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.”

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Nikki Wong

Nikki found yoga in 2001 to help alleviate her carpel tunnel syndrome. She is a 500hr RYT in Vinyasa, Baptiste Power Vinyasa, and Ashtanga Vinyasa. Her first introduction to YTU was through the therapy balls that provided much relief from the wear and tear of years practicing a vigorous style of yoga. When the chronic hot spots lingered for longer than usual, she really began to study her body which led her to learn more from Jill. She immediately fell in love with the YTU techniques and is now YTU certified in 2013. You can catch Nikki teaching at her studio, Yoga Inside Out in Cupertino, CA.

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Kat Waters

Thank you for sharing your thoughts and what I am sure so many of us want to say but as you express, though tradition and social media what a yoga teacher is to do and to look like and these cliched ideas, we can be guilty of causing ourselves harm with the very tool that once healed us.
This is such a brave view and account of how you can change your perception of yourself and the commitments, restraints and limitations we put on ourselves. I love that this was your inner resolve!
Amazing; thank you.

Louise LeGouis

I’ve never had a problem setting a Sankalpa but I realize I may not have believed in my Sankalpa. This is helpful – thank you.

Valérie Lavigne

Thank you for sharing!
Your path is very touching and your humility is profound.

“The very poses that initially healed me were now hurting me.” Sankalpa is all about finding this truth inside you.

Thank you!

Jolie Mosser

Thank you for sharing your insight on developing your own sankalpa. I struggled a bit during my level 1 YTU, trying to figure out one that represents me and what I feel in the present. I soon learned it doesn’t have to be perfect but a promise to follow through in my heart.


As someone who is currently in the “yoga even though it hurts” phase, I appreciate this post. Yoga is about more than the physical exhertion and the poses – it is about being present, and it is about my resolve. Thank you.

Tessa Watson

Thank you for sharing your experience with sankalpa during training and how it has helped you in your own practice. I found my mind returning to it and that thought of inner study in training today.

Amanda Burchert

I went into Level 1 Teacher Training expecting it to be more about the physical aspect of the program but I was met on the first day with Sankalpa. I told myself to keep an open mind and I was glad I did. The entire training was amazing and eye opening but my biggest takeaway was Sankalpa; I have incorporated it into my daily life and have already begun to feel and see a happier me. Thank you for sharing.

Jamie Hyunji Hwang

This is what I’ve done yesterday, training Day 1 of YTU level 1. I am amazed that Nikki’s Sankalpa is similar to mine. Mine is ” I believe that I’m enough as it is now.”


Thank you Nikki. Beautifully written and it made me think about. During my YTU Level 1 TT my Sankalpa did not really work, which was an interesting observation and also made me think. Setting a Sankalpa was a new approach for me and I happy to know about this kind of self reflexive contemplation now. I will definitely try it again!