How to Create and Use a Sankalpa

Pilgrimage of the Heart Yoga > Yoga > How to Create and Use a Sankalpa

By Lena Schmidt

Have you ever been invited to set an intention at the beginning of a yoga class? An intention can really help set the tone for your practice or even your day or week. An intention is a guiding purpose, value, mantra, or characteristic you’d like to cultivate more of in your life. On the yoga mat when you practice asana (yoga postures), pranayama (breathwork), and Dharana (concentration), you are embodying your chosen intention through your mindful expression of the poses, the quality of your breath, and your focused attention.

And this intention-setting practice, whether it’s a theme suggested by your teacher, a positive affirmation you’ve been working with daily, or something that occurs to you in the moment, is actually part of the long lineage of yoga. The idea of setting a Sankalpa allows you to connect with your true nature and life’s purpose. In Sanskrit “san” means a connection to highest truth and “kalpa” means vow; Sankalpa is your resolve; your Sankalpa helps guide you to direct your energy and which actions to take towards your goals in life.

A Sanskrit phrase from the Hindu text The Upanishads “Tat Vam Asi” lends itself to the heart of creating a Sankalpa. That is, you don’t actually have to create one! Rather, you seek to remember your heartfelt desires and deepest truths. Tat Vam Asi, translated to English as “I am that” or “Thou art that,” can be understood as “you are that which you seek, it is already within you.” The practice of yoga is, then, one of discovering, remembering, or uncovering that which has been hidden beneath societal expectations and our attachments.

So, what is your Sankalpa? Are you focused on a specific goal in life? Is there something you’d like to achieve or quit? Are you considering your deepest desires and truest wishes as you make a big decision? Set a Sankalpa and notice where it leads you. Your intention could be one word, like courage, compassion, peace, or love, or a statement that guides your actions and your interactions, like “I embody peace,” “I am courageous,” or “Love leads me today.” It could be very specific such as “Today I will meditate for 15 minutes” or quite general such as “I am enough.” Don’t forget to nurture your intentions with positive thinking, self-compassion, and deep breathing!

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