How to set an intention and manifest a meaningful life
At the beginning of a yoga class or meditation, the teacher often asks students to set a resolve or intention for their practice. Some might be able to come up with a resolve instantly, which may or may not be forgotten by the end of class. Others might be left slightly stumped, and rightfully so — the practice of intention setting, or creating a sankalpa, is not something you can do off the cuff. A sankalpa should be reflective of your heart’s deepest longings and your true nature. It acts as a guiding force to help you to live a meaningful life, which means you must take the time to reflect and look within to find it.
What’s your purpose?
Setting goals or resolutions in life is something we all have probably done at one time or another. Have you noticed, however, that often these goals — particularly the New Year resolutions you set — tend to focus on the negative? We might not realise it, but many of the resolutions that we make focus not only on changing what we do, but also often on who we inherently are.
For instance, common resolutions such as the need to lose weight or to get a promotion at work are aspirational. However, from a yogic point of view, the motivations behind these can possibly be seen as material or driven by ego. These kinds of resolutions are often founded on the idea that we are not good enough, that our lives are lacking in something, or that we must change who we are to become “better”.
This kind of thinking is not conducive to yoga, which is why yoga doesn’t involve making these kinds of resolutions. Instead, in yoga you set a sankalpa, which is based around the crazy notion that you are already enough. The word “sankalpa” comes from the Sanskrit word san, meaning a connection with the highest truth, and kalpa, meaning vow. Thus, a sankalpa is a commitment to live in accordance with your highest truth or spirit — in other words, who you truly are.
Unlike the resolutions you may be familiar with, sankalpas work on a deeper level. Setting a sankalpa plants a seed or focus in the depths of your unconscious to help you realise your true nature, and guide you to lead a more meaningful, spiritual life that is reflective of this. A sankalpa is not something you lack and aspire to achieve. Instead, sankalpas speak to your heart’s longings and acknowledge your being.
We each already have everything we need within us to fulfil our sankalpa — it’s just a matter of fostering the energy and willpower inside to achieve our full potential.
Yogic practices such as yoga nidra place you in the ideal state of mind so you can cultivate the sankalpa seed deep within. This practice of deep relaxation also focuses on nourishing the sankalpa so it may manifest on a conscious level. Ultimately, the practice of sankalpa feeds into the overall purpose of yoga, which seeks to help each of us achieve a level of self-realisation or enlightenment by uniting all layers of our being and living in a way that is true to this. At its essence, the sankalpa is a guiding force that helps us become more balanced, happy and fulfilled.
Know thy self
Now that you understand what a sankalpa entails, the next challenge is to establish your own. Often, you may be asked to recite a sankalpa at the start and end of yoga nidra, or sometimes at the beginning of asana practice. Generally, though, you don’t get any time to actually think about your sankalpa and what it really means or should be. Many students might quickly come up with a positive-sounding statement that they forget about by the end of practice, and then come up with something completely different the following week.
Common resolutions … are often founded on the idea that we are not good enough, that our lives are lacking in something or that we must change who we are to become “better”.
However, to create a sankalpa that reflects both what you want to achieve out of your practice as well as your intrinsic self, you must take the time to reflect and look within. When you have clarity of mind, such as during periods of self-reflection or meditation, your intention can come forth more easily. Use these times as chances to reflect on your values. Think about what is most important about yourself or how you want to live your life. Think about where you are now, or where you want to be. This isn’t something you need to rack your brain about. In a quiet, meditative space, allow these thoughts to come to you and sit with them. Just remember to be patient and listen so you can hear the message from within, and allow a sankalpa to form.
What if you are sitting or lying there and don’t hear anything? Or maybe you hear something that sounds more ego-driven, like some of the “resolutions” we mentioned earlier. While these may not be reflections of the heart’s desire, they can act as stepping stones to finding your sankalpa. A sankalpa should focus on what’s beyond our thoughts and feelings. So, for instance, if you hear “I want a better job”, think about how this might impact your life. What is the feeling you want to achieve from this desire? What is its deeper, underlying purpose that is guiding you in that direction? Perhaps a better job would give security to your family and mean you won’t need to worry as much. Maybe it will give you a greater sense of accomplishment and self-love towards yourself. This, then, could translate into a sankalpa such as: “I am compassion and calmness.”
The answers to these questions are something you must look within to find, and must be your own. Taking the time to look for the feeling behind the intention will drill down into the true heart’s desire.
What’s your sankalpa?
Sankalpas are unique to each person but here are some starting points that may prompt some reflection or help you to word your own:
- I am spiritually awakened
- I honour my spirit
- I am healthy and whole
- I am compassion and love
Traditionally, it is said a sankalpa should not be changed until it is realised. Having said that, however, it’s not the easiest thing to hone in on your true essence the first time around! As you continue in your practice, look at your sankalpa in more depth and allow it to evolve as you start to become more attuned to your inner self.
Reciting your sankalpa
Once your sankalpa starts to form in your mind, focus on the wording. It is important to phrase your sankalpa in a way that is positive, clear and to the point. Your sankalpa is a reflection of your heart’s desire and of who you already are, so it should be stated in present tense. For instance, rather than saying, “I want to be a happier person”, make your sankalpa, “I am happiness itself.”
Then the sankalpa must be nourished and reaffirmed. Traditionally, a sankalpa is repeated mentally three times with determination, conviction and confidence at the start and end of yoga nidra. Yoga nidra is a state of deep relaxation where you are neither awake nor in a dream state, and have a greater sense of awareness and openness. When you recite your sankalpa in this state, it is more easily absorbed into the subconscious mind. Yoga nidra also focuses on quieting the fluctuations of the mind that prevent the sankalpa from growing — and so prevent you from working towards your higher purpose.
By continually reaffirming the sankalpa in yoga nidra, you nourish it and allow it to manifest from within so it may eventually present itself at a conscious level.
By continually reaffirming the sankalpa in yoga nidra, you nourish it and allow it to manifest from within so it may eventually present itself at a conscious level. When this happens, following your true path and living in accordance to this across all aspects of your being — whether physically, emotionally, mentally or spiritually — becomes second nature.
Your sankalpa does not just have to be reserved for yoga nidra, however. You can recite your sankalpa during pranayama (breathing exercises) or meditation, or simply call upon it when needed as a reminder to align your day-to-day life and choices with your true nature.
It is important to remember that a sankalpa doesn’t seek to change your life overnight. It works on a much deeper, spiritual level to help you connect with the essence of your being. The practice of yoga and sankalpa setting is all about self-realisation. Once you realise your heart’s desire, you can use this as a way to bring out the best in yourself. A sankalpa is a reminder of your nature and your path, and allows you to unite the many layers of your being so this can seamlessly translate into your daily life. This means the sankalpa is something you are constantly moving toward (subconsciously) and/or always living (consciously).
How to live your sankalpa
There are plenty of different ways you can increase awareness of your sankalpa and actively live in a way that’s true to it outside of meditation or yoga nidra. Try integrating some of these actions into your day:
- Repeat your sankalpa to yourself throughout the day, particularly during times that may be challenging or when you need to draw upon strength. Keep it written on your desk, fridge or nightstand as a reminder.
- Make a list of realistic actions and behaviours you can focus on to help you live according to your sankalpa.
- Take time for self-reflection, even once you have a sankalpa. Reflect on your actions and times when you may have moved away from your sankalpa. Use this inner reflection as a chance to become more aware of your choices, and of your true nature.