The word sankalpa in sanskrit can be translated as ‘resolve’, so is it the same idea as a new year’s resolution? Well… sort of.
You may have heard the term sankalpa used at the start of a yoga class. The teacher asks you to set an intention for the class. This is your resolve to remain focussed on your breath, or honour your body or offer up your practice to someone or something else.
A deeper definition of sankalpa is a vow to follow your most heartfelt desires, to be connected to the highest truth and follow your dharma (your life’s purpose). Yoga teaches us that we already posses all we need within us to fulfill our dharma, it is just a case of focussing and channeling our energy in the right direction. With this in mind the sankalpa is very much a resolve to connect to our truth within.
New year’s resolutions are given a bad name with the majority of resolutions being broken by the end of January. The resulting feeling of failure can leave people despondent and often lead to worse habits and behaviour. New year’s resolutions are often framed in way that requires we change something about ourselves. Either our appearance (“I will lose 5kg this year”), our habits (“I will not smoke”) or our actions (“I will not spend as much money on clothes” or “I will meditate every day”). They are also often made hastily (at 11.59pm on new year’s eve?) with no plans in place to achieve them.
I don’t think it is necessarily the practice of making a new year resolution that is at fault but the way they are made so, perhaps we can learn from the process of setting a sankalpa when making our more symbolic resolution on the 1st of January.
How to find your heartfelt desire
You can start this exercise by bringing to mind the statements that you might have chosen for a new year’s resolution. Examine the statement and ask the question ‘why do I want this?’ You may need to ask the question numerous times over to get to the deeper meaning behind your resolution. For example, if your statement is ‘I want to lose 5 kilos’ this could be because you want to be fitter, because you want to enjoy good health. On the other hand it could be because you want to fit into a certain outfit, because you want to feel good about yourself. The underlying desire, and sankalpa, could be quite different in the two scenarios.
Setting your sankalpa
Unlike most new year’s resolutions the sankalpa is stated in the present tense using positive language. Using the examples above it could be I enjoy good health or I feel confident and happy. The best way to deepen the resolve is to repeat the sankalpa during meditation or yoga nidra. As the sentence is framed in a positive way it helps to connect to the idea that you already have everything you need to fulfil your dharma, rather than focusing on what you are missing or failing at.
It may seem strange to be setting a resolution to achieve something but then stating that you already have it! This is an important aspect of yoga where we are directing our energy to achieving something while at the same time being content with exactly the way things are in the present moment.
All actions should be viewed through the lens of the sankalpa but also with compassion for yourself. If you make choices or act in a way that goes against your sankalpa, examine why this may have happened, how you feel and what you could do differently in the future to reduce the risk of this occurring again. During the practice of mindfulness through awareness of the breath when the mind wanders we kindly bring it back to the breath without judging. In the same way we can kindly bring our whole being back to the sankalpa when it strays off the path.
It’s still only January so I encourage you to create and set your sankalpa! Here’s mine:
I act with compassion and nourishment towards myself and others.