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Sankalpa - The Alternative to New Year's Resolutions

Updated: Nov 14, 2023

Ever wondered why so many new year's resolutions fail?

Almost every New Year’s resolution starts with two words: “I will”. We summon our willpower and pledge to change what we do and who we are. We set goals and imagine how happy we will be when we get what we want. But if there’s one thing life teaches us, it’s that there’s a world of difference between “I will / want to …” and actually doing it.

The yoga tradition offers a powerful alternative view on the New Year’s resolution: the practice of sankalpa (kalpa=vow, san=connection with higher truth) - your resolve / heart’s desire. A sankalpa practice starts from the premise that you already are who you need to be, and that you already have whatever it needs to fulfil your aspirations.

What is a sankalpa?

Many resolutions fail because they spring from the desires of the ego, senses, and conditioning. They fail because they start from the assumption that who you are is not good enough. They reinforce the mistaken belief that your happiness depends on acquiring what you want. Social media and advertising exploit these self-diminishing and disparaging attitudes, making us feel inadequate and unsuccessful.

Therefore, take a moment to think about your goal, and try to figure out to what sankalpa it might be linked to. Sometimes the intention comes to you as an insight, a clear understanding, sometimes as a fuzzy image or feeling. In whatever form it may appear to you (now or later), take deep breath in and accept it with gratitude.

Being clear about your underlying intention can help you align your moment-to-moment choices with your heartfelt desire. Ask yourself what specific things need to happen to move you forward on your path. Your sankalpa will help you set milestones, identify what you need to do, where you need to put your energy, and how to make progress in the larger context of your life.

There is also a second type of sankalpa, which is a statement that reflects your true nature. This type of Sankalpa is far more encompassing and requires no change or action. It is a simple verbalizing of who you are (e.g. I am whole, I am peace, I am love).

How to set a sankalpa

In practical terms, let's assume your goal is to do yoga more regularly. Ask yourself:

  1. Why is this important to you? (a flexible/strong/lean body, losing weight, self care, stress release, …)

  2. What sankalpa might be behind it? (being loved, increasing confidence, connection with yourself, feeling well and happy, …)

  3. State your sankalpa in a short, positive sentence in the present tense. (I am loved. I am confident. I am connected. My life has purpose. I am well and happy. …)

  4. Completely focus on and identify with your sankalpa by repeating it like a mantra for at least 10 breaths. Or you might like to write it down, pin it up somewhere, and look at it regularly throughout the day.

  5. If an inner voice tells you "but it’s not true", "this is impossible" – simply notice without actually believing or engaging in an internal argument, and keep returning to your mantra.

If you make the effort to find a meaningful sankalpa, it will help you reach your goal through:

  • iccha (will and energy)

  • kriya (action)

  • jnana (the wisdom how to deliver the action)

Book a private sankalpa coaching session

If you'd like support in identifying and working with your sankalpa, you can book a private coaching session with me. The sessions will take place online via Zoom from the comfort of your own home. Please get in touch to find out more.

"And now let us believe in a long year that is given to us, new, untouched, full of things that have never been, full of work that has never been done, full of tasks, claims, and demands; and let us see that we learn to take it.” (Rainer Maria Rilke)

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