in the positive present tense strengthens our sankalpa by implying that our intention is already in action. Try speaking out loud the following phrases several times for comparison “I will find balance” and “I am balanced”. Did one feel more powerful than the other?
Play with your sankalpa, write it down and say it out loud to see how it resonates. A sankalpa needs to land strongly in the mind, in the heart, on the mat and in real life. “I am balanced” will either feel wonderful or it will feel contrived. “I am grounded” might evolve into “I am anchored to the earth”. Sankalpas can be specific “my body is my friend” or universal expressions “I am human”. The right words are the ones that stir up the deepest faith in our own ability to bring our heartfelt desires into fruition.
By beginning our yoga practice with a sankalpa not only is our physical body strengthened but also our willpower. By waking up each day to our sankalpa, writing it down, meditating and repeating it often we practice showing up for ourselves over and over and over again. Cultivating awareness of the countless opportunities to grow in the direction of our choice.
Every single time we practice our sankalpa we are growing in love, with love, for love.
“You are what your deep, driving desire is.
As your desire is, so is your will.
As your will is, so is your deed.
As your deed is, so is your destiny.”
-Brihadaranyaka Upanishad (IV.4.5)