The first day of Level 1 Teacher Training opens with Jill talking about sankalpa and I think, “ugh… she’s gonna ask me to set my intention.” I resist rolling my eyes back and force my mind to stay present. I’ve never understood “setting your intentions” when asked to by a yoga teacher at the beginning of class. No one has ever explained the meaning behind that except for “what do you want from your practice today or why are you here?” Well duh! I’m here to move my body and work out some kinks, breathe a little and sweat a bit.
However, Jill went on to explain that sankalpa is a resolve, more than a New Year’s resolution or an intention. I kept listening as she gave examples and guided us through finding our own sankalpa.
Jill asked us these questions:
1) Upon passing, what 3 things would you want others to say about you?
2) Upon passing, what 3 things would you have had accomplished?
3) Currently, what self-imposed (personal or physical) limitations prevent you from achieving those accomplishments?
4) How can you specifically relieve those limitations?
5) Are you open to believing that these personal limitations can be removed?
From these questions, see if you can find a recurring theme, not only in your answers but also your life. The process of listening deep within mirrors the practice of swadhyaya, the study of oneself, one of the niyamas of the 8 limbs of yoga. You might see patterns, attitudes, and habits that are working, or more likely, not working in your life. What sets sankalpa apart from a New Year’s resolution is that it is longer lasting, not just a short term change, want or need. Think of sankalpa as “I am” rather than “I want” or “I will” or “I need to” or the wretched, self-sabotaging “I should.” It is something you don’t need to declare for the world to hear but it is the silent voice within that guides you.
Your Sankalpa is already present. It’s your heartfelt desire. It’s already showing up in your life in so many ways except it’s just waiting to be seen, heard and felt. You don’t need to make it up, you don’t need to search very far, no one can influence you on what it is or what it should be, and most importantly, you don’t need to summon your willpower to attain it or keep it alive.
I came to study with Jill because of some chronic pain I’d been experiencing in my body for the past year. I’d heard of her from other people who trained with her and mostly knew her as the Therapy Ball lady. I’m not a woo-woo, spiritual, third eye gazing type, so I was excited to explore my body physically and dig into some muscles and tissues. Oh boy! Jill certainly delivered and surpassed my expectations on that front. Even though I’ve eradicated tons of pain in the short amount of time I’ve spent studying with Jill, my biggest take away was this sankalpa thing.
I’ve been practicing vinyasa-based yoga for a little over 10 years and teaching for about 8 years. I was so committed to my practice that nothing would stand in the way of me and my mat, not even a date with my hubby or going out with friends. The mat was first priority. Yoga really helped in many ways, including getting rid of my carpal tunnel syndrome, but day in and day out for over 10 years started to take a toll. The very thing that I loved and that had healed me on so many levels was finally starting to hurt me. But I didn’t dare question the practice or my dedication.
As I remained open to this sankalpa idea, I soon saw how I had blurred the lines between why I practice and why others say I should practice. Somewhere in the mix, I had guilted myself into practicing for tradition, or because of cliched ideas, or because “I have to, I’m a yoga teacher.” Somewhere I lost sight of why I practiced in the first place, then the dedication turned into obsession and my body paid for it. I knew something was not right when my consistent practice and dedication made my body ache more. The YTU poses helped heal those physical aches but developing a sankalpa helped me realize that I was mentally bullying myself during practice. The very poses that initially healed me were now hurting me. Answering the questions that Jill posed to help me find my sankalpa helped me discover that I am never satisfied, even in my yoga practice, when 1 hour wasn’t enough and 90 minutes wasn’t either, until it had become 2 hours, twice a day. Today, I practice more freely without pretending it’s dedication, and focus on areas in my body that deserve my attention. And the sankalpa that I found for myself? “The present moment is enough.”