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The Sankalpa Struggle

“Drop in and connect with your intention,” the instructor said at the beginning of class. A brief pause of silence in the room, paired with a contradicting stampede of thoughts flooding into my mind… “Did I lock my car?” “I should get gas before going to the grocery store after this.” “I wonder what poses we will do today? Hopefully not backbends, I hate backbends.” “Can she tell I’m not thinking about my intention?” “Oh crap, what is my intention?”

The instructor’s voice muffled behind my thoughts began to lead the class… “Quick, think!…I am peace?” “Wait, what does that even mean?” “I let peace in?” I think I’ve heard that one before. It sounds nice. “I let peace in, yep, that’s my intention.” Two to three poses later my intention flies out of the window faster than a bird spooked by my cat. This was my experience with creating mantras and setting intentions in the past. It’s no wonder I never dove in and really used them to my benefit. They were fleeting.

Fast forward, almost seven years later, still on my mat. I found myself front row at a Yoga Tune Up® Level 1 training with Jill Miller. On the first day, within the first hour, we created a personal sankalpa, our own mental resolve. My eyes must have rolled a bit as I flipped to the page in our manuals… “Here we go again. Another intention to toss to the wayside of my mind,” I thought. When I landed on the page I was bewildered to see it bare. “huh?”

Sankalpa creation, a YTU teacher training staple.

Jill’s voice interrupted my thoughts before I could doubt her process. “Answer the following questions based on your initial responses to them,” she prompted us. The questions had nothing to do with yoga or consciousness per say, instead they questioned our intentions for our personal lives. They asked us to nakedly look at our both our values and the roadblocks that prevent us from living out those value-based intentions. After answering the questions, privately in our manuals, we formed a short sentence which would become our Sankalpa. I remember putting my manual down on the floor staring at it with a cocked head thinking, wow, that sentence not only summarizes my life’s desires it shakes my soul on a cellular level. Now she had my monkey brain’s attention.

Where is my mind? Tame the chatter and find what matters.

A few months later, at the four-day Breath and Bliss immersion, Jill continued to teach us how to weave our own sankalpa into our practice with purpose. I thought for sure she could see my mind thinking. Just when my thoughts began to drift out of my experience, she would gently say to us, “recall your sankalpa,” much like a nurturing mother reminds you to stay true to yourself when you find yourself of course. As I write this, I can actually still hear the tone of her voice, pacifying my unfocused toddler-like mind. It gently redirected my thoughts and pulled me back onto the slack-line of consciousness, somehow still leaving just enough space for me to dip my toes into the unconscious realm.

The weekend not only consisted of the knowledge bombs that I found typical of Yoga Tune Up® trainings, it was laced with bursts of deep, profound insights that were specific to me. I came home surrounded by an angelic-like aura of bliss and it stuck around for some time. I found the use of my sankalpa most helpful during my own personal practice or to tame my before teaching jitters. It centered me and allowed me to momentarily declutter my mental closet. A few months passed and a whole lot of life happened when I noticed my sankalpas potency started to fade. “Maybe I am just not meant to be a vector of bliss…”

I began to think and just as coastal fog rolls in and out…my sankalapa disappeared before my eyes. After a lot of struggling and what at times often felt like the last round of a mental octagon battle I grew the awareness that my sankalpa had not in fact failed me. It had simply lost its applicability. It served its purpose in that particular time in my life, but my life had drastically changed. I needed to upgrade my sankalpa to compliment the level at which I was not trying to live. While this process was not easy, and definitely not pretty, it has proven to be so worth it. See how I broke through my sankalpa struggle with a single karate chop in my next article “If you want the change you must accept the challenge.”

“If you want the change you must accept the challenge.”

In my experience, a sankalpa can be used in different ways—but I am most interested in using it as a tool to catapult me towards my life’s most purposeful goals. Turns out setting your goals are the easy part…it’s the follow through, the commitment that trips most of us up and leads us to desert our sankalpa all together. If you find your sankalpa fizziling out, these next three questions will help you wrap your mind around the what, the how and the why sankalpas work in the first place. Since my monkey mind needed some taming, I decided to dig deep into how to increase my sankalpa’s stickiness. Like any young child curiously learning something for the first time, it began with the question “Why?”

Why do sankalpas work on our brains?
Rather than an anchor, I like to think that your sankalpa acts as a suggestive stroke of paint, coloring the thoughts of both your unconscious mind and eventually your conscious activities. It allows you to tap into your inner creative, paint the scene you want and then bring it reality. The suggestive sankalpa is what neuroscience calls a metacognition tool, a fancy word for any technique that allows you to redirect your brain toward a desired outcome. It interrupts your habitual self-destructing thoughts that ultimately distract and derail your mind despite your efforts. In addition to this intentional interruption, anytime you use your sankalpa in junction with your physiology (i.e. the breath or movement) it primes the brain for learning and growth. Your sankalpa is not only received better, it is retrieved better. This connection explains that blissed-out feeling that followed me home after the Breath and Bliss Immersion.

After the why comes the what, which I will discuss next week!

Liked this article? Read My Core Immersion Summer Vacation

About This Author

Baylea is a student and teacher of mindful movement. Her teaching style nurturing yet playful. Her classes are inspired by her own self inquiry and fascination with the human body and it's resilient host, the individual. Teaching as a 200-hr RYT since 2009 and becoming a Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant in 2014 has propelled her down a path of empowering individuals to restore the relationship with their bodies. With a trained eye in movement patterns and applicable therapeutic interventions, Baylea's intention is to awaken individuals to the reality of functional and sustainable movement as a foundation to overall health and well-being. It is Baylea's belief that your yoga practice, sport or fitness regimen should enhance your quality of life long after you've stepped off the mat or left the gym; therefore, setting a standard for quality movement and biomechanics is of upmost importance. Along with being a Yoga Tune Up Level 1 Practitioner, Baylea holds current certifications in Original Strength, and Clubbell Yoga by RMAX International.

The Sankalpa Struggle

  1. Rita Chow says:

    I first learnt about sankalpa thru this blog post and I got to set up my own sankalpa on the first day of my YTU teaching training. Setting up an intention or summarising it would be so difficult without all the guidance. But with the guidance it became so much easier to connect with my inner self. It was a really touchy moment for me.

  2. Noémie says:

    I understand how overhelming it can be for students to start a class with ”an intention”. And I love the way you introduce the Sankalpa as a growing process rather than something that remains the same. Looking foward to ”What”.

  3. Marie-Michelle Darveau says:

    I like the way you have to make sankalpa less of a pressure. It like the idea that it can be seen as a proposition thay you give to yourself .

  4. Jacquie says:

    The first time I heard of a sankalpa was during my YTT. My training included a YTU anatomy training and a set of balls! The teacher for the YTU training gave us some ideas for a sankalpa in case we could not think of one on our own. I choose one that really resonated with me: I am a student of my body. All the physical work has been a lot for me. Exercise, yoga, and anything athletic really is relatively new to me. I had already been in my YTT for 2 weeks and was feeling so frustrated with my lack of yoga abilities. I know as a yogi that we need to fall somewhere between effort and letting go, but my mind was getting the best of me. But hearing this sankalpa and sitting with it for a minute really had a positive effect on me. I had never thought about my body in that way before. It was like I was given a new way to feel and look at myself. It gave me permission to be ok with where I was at. It even gave me a new sense of understanding maybe where my journey as a yoga teacher will take me. There are many inflexible and strength challenged yogi out there. They don’t always know what if should feel like when they engage this muscle or that they are extending their leg. I did not either. Maybe all these lessons my body was teaching me was all for the greater good and someday I will be able to me make my mess, my message All this work is teaching me so much about my own muscles, bones, fascia, and so much more. How my muscles feel after specific yoga poses/practices and how I feel after I use my YTU therapy balls is teaching me about the body and how to heal myself. Once I surrendered to this idea and I kept repeated to myself. It is written on a white board in my kitchen right now. The challenges my body faces week after week have become easier, even welcomed because I now understand that this is just my body teaching me how this movement feels or how this muscle contracts. When it gets tough, I remind myself if this sankalpa. These tough moments are really the a-ha moments of growth that need to happen. However, sometimes our minds want to give up.This sankalpa helps bring me back to what my goal is, to learn about the body. I am just its student though this journey my body is taking me on and I really think we are starting to be a great team! I am very thankful for this sankalpa and will be sharing it for years to come

  5. John says:

    I can get how it’d be hard for people to connect with an intention in a yoga class especially if that’s not something they regularly do. Asking questions that have them relate it to their daily life I think is a great idea. Amazing hiw he brain chatter work – this habit of connecting with a sankalpa definitely translates off of the mat. I know how helpful it’s been in my own ability to manage destructive thoughts and facilitate growth.

  6. Tracy Wagner says:

    Great blog! I never even heard of a sankalpa before until I started the YTU training. I haven’t really found mine yet but I know there will be one for me, sometimes it just takes time.

  7. Nadia says:

    The struggle is real! Today at day 6 of the YTU training I finally was able to construct a Sankalpa that feels authentic and reel for me at this moment in my life. I’ve been struggling to get out of my head. I was over thinking it. Now that I’ve found it feels so obvious. It was right under my now the whole time. Sometimes I think that it’s difficult to have this kind of perspective about ourselves and our life since we are so close to it. My Sankalpa revealed itself during a group discussion about the struggle of Sankalpa. As I expressed myself my pattern of apologizing for who I am came right out. I’m grateful to have had this “aha moment”.

  8. Sara says:

    I laughed when I read the beginning of your post. I think it is such a common reaction to being asked to set an intention, create a sankalpa. I like your description of how Jill regularly and gently drew you back to focus on your sankalpa. And your description of “setting your goals is the easy part…it’s the follow through, the commitment, that trips most of us up,” resonated with me.

  9. Sara says:

    I laughed as I read the beginning of your post. I think it is such a common reaction to being asked to set an intention, create a sankalpa. I like your description of how Jill regularly and gently drew you back to focus on your sankalpa. And your description of “setting your goals is the easy part…it’s the follow through, the commitment, that trips most of us up”, resonated with me.

  10. Renee Bolan says:

    I really enjoyed reading your blog. This is my first YTU level 1 training and although I’ve done some yoga, I wouldn’t consider myself a yogi. I am really struggling finding my sankalpa but your blog has convinced me to dig a little deeper.

  11. Grant says:

    I can definitely identify with this article. In all of my trainings in yoga the idea of mantra’s or meditation phrases never seemed to connect or help. I mean focusing on the breath was always relaxing but it never seemed to calm my “monkey mind.” I always seem to be worrying about if I’ve done a move right, if I’ve stretched something too far, or if I’m going to hurt myself beyond repair. The sankalpa I created for myself during my YTU training has definitely helped me keep confidence in my approach to the movements and keep me present. I’ve often heard how much your approach matters to your success, I feel like the sankalpa gives me a bit more control over the my mind’s approach!

  12. Kerri says:

    This resonated with my beyond words. One of my BIGGEST struggles in Level 1 YTU was my sankalpa. Definitely had some fear in it as I approached myself so to your terms “naked”…… My Sankalpa ended up being exactly what I needed at this training. here i was attending with the mindset of OK, I will learn and leave. This training and my sankalpa focus actually helped me to peel a layer I was holding onto. It dug so deep and soooo raw. I changed the phrasing a couple of times and then near the final end of training, it all came together. I was a burst of tears but it felt so cathartic and real that I am so glad I stayed on track exploring.

    I can relate to every emotion you felt and also the amazing discovery!!! I really have a new mindset with Sankalpa not only as a student but as a teacher.

  13. Jennifer says:

    I appreciate you sharing your experience with your Sankalpa. I am in the middle of my first YTU Level One teacher training and as much as I resonate with my Sankalpa and use it when prompted in training, I realize that I am not taking it seriously, as if something in my belief systems questions such practices and their ability to affect change. I will continue to maintain interest and curiosity as to where I am at in this process of quite a steep learning curve.

  14. Andree-Anne Gagnon says:

    For years, I have heard teachers throw out empty sentences like “set your intention for your practice today” without ever backing them up with instructions or explanations. Last year, during a teacher training, I was asked to craft a sankalpa (with the help of clear questions and explanations as to why, what and how!) and my sankalpa was born. A year later, I am in the Level 1 Yoga Tune Up teacher training and of course, day 1 we craft our sankalpa. It was neat to see that last years’ sankalpa had fallen to the wayside because it had done it’s job and i was a different version of myself and that I was ready for my new sankalpa to guide me like a word bridge towards the next version of myself. Now when i got to class and a teacher throws around words like “intention” or “dedication”, in can smile and know that my bases are covered 🙂

  15. Tisha says:

    I, too, hadn’t really given much thought to a Sankalpa in any class I’ve taken. I felt that it was a statement I would come up with quickly before starting my practice and then I really never remembered it after that. Even when prompted by the teacher to say it again in your mind. I would struggle with what I set in the first place. It wasn’t until my YTU Level 1 training had begun, that I realized that I needed to take this more seriously. I tend to be all over the place when starting new things (like being a yoga teacher). I get so excited about new things that I want to learn everything. I mean EVERYTHING. Kids yoga, Yin Yoga, Restorative, Aerial yoga, Thai yoga massage, Ball Rolling, on and on and on. But, what this training has made me realize with really having a Sankalpa and keeping it at the forefront in all that I do, is that it helps me to narrow down my focus on what I will provide to my students. I am interested in a lot of things in yoga, but I know I don’t want to provide everything I am interested in for myself. Also, I really liked that you talked about the Sankalpa changing. It makes so much sense that we grow and change and our Sankalpa should grow and change with us. I am currently working my very first Sankalpa. Trying to make it stick and I look forward to how it transforms as I do.

  16. Ella says:

    I just created my first Sankalpa in level 1 training. I am already finding it comforting and motivating during practice.
    I appreciate you telling your story about changing your Sankalpa when it now longer felt relevant. I makes sense that as we all enevitably change and grow our motivations and inspirations would change too.

  17. Michelle W says:

    I just started my Level 1 training today — so this feels like a perfect post to have read. I loved the quote, “If you want the change you must accept the challenge.” Your article challenges us to continue the practice every day of not only using the sankalpa and remembering it, but to think of it as a “suggestive stroke of paint”. What a perfect way to think of a sankalpa. That vivid imagery was really helpful for me — and I will take it with me. Thank you for your post!

  18. sarah says:

    Thanks for such a great read. I had my first day of Tune Up Training today and I was in aww of how quickly these questions dove deep into my biggest struggles and loftiest goals. The question of ‘are you open to believing that your limitations can be minimized or eradicated’ was a new one for me and got right to the core of the issue for me. It became so clear in that moment what I needed my sankalpa to be. Its always inspiring when you first discover a path that you would like to chart but usually after comes the slow fade as I drift from the path and inevitably (in the past) forget my sankalpa. I loved how you talked about combining this intentional interruption with body movement and breath. I think it will be so helpful for me to make an imprint on an action, a movement, a breath and to allow the physical to spark and remind me of the mental work I am embarking on. So thank you for that!

  19. Luz Garcia says:

    Beautiful and helpful article. I hear your struggle and I can relate with it too!
    Today is my first day of the YTU TT and the teachers also asked us to create our own Sankalpa. I was a little anxious to create the “perfect” sankalpa that helped to connect with my center and my purpose. I think I’ve found it! I know too, that this one will change when I’ve learnt what I actually need to learn from it.

  20. Kaoru says:

    I wrote my first Sankalpa today the first day of Yoga Tune Up® Level 1 training. Surprisingly, it brought me lot of emotions and I almost got tears in my eyes. During class, there were many times I get confused, scared because of language barrier and the feeling of “I’m not good enough”. Sankalpa soothed me and reminded me of breathe. My journey has just started and I’m so excited.

  21. Alyssa says:

    A full month after my Level One training, I’m still struggling with my Sankalpa. I’ve always understood the “why”, but the “what” has eluded me thus far. Nothing I settle on feels quite right, or only feels right for a day or two before doubt starts to creep in. Looking forward to diving into the next post in your series!

  22. Stephanie says:

    Thank you for your words Baylea. Creating a meaningful Sankalpa was difficult (I started with one of the examples in the manual) and it seemed to change daily depending on my mood or stress levels. It wasn’t until day 6 of my training, after hearing a comment made by a colleague, that something finally “clicked”. I created my Sankalpa right then and there and it’s still influencing my personal and professional life a month later. Even if my Sankalpa changes – and it probably will – it has served me well. Looking forward to your next article.

  23. Carrie says:

    I did not realize until beginning our YTU training this week, that what I had done long ago was create my first Sankalpa. Setting an intention for practice and meditation has been the same for me for 2 years now, but lately it had started to fade. I started to feel like it wasn’t holding it tight enough or staying true enough to this intention. When we created our sankalpa, at first I thought I would go back. This week I have realized, this new Sankalpa is the one that truly fits.

  24. Jasmine Ellemo says:

    Since my experience in the Level 1 training, I am making a serious effort to always come back to my Sankalpa. Like you , this keeps me grounded and focused. I really reading your blog and the one thing that stands out for me is WHY? Our Sankalpa will be most effective when it is linked to a burning desire in our heart, a reason why. Well done!

  25. Wendy Hensley says:

    My first sankalpa that I made a month ago a level 1 YTU had been almost like a secret friend at times. It simply reminds me of what I do value and helps guide me through decisions I face. In the confusion of trying to choose should I do this or should I do that my sankalpa helps me not to sell myself short.

  26. Lorraine says:

    Using a sankalpa has really helped me keep my mind on track as well as my client. If they step up to the deadlift bar and say “I can’t go this heavy”, they need to step back and walk away and go over their sankalpa to start with a positive mindset and trusting in themselves.

  27. Garret says:

    Wow Baylea! I really loved that. Today I was able to create my very first sankulpa. I couldn’t agree more “If you want change you must accept the challenge” That is where you can find the real you, and I hope my sankulpa tames my chatter as well.

  28. Jolie Mosser says:

    I can relate as I struggled developing my sankalpa during my first YTU Training Course. I want it to be perfect and that it fits me and what I represent. I know I’m excited for change and growth through this amazing experience. It will only get easier as I begin to open my mind and breath in the confidence and let go of my fears.

  29. Jess says:

    This post was very relatable as I participated in my first day of Tune Up training. I never related to intentions in previous yoga classes, I always thought that was a little hokey, but as you said, the questions asked in regards to your intention in Tune Up are very goal-oriented and they really got me thinking. I’m constantly frustrated where I am in life; I though I knew who I was and what I want out of life, but I’ve realised that I am always changing, as are my goals and aspirations. Creating a sankulpa helps to organise my thoughts and give me perspective in what I am doing day to day.

  30. Michelle Jordahl says:

    I let the same way when I first started Yoga, it was hard for me to stop the chatter in my mind and set intentions for my class. As I move thru my life I have definitely become more aware and grounded and open to new ideas and learning in life.

  31. Shari Williams shari Williams says:

    Great article. I can relate to the Sankalpa dilemma. I never know if I state it the “right” way, and what do I really really want? looking forward to the “what”. thank you!

  32. Jamilah says:

    Baylea, I loved reading this post. I created my first sankulpa today in the Level 1 training and I am so excited to live with it, explore it and breath into it as I transform myself and others by loving and accepting myself unconditionally. What a wonderful moment it will be when I realize that I have learned to embody this and am ready to grow into a new one.

  33. Leslie says:

    You’re writing is lovely. I do so appreciate your description of the often-times flighty behavior of sankalpa. I feel less lonely. Your image of a “stoke of paint” coloring thoughts is far more compelling than the “kick in the pants” that I tend to use on myself.
    I will try this change in thought–add an “i” to “pants” and radically shift my mental energy. We shall see. I will share your article with others and look forward to your next installment.

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