In the yogic tradition, a Sankalpa is an intention, a desire, a resolution which we place in our heart and mind. It is activated by our willpower, the transformative power of our thoughts into action.
Ideally, there is no better place and time to establish a new resolution but here and now.
However, the beginning of the year is also a good start to place an intention, before life pace increases and we get caught into the “busy-ness” of life and any potential procrastination. It gives us a sense of direction, a focus point for the rest of the year.
I like to compare the formulation of Sankalpa as an “alchemy recipe”… In addition to will power, and to become potent, a Sankalpa requires a good dose of detachment or surrender. So that when we place an intention, we bear in mind that there might be a Divine plan in motion, a higher power in action. Ishvara Pranidhana (surrender to the Divine, the Absolute or Universal Force) is one of the Niyama (ethical observances established in the eight limbs of yoga *). It fuels our Sankalpa and helps us switch from the ego-based “I want” to the more humble and fertile “I wish and trust” mode.
I also like the idea of placing a Sankalpa at the beginning of a physical challenge: In the Spring of last year, my husband and I took a trip to Cape Town with his youngest son, John. On the last day, John, who is a keen climber, convinced us to trek up Table Mountain. Towering 1086 meters over Cape Town, and around 500 million years in the making, Table Mountain is a playground for nature lovers and outdoor enthusiasts alike. So, we could not resist and decided to embark all together on the adventure…
The way we chose to walk up the mountain was via the Platekip gorge and the best way to describe it was “up and relentlessly up”! It’s the most direct route to the top of the mountain and the most popular. However, it is not a route to be trifled with; the going can be tough. So as we started to walk, I placed my Sankalpa. Half way up, we realised that although John was climbing like a rabbit, neither my husband or I were quite prepared for this. We were more on the “ slow worm” kind of pace… We soon started to feel exhausted and dehydrated. We had misjudged the heat, the difficulty of the path and the quantity of water we should have brought with us. The path was steep and narrow and there was no turning back. We also had to be very aware where we stepped as there are a number of ”not so friendly” crawlers (snakes, spiders and scorpios) in the neighbourhood . As we climbed, and felt more and more tired, I got a sense that the only thing I could do at that stage was ‘’surrender to what is’’… I started to recite a mantra to Durga (warrior goddess of protection and inner strength).
The more I focused on mantra and surrendering, the more I started to feel the energy coming back and pushing me up the hill. A few hours later, with shaky legs, a ”very dry” smile and dizzy head , we made it to the top with a huge sense of relief and achievement. That trek became our kind of our “Camino de Santiago”… a pilgrimage to the top of the mountain and it turned out to be an exhilarating experience, where we all had to expand our comfort zone and go beyond our limits. Not to mention the stunning views and fresh air which were waiting for us at the top of the mountain.
Finally, a powerful place to introduce Sankalpa is also at the beginning of our yoga practice or at the beginning and end of Yoga Nidra (deep relaxation, yogic sleep with a slight trace of awareness). When we practice yoga, we declutter, we reorganise and create space in our body and mind, which become a fertile ground to plant the seed of an intention.
According to Yogarupa Rod Stryker, the best way to create a goal is, before we go to sleep, to write down the question : “what is my Sankalpa?”, Then, wake up the next morning and listen throughout the day. The answer will come as you refine your listening. His advice to formulate an intention is to make a short and positive statement, which addresses a deep and significant urge. Ask yourself what is the one thing that if you were to have or be, it would improve your whole life. What one thing or quality will have the greatest possible positive impact on your life and on the life of others? The Sankalpa should be stated in such a way as to reflect that what you want has already been achieved.
So like an explorer, climbing your own mountain, reflect on what is your challenge this year and formulate your intention, clearly and purposefully. Once your resolve has been planted, remember to feed it with your willpower and water it with your detachment. Watch and let it grow and unfold…
*The eight limbs of Yoga are : Yama (abstinence), Niyama (observance), Asana (postures), Pranayama (breath control), Dharana (concentration), Pratihara (meditation), Dhyana (meditation), Samadhi (contemplation, absorption, super-conscious state).The Yama includes : Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Bramacharya (self-continence), Aparigraha (non-greed). The Niyama includes : Saucha (cleanliness, purity), Santosha (contentment), Tapas (discipline), Svadhyaya (self-study and study of the scriptures), and Isvara Pranidhana (surrender to the Divine, to the Absolute, the True Self).