In every yoga class, I like to either “theme” the class around a word or idea to help create a story that we can interweave through the practice. When ideas are presented in this way, it can be relatable and therefore powerful, helping students relate ideas to experiences through yoga practice both on and off the mat. It also helps me connect yoga postures to larger issues in life, making yoga a tool to utilize beyond the mat.
When you connect your practice to a larger intention, you can give it different meaning. This meaning can provide focus, drive and connection in your life.
There are many ways of adding intention into practice. Sometimes, it is through mantras or self affirmations which can change to suit your current mind and body. A sankalpa is different. It connects you with your inner self, acting as the ultimate root to connect you to yourself and yourself to your actions.
What is a Sankalpa?
Sankalpa, or connection to your truth, assumes that you are already who you need to be to fulfill your life’s dharma. It is a statement that honors the deeper meaning of your life. A person is being, but also becoming. You simply need to focus your mind, connect to your desires, and channel your energy toward this truth. It is something you can refer back to when you are feeling lost or uncertain, to keep you in touch with your ultimate truth. And we should all be aware of our ultimate truth, right? This sounds simple but setting your sankalpa can be a difficult process of self-discovery and reflection.
Sankalpas come in different forms
Sankalpa takes two forms: the statement and the goal. In the statement, sankalpa does not require change. It simple states who you are. Examples: I am whole. I am peace. Fearless.
Another version of sankalpa is through milestones in your life. Looking ahead to determine what path to take to take steps forward is necessary to honor your sankalpa and achieve larger life goals.
How to Discover your Sankalpa (kind of)
I’m not the master of sankalpaing. But I did find these tips helpful in exploring my own and discussing the concept with others.
Listening is a powerful skill that takes dedication and practice. According to the Vedanta tradition, listening occurs in 3 stages:
Sravana: This is the ability to listen to your innermost calling. What do you, on your inner most root level, desire? Explore this by meditating, journaling and reflecting on yourself and your actions.
Manana: This means allowing the “messenger” in. You can do this by Reflecting on your calling and feeling it. How does it manifest in your body? Are you able to listen to what you are actually telling yourself? From here you will activate your sankalpa shakti, or the energy that is needed to carry out your calling.
Nididhyasana: This is doing what your calling asks of you.
Once you have listened to you calling, you must think about it deeply to understand it. It is tempting to state your sankalpa in the “want” or “I will” format, but these phrases lack the commitment and truth to your sankalpa. For example, you may start by stating “I want to lose weight”. But consider why you want to lose weight. Is it to care for yourself more? To be able to have more energy? Find your root- that is getting closer to your sankalpa. Your sankalpa should always be stated in the present tense, as it is true now. It is already in you.
When you say you “want”, you are acknowledging that you don’t have something. The more you state that you want, you are reinforcing that you don’t have something. This is dualistic thinking, and your mind needs to non-dual awareness.
What the hell is your inner self?
Truth be told, I don’t know. But I did find the concept of “two souls” helpful.
In Indian philosophy, there is the concept of two souls that can be united through the practice of yoga (should note that not just the physical practice, but the 8-limbed practice). One of these souls is known as your para atman. This is the soul that is in a transcendental state and doesn’t need anything. Think of this as your cosmic self.
Jiva atman (jiv=to breathe, atman= self) is your soul that comes to life with a purpose and destiny and is always becoming. Think of this as your personal self. Your sankalpa is connected to this self. The more attention you give it, the greater it will feel in your life.
Ready. Set. Sankalpa.
Exploring your sankalpa can be frustrating. It takes time, effort, reflection and being comfortable with concepts that are not always easily defined. I liken it to building a fire- you have to put effort in to get it going, and keep fanning the flames to keep in burning. It may also be helpful to visualize your sankalpa as your root. Just like a tree, the root is the portion that helps to acquire nutrients for growth. You don’t see the roots, but they are there. You can’t see your sankalpa, but it is there, too. You just have to find it.
Activity: Departure Point
Want to start exploring? Pick a nonconstructive activity you do on a daily basis (nail biting, daily coffee, browsing the internet) and commit to not doing it for 40 days. Every time you feel the urge to partake in this habitual action, remind yourself of your sankalpa.
Apply this to not just your habitual actions, but to all actions, and see if your inner calling comes to life.
If you want additional guidance on exploring your sankalpa, I highly recommend the book “Finding your Why” by Simon Sinek.