Counsellor and qualified yoga teacher Maureen has penned the next in the Yoga Insights series: Developing intention with yoga – the Yogic practice of Sankalpa Catch Maureen teaching Mindful Yoga at Oasis.
Developing intention with yoga – the Yogic practice of Sankalpa.
Often during yoga class, maybe at the beginning of the class, or during an extended relaxation practice of yoga nidra, I invite people to make a ‘sankalpa’, or resolve. I also call it an affirmation, prayer, wish or thought. However none of these terms do justice to the importance and the effectiveness of the practice of sankalpa.
Working with intention can feel like a bit of a paradox. Much of mindful yoga encourages us to be in the present moment, the here and now. Why then would we use practices where we set an intention – which we may think of as about the future?
Sankalpa means heart felt view of who we are, from the Sanskrit, San meaning highest truth, and Kalpa meaning idea or view. It is a tool to tap into our specific gifts, strengths and desires; a practice to help us be the best we can be in every moment.
Richard Miller, a yoga nidra teacher and psychologist says there are two forms of sankalpa; a heart felt desire – a broader mission statement if you like, and a specific intention or goal.
The heart felt desire is literally a statement of who we are, which offers deep guidance for the arc of our lives, such as “I am content and at peace”. A specific sankalpa or intention, is a way of aligning our choices on a moment to moment basis in alignment with the heart felt desire. An example of a specific sankapla might be, “My yoga practice supports my sense of calm and contentedness with my life and study”
The language used in formulating a sankalpa is extremely important. Because we already have everything we need to be ourselves, our sankalpa reflects this by using positive current language. For example, “I am happy and healthy”, rather than “I wish for health and happiness”, which puts our health and happiness somewhere into the future, rather than in the present.
Giving voice to our intention during relaxation practice allows the sankalpa to be felt on all the layers of our being: physical, emotional, cognitive and our energetic bodies. For example if your heart felt desire is “I am healthy and active”, the sankalpa taps into the will power that you have and leads you to make choices and actions that support being healthy and active. You can also more easily access the wisdom to notice the choices you make which lead away from and the choices that lead toward your intentions.
Practising with intention, or Sankalpa, reminds us that now, in this very moment we are already our best selves. This yogic understanding -that we already have all we need within us – is easily lost in our achievement-based living. Even in our yoga practice we strive to be better – more flexible, stronger, even more relaxed! Sankalpa then is a great practice tool for self-compassion and helps us to make choices in alignment with our core values.
Tips to establish an Intention:
Write down your core values- the values if you were living your life by them would give you the greatest sense of meaning and purpose. After brainstorming these values, order them in terms of your current priorities? Notice which particular words have the highest resonance for you. Often these values can form the basis of your Sankalpa, and can be written like a positive affirmation.
Using a yoga nidra (deep relaxation) practice, allow words to come automatically, without too much effort. Maybe there are images, colours or sensations rather than words which also reflect your heart felt intention. Many yoga nidra practices can be found on meditation apps such as Insight Timer and can range from 10 minute to 40 minute practices of deep relaxation.
Once created, sankalpa can be visited at a range of times and places, such as waiting for traffic lights, while practising a yoga asana (posture), or before going to sleep each night. This re-visiting acts as an ongoing re-setting of our intention – which will help keep us on course to living it as truth, moment to moment.
We will practice this intention setting at the next Mindful Yoga class, Tuesday 12 noon at Oasis.