Practice Series: Go Deeper than Resolutions with the Yogic Art of Intention-Setting


The theme for this month’s practice series is INVOKING.

Like many people, I resolved to give up New Year’s resolutions years ago. I got tired of what felt like arbitrarily trying to fix, change, and improve myself.

And then I got introduced to sankalpa, the ancient yogic art of intention-setting. The idea has some overlap with resolutions, but the energy of it feels so different, in that it’s a present-tense statement that helps you invoke your deepest desires and purpose. As teacher Rod Stryker defines it in his book, kalpa = “the rule to be observed above or before any other rule” and san = “a concept or idea formed in the heart.” So it’s a deep heartfelt vow, rather than a superficial or fleeting resolution. 

My favorite aspect of sankalpa is that it comes from a place of fullness rather than lack. For example, rather than a New Year’s resolution of losing weight or exercising more, a sankalpa might be “I feel healthy and thriving in my body. It allows me to live fully.” It’s an embodied expression of what matters to you and who you are, not a quick fix.

A sankalpa can focus on a specific goal for the next 6-18 months (e.g., “I am a confident and thriving teacher who helps others” or “I have a partner who shares my spiritual commitment and passion for life”) or it can be more qualitative (e.g., “I choose love over fear,” “I am patient, centered, and loving with my beloved”). Either way, it’s a statement that focuses attention, intention, and energy onto your heartfelt desire.

This week’s 10-minute practice invites you to create a sankalpa for 2016. Have pen and paper nearby as you start.

  1. Find a comfortable seat, close your eyes, and relax body and mind.
  2. Take 5-10 deep breaths to settle in. 
  3. Move your awareness to an area that helps you feel connected to inner wisdom and knowing—e.g., your navel center, heart, or 3rd eye. 
  4. Ask yourself: What would serve my deeper purpose over the next 6-18 months? Notice what arises from this soul level of knowing, deeper than ego, intellect, or anxiety.  
  5. When you feel ready, open your eyes and write down what came to you. Let yourself free-write and dig a little deeper. As Rod Stryker says, “The obvious answer isn’t always the right one”—there might be a deeper underlying desire or need.
  6. If you have time: Once you feel like you’re onto something, imagine (and write a few sentences about) how you’d feel having fulfilled this desire. What would that look/feel like?
  7. Now draft a 1- to 2-sentence sankalpa. Keep refining until you get one that captures the energy and emotion you want.  

A few tips:
• Keep it short and clear. Don’t pair too many ideas together.
 Stay positive. E.g., what’s the underlying desire behind wanting to quit smoking or losing 10 pounds? Focus on the deeper desire and purpose. 
• Make it present and active. “I deeply nourish my body” rather than “I will deeply nourish my body” or “I am deeply nourishing my body.”
• Energize it. Phrase it in a way that feels authentic and resonant—you want to feel some emotional spark from it.
Once you’ve created your sankalpa, bring it into daily life. You can use it in meditation or yoga nidra to invoke your purpose, and as an in-the-moment reminder when you’re faced with habits or resistance that go against your intention. And feel free to share your sankalpa below if you feel so called! 

Photo by John Gillespie via Flickr (cc)

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3 thoughts on “Practice Series: Go Deeper than Resolutions with the Yogic Art of Intention-Setting”

  1. I love this idea! However I’m having trouble sticking to one or two simple phrases to serve as my sankalpa. Would you recommend additional meditation to help sort through the few that should be prioritized? Are there any additional questions I can consider or think about during the process.

    1. HK, thanks for your question. Additional meditation might help to clarify. Or you might look at if there’s a deeper desire or attitude that’s underlying several of your different current ideas–so that you’re getting more to the root of things. A few more questions you could consider too:
      ~What’s my deep, heart-felt desire for the next 6-18 months?
      ~What do I want to achieve or become?
      ~What would having it look and feel like to me?

      Your sankalpa can focus either on the result you’re seeking, the attitude that will help you achieve it, or both. If you really want to dive deeper into this process, I’d recommend reading Rod Stryker’s “The Four Desires.” Chapter 10 takes you through an in-depth guided process (including meditating, mind-mapping, and journaling) to land on your sankalpa.

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