The new year is brimming with new beginnings, new commitments, and new resolve. An estimated 45% of Americans make resolutions at the start of the year. According to one study by the University of Scranton, those who make a resolve are 10 times more likely to meet their goal than someone who does not. However that same study also shows that only 8% of those who set their resolve actually succeed.
If stating a commitment increases the likelihood of following through, what is that keeps 92% of those who do from achieving the goal? The problem is likely the resolution itself. Typical resolutions stem from a place of negativity, rooted in the belief that the person making it is not good enough and needs to change and improve.
In yoga there is an alternative approach: the practice of sankalpa, a resolve or vow that stems from your heart’s desire. A sankalpa is a statement or phrase that serves as beacon to help navigate the day-to-day choices that come up at every moment in our lives. When we have a choice to make we can simply look to our sankalpa to decide which way to turn.
One way to understand sankalpa is to compare it with a typical new year’s resolution. Let’s start with the most common one:
I will lose weight.
Because this statement is in the negative it would not work as a sankalpa which should be positive. So let’s change the phrasing to:
I will be fit and healthy.
Closer, but this statement puts the emphasis on a future tense. As with all areas of yoga, we must remember that we are already all that we need to be, that we are enough as we are, and yet at that same time we are constantly evolving. We accept the duality of both being and becoming. With this in mind, we can turn our resolution into a sankalpa by stating instead:
I live a fit and healthy lifestyle.
It’s easy to see how practicing this sankalpa on a daily basis gives clarity to the many decisions made that could impact weight. Questions such as “what shall I eat for lunch?” or “will I take a cab or walk the 10 blocks to meet my friends?” have clearer answers if this is how I live my life.
This form of sankalpa will help with making specific changes or reaching a specific goal, however there is another type or level of sankalpa that is much more encompassing. This is where we tap into our heart’s desire which is already present and waiting to be accessed.
One way to get to this deeper resolve is to take whatever resolution you are considering and then ask “why do I want this?” Explore your answers and see what that tells you. Using the example of a resolution to lose weight I can begin to tap into my heartfelt sankalpa, by asking “what do I gain by reaching this goal?” Answers such as ” I’ll be happy” or “I’ll feel better about myself” may surface. This tells me that being content and happy with myself and my appearance is important to me. From here a sankalpa stating self acceptance might be created such as:
I am at peace with myself and trust my inner compass to guide me.
This is a statement that shines a light into more areas than simply what I eat or how much energy I expend. Nearly any choice that arises — big or small — can be held up to this statement for guidance and direction. I can then choose to follow only the options that align with my feelings of inner peace and trust in my own instincts.
Finding your personal sankalpa isn’t difficult, but it does take time and effort. You can start by writing down resolutions or goals that come to mind for you for the new year. Then take each one and explore the reasons these goals are important to you. With gentle prompting see what arises as you strive to create a sankalpa that both guides you and reflects on who you truly are.