Sankalpa: “I am,” rather than “I want”

It was 6:30am and the first faint smear of the dawning sun was just beginning to peek over the prairie landscape in Mysore, India, sweeping the vast sky with pastel colors of robin-egg blue, cotton-candy pink, honey yellows and soft whites. I pulled my warm black hoodie over my damp hair from that morning’s cold water bucket bath, feeling the prickly sensations that tingled through my half-awake body as I sat comfortably cross-legged, palms on my knees facing up in hridaya mudra, or heart gesture, my thin green yoga mat folded and tucked underneath my buttocks, giving a slight lift upwards to encourage more room for the hips.

“A sankalpa is a resolution, a silent vow you make to yourself that no one else hears about,” Master Teacher Chris began the daily morning’s meditation, as the teacher trainers sat with quiet awareness.

“Make your sankalpa now, let it be simple. It need not be a list of things, just one or two things. And rather than ‘I want,’ say ‘I am.’”

As we near the end of another experience-filled year, many folks find themselves routinely making New Year’s resolutions. These resolutions range from the ever reoccurring weight loss desire and health and fitness goals to making X amount of money or being promoted to X position to being a better and kinder father, mother, friend, citizen of the world.

I want to introduce you to a lovely Sanskrit word, sankalpa. A sankalpa, unlike New Year’s resolutions which oftentimes are publicly discussed in conversation, is an internal vow you make to yourself. Sankalpas are commonly used during Yoga Nidra (a systematic method of relaxation developed by Swami Satyananda Saraswati) and meditation. Envisioning the blank space behind the forehead, we silently say to ourselves three times the sankalpa we have made. We meditate upon it and let it seep deep into our soul and down to the cellular level of our body.

A sankalpa is not “I want to be more balanced” but instead, “I am balanced.” It is in the affirmative, present-tense, rather than the probable, future-tense.

Many times we make personal resolutions to ourselves using this mentality:

“I want to earn more money this year.”
“I want to lose weight.”
“I want to run a marathon.”
“I want to start traveling again.”
“I want to be more patient.”

Sankalpas have the slightest adjustment that makes the biggest of difference:

“I am earning more money this year.”
“I am losing weight.”
“I am running a marathon.”
“I am traveling again.”
“I am patient.”

Silently repeating this vow to yourself, it allows the ego to remain detached. Too often we are quick to announce our fervent plans, lofty goals, high aspirations and daring dreams to our friends, family, and online community. We end up receiving praise, support, and encouragement that, on surface level, makes very good sense. “Yeah! You can totally run a marathon!” “Of course you’ll lose weight, I’m sure you’ll be right on track of where you want to be.” We say to ourselves, this is how we are kept accountable, if we announce all of our plans and goals publicly, rather than keep them privately to ourselves. I have too many people counting on me to achieve my goal, so I can’t give up now! one may think.

All the fanfare of announcing your dreams, however, actually distinguishes the essential fire that fuels our intrinsic motivation. The more we talk about what we’re going to do, ironically, the less potential whatever it is we want to do has.

A next step: Make your sankalpa and keep this to yourself. Keep it short and simple.

How to implement this into your daily life: If you practice yoga or meditate, you already have a wonderful vehicle to incorporate your sankalpa into your practice. During savasana at the end of your next yoga class, if the teacher does not do a guided relaxation, you can always repeat your sankalpa three times at the start of savasana and three times at the end, right before you get up. Keep your awareness and internal gaze at the space behind your forehead as you mentally repeat your sankalpa.

If you do not normally practice yoga or meditate, I encourage you to incorporate your sankalpa in the morning, first thing when you wake up, while you’re still laying in bed. Keep your eyes closed, and mentally repeat it three times to yourself. And at night, right before going to sleep, continue with the same process.

It may seem silly or futile, but the thoughts we feed to ourselves, we become. What we intake as food and drink, we break down not just for physical sustenance, but we fuse it into our very essence. It literally becomes a part of us. The same goes for mental food and drink.

Sankalpas become a part of us; the more we repeat it to ourselves, the more we focus our conscious and subconscious resolve upon it. So instead of the standard New Year’s resolutions, make your own sankalpa and with daily meditation upon it, see the difference it will have made in your life a year from now. You may surprise yourself that your sankalpa actually became your reality.