Category: 2016

Sankalpa: A short guide to getting what you really, really want


As we approach the new year, you might want to ask yourself what do you really, really want in these next 12 months? Importantly, how do you want to feel? Just as importantly, how committed are you to making it happen? All of these questions relate to something that we refer to as “Sankalpa” in yoga.

You may have heard  the word “Sankalpa” in your yoga class. And then maybe your teacher imprecisely translated it as intention. Sankalpa means a lot more than “intention”. Here’s why – I remember during my first months going to class (of course, in my tattered running shorts that were much too old to be worn in public), the teacher would vaguely ask us to set an intention and mine would be something along the lines of keeping my abs contracted throughout  the entire class. Just because I thought that was somehow beneficial for me. Literally, this was an intention, but it certainly wasn’t a sankalpa.

So what is a Sankalpa then? Let’s look at the words that combine to make it.

“San” : a concept or idea formed in the heart

“Kalpa”: the rule to be observed above or before any rule.

In his book, The Four Desires, Rod Stryker poetically defines sankalpa as “an intention formed in the heart”.  For some of us, the Sanskrit might make it sounds exotic and kind of fancy. SANKAPLA. (say it in an overly dramatic voice). But, really, formulating a Sankalpa is quite practical. When we commit ourselves to doing something and systematically remind ourselves of it, it can be hard for it not to come to fruition.

The trick lies in setting the right Sankalpa. Desire and determination are powerful. To make sure that you are aiming these the right way, your Sankalpa should:

  • BE AUTHENTIC. This means that it is something specific that contributes to the deep purpose of our individual life. Your Sankalpa is probably not the same as your neighbor’s Sankalpa. Life gets to be expressed through us in perfectly unique ways to our intentions also get to be perfectly unique.
  • BE DOABLE. Since this is something that we sincerely commit to, it must be doable. I wouldn’t set a Sankalpa to run a marathon in under three hours because I know this is impossible so a logical commitment to this wouldn’t be possible.
  • BE SOMETHING THAT YOU CAN BE EXCITED ABOUT AND HAPPILY COMMITTED TO. You have to want to do it. If not, this is probably not coming from your heart.

In other words, this is something that you can and want to realistically put before everything else because it serves a greater purpose and has deep meaning to you. Keeping one’s core tense for a long time definitely does NOT fit the bill. Offering a loving, listening ear to others could be work. Not looking at a screen after 6 pm or choosing to enjoy your breath could also work. 1,000,008 other things could work as well as long as they are connected to deep meaning and real possibility. Once you are very clear what you deeply desire, you can take small steps to make it a reality. 

What are you looking at?

What are you looking at?

Sometimes where we look makes all the difference.

I remember one fall afternoon, in my early  twenties, I shifted my gaze from the ground to eye level. Like Robert Frost choosing a road, this subtle shift of attention made all the difference.  It was as if my life went from being lived in two dimensions to being lived in three dimensions. An imagined boundary between myself and the world had been erased. When I would look at the ground, I was living in my thoughts, now I was living in the world.

I had always been in the world, connected to others, I just hadn’t noticed. My attention had previously been on my mental chatter – the constant analyzing, planning, worrying, and general overthinking. I was missing so much – smiling faces, majestic and not-so-majestic trees, the watercolor sky, and most importantly, the opportunity to feel myself as a part of things. From that moment forward, I made it a habit to look forward, to deliberately no longer blind myself due to an unskillful focus.

As we move into the new year, we often make resolutions or form intentions. Maybe this year we can notice if where we are looking is moving us toward greater connection or disconnection to those around us?

The question now is, where will you set your gaze in 2016?