Often during yoga class, especially during the extended relaxation practice of Yoga Nidra, I invite people to make a Sankalpa, or resolve. I also call it an affirmation, prayer, wish, thought. However none of these terms do justice to the importance and the effectiveness of the practice of Sankalpa.
Sankalpa means Heart felt view of who we are, from 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.
Sankapla is a radical practice; in that it reminds us that we have everything we need in this moment. Sankalpa puts us into connection with our inner most expression of who we are, right now.
This yogic understanding -that we already have all we need to be ourselves - is easily lost in the modern culture of achievement based living. Even in our yoga practice we strive to be better, more flexible, stronger, even more relaxed! But right now, in this very moment we are already ourselves; and that is enough (even with our many perceived or real imperfections).
We invoke sankalpa deliberately while in deep relaxation so we can access intention beyond the layer of thought. To develop sankalpa we must have the willingness to listen inwardly, stepping away from any objections or doubts created by the mind. We must welcome what we hear and be willing to do what our heart-felt desire requires of us. If we make sankapla from the thought layer then often it puts us as a problem to be fixed…eg; "I need to be more loving and compassionate", rather than the very powerful acknowledgment "my true nature is love and compassion itself".
Hareesh Wallis, one of my yoga philosophy teachers describes sankalpa as a rudder for life. While turning the rudder slightly may not alter where we perceive ourselves to be initially, he says, it will have a very different effect as to where we eventually land. He stresses the importance of sankalpa to realising our highest truth.
Richard Miller, a Yoga Nidra teacher specialist says there are two forms of sankalpa; a heart felt desire, 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. A specific sankalpa is a way of aligning our choices on a moment to moment basis in alignment with heart felt desire.
The language used in formulating a sankalpa is extremely important. Because we already have everything we need to be ourselves, our sankalpa must reflect this by using positive current language. “I am happy and healthy” for example rather than “I wish for health and happiness” This puts our health and happiness somewhere into the future, rather than in the present.
The language of Sankalpa may also change and evolve. Often this is sign that we are able to attune more subtly to our inner most desires. My teacher says that we know we are moving towards our deepest desires when there is an intention that our actions be for the benefit of others around us. We may notice that this subtle shift from sankalpa being an ego driven desire all about ourselves, to a way in which our unique gifts, whatever they may be and however they are expressed through our life, be of benefit in some way to others.
Because sankalpa is an expression of truth, it will generate the level of practice required to support itself. Giving voice to our deepest desires during deep relaxation practice allows the sankalpa to be felt on all the layers of our being: physical, emotional, pranic (energetic). 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 of what choices lead away and what choices lead toward your heart felt view. (for example choosing to exercise in this moment rather than have a cigarette affirms the truth "I am healthy and active").
Once created, sankalpa can be visited at other times and places, such as waiting for traffic lights, when children (or others) test our patience and move us away from truth, or before going to sleep each night. This re-visiting acts as an ongoing re-setting of our heart-felt expression - which will help keep us on course to living it as truth, moment to moment.