Ayurveda and yoga offer many wonderful recommendations on living a life closely aligned with nature.
When we first hear these suggestions and take a step back from our habits to imagine what we would like our life to look like, we might feel compelled to change everything at once.
For any but the most extraordinarily strong-willed person, this approach will probably lead to failure and frustration. Other times, we might just feel paralyzed by the enormity of what we realize needs to change to help us experience more freedom and happiness, and do nothing at all.
We must remember that these beautiful practices were not created to give us more opportunities to punish ourselves, and change does not have to be a constant struggle.
One of the practices that yoga offers us to support change is called “Sankalpa.”
What is Sankalpa?
Sankalpa is a Sanskrit word that refers to a vow or resolution that we make internally which will help us to experience a deeper connection to our life.
A Sankalpa is not another “should” that we lay on ourselves and then feel guilty when we fail to fulfill it. Especially when beginning, it is often best to choose something very simple.
The most effective Sankalpas are “discovered.”
This involves being still and silent for long enough to listen to your deeper intentions. It may only take a few moments to listen in this way, and with practice it will take less and less time. And you might be surprised what arises.
For example, maybe you think that you need to get more things done, but perhaps what arises is that you actually need more rest to be more aligned with nature.
The point is that Sankalpa is the result of something you discover for yourself; it has nothing to do with what anyone else thinks is important for you.
The statement of intent itself is best stated as an “I will” or “I am” statement. For example, instead of saying to yourself, “I want to rest for 20 minutes each evening before dinner,” you would say “I will rest for 20 minutes each evening.” You can even try “I am relaxed.”
One of my favorites is to set the intention to do one thing at the same time every day.
For example, “I will sit for five minutes of meditation every morning at seven a.m.”
How do I practice Sankalpa?
One very nice way to work with Sankalpa is to spend a few days before new moon (the next new moon is June 8, 2013) occasionally asking yourself, “What area of my life needs more attention applied to it?”
A new moon Sankalpa such as this can be seen as an experiment. We might be asking, “What would my life be like if I behaved differently in this way?”
On the day or evening of the new moon, you can do something to mark your commitment, such as burning a candle and sitting for a few minutes in meditation and then writing your intention in a journal or tying a thin cotton string around your wrist.
As the moon becomes more full, the power of your commitment grows along with it.
One moon cycle (28 days) is a good amount of time to establish a new habit.
If you already have a practice of meditation or yoga, this is a great time to work with Sankalpa.
At the beginning of your practice, after you have sat for a few moments and connected with your breath and sensation, repeat your intention three times, each time in the same words.
At the end of your practice, once again repeat it three times before finishing.
If you don’t practice yoga or meditation, another way to incorporate Sankalpa is to repeat it to yourself in the morning in bed before getting out of bed—this is especially nice to do if you can catch the moment when you wake before you open your eyes—and then again before going to sleep.
Start small and trust yourself to guide you in the right direction.
Susan Fauman is a yogini, an Ayurvedic educator and a mother. Her quest for health has taken her many places, but it wasn’t until she met Ayurveda in 2001 that she finally felt like she had a container to hold and organize everything she was learning. She lives, paints and teaches Ayurveda and yoga in the south of France with her husband and toddler. Read more of her take on yoga and Ayurveda on her blog: Food, Sleep and Sex.
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Assistant Ed: Paula Carrasquillo/Ed: Bryonie Wise
Image source: Susan Fauman original painting