What is a Sankalpa? Taking the Plunge
In the practice of yoga there are many rungs or what Patanjali called the 8 limbs of yoga. The third stage is the physical practice of the asanas. However, it would be a mistake to think that’s all it is. This stage involves:
~ breathing (increasing the pranic or energy flow);
~ concentration and focus points called drishtis and;
~ relaxation known as yoga-nidra (deep rest)
Tying all of this together are the postures of yoga. These include the sun salutations, standing postures, forward bends, backbends, and twists to moving upside down and finally rest.
Hidden in the practice of the relaxation pose (savasana) is the practice of a sankalpa. Simply put, this is a resolve or inner resolution made during yoganidra (relaxation) to deepen your evolution. It is understood to plant a seed in the deeper regions of your mind and body; moving away from superficial desires that relate only to the physical realm. A sankalpa is a ‘fixed’ or ‘named’ intention for internal and spiritual growth.
While the word spiritual is a loaded one what is meant by this (and leaving aside any personal religious views), is the understanding that spiritual growth is an activity or study in life not aimed at gaining material possessions and/or making money. It is a resolve primarily focused on spiritual well-being (that is, beyond mind and body).
Setting the Intention
By working with a sankalpa it goes beyond our normal concerns with the physical and mental body. It eradicates a hidden impediment; a negative aspect or habit of the unconscious that is not conscious. Perhaps you have a habit of gossiping, worrying, wasting time; leaving things to the last minute or maybe you need to have more positive thoughts about your life and your wellness. Whatever it is you can start by using a sankalpha to unwind and uncover what might be standing in your way. We all have buried or repressed emotions from past experiences that did not go our way or as a result of challenging, troubling or dissatisfying relationships. Again, whatever that is for you, you can begin.
The Power of Thought
In the schools of Yoga (ie., Hatha-/raja-yoga, Bhakti, Jnana and Karmayoga), thought is believed to be more powerful than action. Thought comes first and action follows it. Cultivating a sankalpha is concerned with reducing fear, tension, stress and removing mental restrictions. The Buddhists say there are over 84,000 mental/emotional defilements. That’s a lot of layers to begin to plunge into!
This practice is not, however, confined to enhancing your evolution and breaking through the defilements. Often a physical benefit can come from a sankalpha. For example, if you fear backbends you might find yourself feeling more confident and accepting the challenge. The point of the sankalpa or a fixed intention is to become clearer on what is blocking your progress on the emotional and mental plane.
How to Practice
The intention is taken in the relaxation posture. Practice the following:
~ lie on your spine with your legs to the side and your palms upward;
~ close your eyes, lower your chin and practice deep and slow breathing;
~ relax all the muscles and joints of your body and relax your thoughts;
~ slowly let your mind focus on what you understand to be a sankalpha ;
~ let the breath pass in and out as this comes into your consciousness;
~ be creative and let your intention go beyond words (give it a colour or an image);
~ breathe and relax more and more.
After 10 to 15 minutes, slowly come out of the position and write your intention down. If a colour or image came to mind draw or jot it down so you remember it. During the next practice bring the sankalpa back into your consciousness. See how (or if) it changes.
Let this practice become a personal discovery; not a fine-tuned experience in getting it right or perfect. Let it enter your resting practice often. Be peaceful.
Photo: Ganges (Kolkatta, India). The Ganges (or goddess Ganga) is understood as being the most sacred river in India. It is the life support to millions of Indians and believed to have medicinal powers.