There’s a natural wisdom in moving inward during the early days of winter and reflecting back upon your growth and journey in the previous year. As the light returns, you can expand back outwards, carrying the insights gained into your life and relationships (to others and to yourself).
Whether you’re a fan of New Year’s Resolutions or not, they reflect this natural cycle of contraction and expansion and the energy of this time of year supports their success.
But if that’s true, why can it be so hard to keep our promises to ourselves?
Maybe it’s not something you can just “set your mind to.” For most of us, change has to come from a deeper place than just deciding to do something differently. As powerful as our minds might be, habits usually go even deeper than our thoughts. Habits have an established rhythm—a momentum—and they may drive us to behave in ways we wouldn’t choose if we could stop ourselves.
So resolutions have to meet us in that deeper place in order to help us feel more free, rather than disappointed in ourselves.
The yoga tradition has a practice for doing just that, called Sankalpa.
What is Sankalpa?
Sankalpa means conception, idea or notion formed in the heart or mind. In practice, I like to think of it as a sort of habit or awareness experiment. It starts with asking yourself: “What area of my life would I like to bring more awareness to?”
The most effective Sankalpas are discovered. They come from your whole being, not just your mind, and they sort of bubble up from somewhere deep.
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. And an important part is that Sankalpa results from 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. Instead of saying to yourself “I want to rest for 20 minutes each evening before dinner,” you Could 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 5 minutes of meditation every morning at 7 am.”
How do I practice Sankalpa?
One very nice way to work with Sankalpa is to spend a few days before a seasonal transition or the new moon occasionally asking yourself “what area of my life needs more attention applied to it?” A Sankalpa such as this can be seen as an experiment. You 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 3 times, each time in the same words. At the end of your practice, once again repeat it 3 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 knows some great tricks for helping women rediscover a clear mind, an open heart and a fire in their belly. She lived and studied for almost 3 years in India and has also studied the secrets of a satisfying life in Thailand, Peru, France and all over the US. She now practices and teaches Ayurveda and Yoga in the New York Hudson Valley and travels to Marseille, France, to teach in the summer. She is a certified Experienced Registered Yoga Teacher (Yoga Alliance) and Ayurvedic Health Counselor (NAMA). Discover the power of Ayurveda on her site: http://www.susanfauman.com/
Featured image original art by the author.
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