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The Sankalpa Struggle: Make it Stick!

Last week, I discussed what a sankalpa is, and that our brains use such metacognition tools in order to focus and accomplish goals.  But what makes a sankalpa stick?

My first sankalpa was comfy. It made me feel all cozy and warm when I recalled it. This was all rainbows and butterflies in the nurturing environment of the Breath and Bliss Immersion, but life had a way of showing me I needed more precision for the path I was headed on. Much like a report card, my internal assessment revealed I had not received an A for effort, but in fact it was an area in need of improvement. I had been expecting my sankalpa to do the work for me. It’s a tool, not magic or even a miracle. As soon as I committed to a sankalpa that represented my new life values, the resistance came.

Relentless resistance, in all forms—the sankalpa struggle was forcing me to face the choices before me and either use this tool or fall victim to my distraction and fear. I think Jill knew the resistance would be lurking just outside of her sphere because one of the last questions she asked us when forming our sankalpa was “Are you open to believing [inevitable] obstacles can be removed or overcome?”

Feeling the resistance

Like a parent instills a sense of moral into their young ones, knowing it will be tested later in the “real world” this question was priming the mind. Ironically when I look back in my notebook, I didn’t actually answer the question, not until recently. I learned the hard way that of all the questions this is one to not overlook and probably the most crucial in my sankalpa’s success. The endurance of your sankalpa depends on its depth and the emotion it provokes. Feeling as though my mental-training wheels had been removed, picking up momentum I graduated through to the how.

How do you break through the struggle?

Learning from the example of Kelly McGonigal’s research in the book the Upside of Stress, I began to see my mindset as she puts it, a “catalyst.” McGonigal says “Changing your mindset puts into motion processes that perpetuate positive change over time.” So this time around I was ready for the resistance. My mindset was to be excited about the challenge. Each set back was actually an opportunity. Each distraction a boundary building exercise. Each day offered a chance to strengthen my mental muscle and actually use my sankalpa. You can’t just buy new paint for your mental picture, you have to actually change the medium. So I removed all limiting beliefs, learned helplessness and ego based thoughts like they were toxic to my health, because they were. I replaced them with my sankalpa. I set a new standard of thinking and thus living. Your mindset matters; start to see your sankalpa as something that is meant to be tested and then actually test it.

Mindset change!

I’m not going to say that my life changed overnight, or even that I have accomplished all of my goals. I will tell you instead that my sankalpa has allowed me create value in situations that previously didn’t have any. Although this is one of the most uncertain, trying times of my life thus far, I feel more connected to my goals and values than ever before. You see, the sankalpa struggle was part of the process, weeding out distractions and refining my intention. Expect that it will arise, but now that you know the why, the what and the how’s of overcoming this struggle you’ll be able to actually experience the process. At the end of life it won’t necessarily be the accomplishments that bring you peace, but rather the enrichment of the experiences you have that brings about a life of content.

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: Make it Stick!

  1. Isabelle Côté says:

    This way of seeing sankalpa excites me completely. The process of learning and change, both in the mental and behavioral world, is for me an integral part of this positive visualization. I will particularly remember and apply that each challenge is an opportunity, a new boundary building exercise that strengthen my mental muscle ! Thank you so much Baylea for this very great view of the world 😊

  2. Nadia says:

    I agree mind set is everything. It directly effects our experience. Energy goes where attention goes 🙂
    Refining my intention and getting in touch with what is really real for me in the moment is not always easy but this practice of creating Sankalpa through YTU is a wonderful practice that I am learning to embrace.

  3. Sara says:

    Like your prior post, this one also resonated with me. I like your realistic and pragmatic approach to using your sankalpa as a tool, not as a passive panacea.

  4. Kerri says:

    Snakalpa’s I find change over time and experience. Sometimes what we start with changes with what we end with. I believe in sankalpa’s for ourselves b/c it helps to redirect us when we veer off path. Mine is forever I feel growing, not necessarily changing but just learning through experience and being redefined. It doesn’t mean that my past sankalpa wasn’t appropriate as it was for the time/need of when it was created. If anything it teaches me to grow and be accepting of the change.

  5. Renee Bolan says:

    This post really resonates with me since I am currently struggling finding my sankalpa. Your post reminded me to dig a little deeper and that by finding one that truly means something to me will help me along my life long road ahead.

  6. Abby says:

    “At the end of life it won’t necessarily be the accomplishments that bring you peace, but rather the enrichment of the experiences you have that brings about a life of content.” Love this! Such true and wise words. Thank you for sharing.

  7. Michelle W says:

    Yes! I love how you talk about it as an ongoing, life-long practice. I especially loved this, “Each set back was actually an opportunity. Each distraction a boundary building exercise. Each day offered a chance to strengthen my mental muscle and actually use my sankalpa.” It’s so true. I’ve attended many teacher trainings, and even workshops, where the senior teachers encourage us to think of a sankalpa — then come back to it over and over again. But what if it didn’t stick? Your post suggests it to be an ongoing, evolving practice, and I love that. It really helps me to further understand, and truly get my sankalpa to stick. Thank you!

  8. Christopher Malabanan says:

    This article has really served as encouragement for me. I completed by first day of the Level 1 Teacher Training. The teacher trainers, assistants, and fellow classmates are wonderful, but I couldn’t help but feel intimidated throughout the practice. I’m glad that I was introduced to sankalpa in the morning. The questions asked to develop my sankalpa were succinct and potent. I believe I had developed an inner directive that centered me throughout day 1 and hope that it will continue to serve me through the inevitable challenges that may come my way.

  9. Kelly says:

    I had trouble with this question (“Are you open to believing [inevitable] obstacles can be removed or overcome?”) during the training as well because it implies that removing/overcoming obstacles is simply a matter of individual effort. Looking back on my notes now I see that my training leader specified “self-imposed personal or physical limitations or obstacles,” which makes it easier to see how a sankalpa can help with overcoming said obstacles, but the emphasis on the individual still makes me uneasy about this line of inquiry.

  10. Harriet says:

    Baylea, thank you for sharing your experience learning how to unmask the power of sankalpa through contemplation and intention rather than through expectation or entitlement. I appreciate this balanced approach when so many asana practitioners either reject the 8-limbed approach entirely or go to an opposite extreme of inviting magic without a willingness to cultivate positive change. I was just introduced today to the YTU method of extracting a resonant sankalpa, but would like to share another way to distill a psychic resolve. This method was (as far as I know) dubbed “peeling back the layers” by my yoga nidra teacher, Shakti Assouline. You begin by simply thinking of an area of your life you’d like to improve and writing that down. Then you ask yourself, “if I could have ANYTHING at all in that area, what would it be?” and you answer that question without censoring or trying to be realistic. Once you have that, you ask yourself “why?” and then rewrite the phrase with the answer. You continue to ask the question why? until there is nothing underneath, until you have reached the true essence of your desire. The example she gave was “I want a a new house.” After prodding, “why?” she came back with the answer, “because I want more space.” Again, why? the answer arose, “because I want to feel free.” This time, when she asked “why,” there was no deeper layer. So her sankalpa became “I want to be free,” which was then further honed into the present tense, as if it were already true, making the final product, “I am free.” I love this method because it’s so interesting how the things we think we want on the surface are typically products of something much deeper. This is paralleled even by the body itself and the common phrase among body workers that “the problem is never actually where the pain is.” Perhaps this is part of the key to overcoming the “sankalpa struggle” as you name it: unpeeling the layers and learning to look past the pain.

  11. Patricia says:

    Baylea, this is a great post. As I wrap up the first day of my YTUL1 training, it resonates. During our sankalpa reflection this morning, I was reminded of my first day of the summer intensive program with American Ballet Theatre when I was 15. I remember one of the instructors telling us that we needed to dig deep within us to cultivate our passion (and even our need) to dance. Remember this passion when you are faced with challenges, she said. Without it, you will not survive in this industry. I thought it was a bit intense as a 15 year old! However, she was right. The need to dance to communicate my unspoken words helped me throughout my career.

  12. Alyssa says:

    “I had been expecting my sankalpa to do the work for me. It’s a tool, not magic or even a miracle.” Lightbulb Moment! Loved this post – it’s one that I’ll surely be revisiting many more times!

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