“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?”
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.
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!