It’s bittersweet to have September on the front stoop for it marks the last few unofficial days of summer as the return of the school year knocks on the door. For many, myself included, this time of year is a time of renewal, readjustment, and a time to reset internal clocks by laying out new schedules and clarifying the purpose in and of our actions.
In yogic philosophy, defining an intention and the purpose behind our actions is called sankalpa, and it is more than simply setting a goal(s). Sankalpa is the process of deeply listening to the call of the heart so that one might gain clarity in defining the reason why the actions you are choosing to do are in the direction you desire. In everything we do there is intention behind it, otherwise, things wouldn’t get done. Careless and uncertain behaviour can be detrimental to ones health and wellbeing. No matter how big or how small our actions are, without a clear objective they are quite often acted on out of fear and/or reaction. Creating a clear and concise plan of action encourages us to manage our current situation. By taking responsibility of our actions we ease our pain and suffering (physical, mental, emotional, etc.) and layout the stepping stones that support us in our journey of stepping up and stepping in to who and what we want to be and do with our lives.
Say for example the goal is trying to quit something and start something new, like being more active and limiting sugar in order to lose weight. This is a great goal however if the reason behind this intention is purely based on the notion that losing weight will make you look better, the ego has ‘taken control’ of your actions. When this happens, there is often complimenting thoughts patterns of that go something like ‘if I don’t get the weight off I’m not good enough’ or ‘something is wrong with me and I need to fix it’ on repeat inside your head. Defining an intention is an opportunity to refocus your energy and enrich your experiences with actions that honour all that you already are instead of trying to change or improved something.
Richard Freeman, a renown yogi and scholar, describes intention in this way, “A sankalpa is a heartfelt intention reflecting our highest ideals.” In his article The Philosophy of Sankalpa: Co-Creating Your Life through Intention, he offers a beautiful outline for defining your intentions. Here are a few from his list :
- Listen to yourself – some part of you already knows what is out of balance in your life and how to best bring about the changes you need.
- Break your larger, overarching aspirations down to a simple goal that could be achieved in 6-18 months.
- Keep your intention to 1-3 sentences so that you can easily remember and repeat it regularly.
- Phrase it in a present tense, as if it is currently true. This is also a good test to see if you believe that the goal is achievable.
- Pay attention to your body’s reactions as you say your sankalpa aloud. Even if you have some apprehension or concerns, you should feel joy or excitement at the though of achieving your sankalpa. If you cannot summon those positive feelings, it may not be the right sankalpa or you may have some other work to do first.
- Even if your sankalpa ends up being somewhat nontraditional in style or content, if it speaks strongly to your current needs, it’s probably a good one.
Cultivating an intention that accurately supports your truest you is the foundation of yoga and the teachings of the great masters. So how do yoga postures support all of this? The 8-limb path, as describes by Patanjali, is the framework in which we compassionately learn about our negative behaviours and discover what practices we need to support our positive ones. Through our physical movements, we explore the boundaries of limitation while at the same time feel, and see, the effect of hard work, dedication and determination. Like all things in life, the more you practice the more you progress.
What are you going to practice this fall and why?