The New Year: Sankalpa

//Sankalpa: a vow, a resolve, and a commitment we call upon to nourish our highest self.

The year is new.  In the moments following the countdown, and the clinking of glasses, resolutions are made to be different and to live differently.  These goals, ranging from weight loss to finances to relationships, typically start with a haunting sensation of our shortcomings and imperfections.  Thus, we build goals from the shaky foundation that we are not enough as we are, with the egocentric expectation that we will be happy once we get what we want from the universe. Thus begin the days of forcing ourselves to do something and then feeling guilty when we don’t. I, like many others that I work with as a health coach, have failed at this way of existing and changing because its roots are shallow and they do not connect to what we truly desire and who we really are. It is a conditioning, a system, and an industry built upon acquiring, rather than upon being and becoming, to find true joy.  Oftentimes this leads to an empty wallet, more stuff, and less peace.

Now we are days into twenty-seventeen, and if you find yourself already failing at manifesting the statements of “I will,” “I’ll try,” or “I hope,” Yoga offers you another way with sankalpa.  Sankalpa is a vow, resolve, and commitment we call upon to nourish our highest self.  It is built on the fact that you already are good enough, and that you have everything you need to fulfill your life purpose. Recognizing and proclaiming our true nature in its deepest and most mysterious form as an integrated human - mind, body and spirit - will connect us to the divine that lives within us and all around us. Ultimately, it will guide us to our divine purpose in this crazy world without force, but with ease and certainty.  


It must first be noted that there are two types of sankalpas that work together to help you fulfill your purpose.

  • Heart-felt Desire: An all-encompassing statement directed not by the intellectual mind, but by the essences of who we are. It reflects our true nature and is an informant to our mind of how to make decisions through life’s journey to align with our purpose.
    • Examples: I am whole, I am peace, I am healed.
  • Specific Intention or Goal: Statements to align your heart-felt desire with the actions that you take on a daily basis.  
    • Examples: If your heart-felt desire is “I am whole,” an intention to help you realize wholeness could be connecting and nurturing your body.  Your intention could be, “In my wholeness, I send love and kindness to my body,” or “I am a steward of the body I was given.”


By this point, you must be wondering how to find your heart-felt desire, and may be feeling like it is a lot of pressure to find the “right one.” (Since, after all, this does determine your life purpose, *wink*) Here are a few things to consider and meditate on as you begin your phase of discovery.

  • Contradictions: Sankalpa is a paradox, and beginning this process can be viewed as a contradiction because it is centered on nondual thinking. The question you may ask yourself is, “If I am all I need to be now, why make changes to realize my purpose?” In a society filled with dualism - all or nothing, good and bad, happy and unhappy, perfect and imperfect - this can be a concept challenging to grasp, but essential in discovery.  It is the idea that we are being - perfect as we are and need nothing to find our purpose - and becoming - in flux and change in the realization of our purpose. Give yourself a moment or two to get comfortable with this tension.
  • Wants and Needs: It may not be clear how a sankalpa is different or less egotistical from a more traditional resolution.  Success in any specific goal is in relation to where it is rooted, either in a want or a need.  Before you begin your discovery, let’s make a distinction between forming a statement based on a want and forming a statement based on a need.
    • Wants: Desires that typically drive the more traditional resolution.  They are based on concepts that we find painless and pleasant, and are often influenced by societal conditioning of what we should and shouldn’t be.  A want falls into the dualistic thinking of having = happiness and not having = unhappiness.
    • Needs:  Desires that dwell deep within our being at the depths of our soul. They are not bred from conditioning, fear, insecurities, or previous hurts. They respect the deeper meaning of living and life.  
  • Preparation: Sankalpa can be difficult to discover with the noises of a common day.  It is important to set the stage and prepare a space for your purpose to be revealed to you.  You do not need to search, just open your heart and be willing to receive.
    • Meditate: The practice of sankalpa is ever present in the practice of Yoga Nidra.  In Yoga Nidra, our bodies and minds are put into a deep state of relaxation and meditation.  This space is very conducive for hearing the sounds of our soul and being.  Daily meditation and quieting  can also provide the release of societal wants and reveal your true needs and desires.
    • Willingness: Richard Miller, PhD, clinical psychologist and teacher, notes that there are 3 stages of listening and willingness that help us discover our sankalpa.
      • Willingness to hear your heart-felt desire. Releasing control, past insecurities, and wants and courageously opening up your heart to discover what it is saying to you.
      • When you hear the desire of your heart, be willing to sit with it, meditate on it, and simply be with it.
      • Willingness to respond to the desires of your heart.  Your sankalpa is a call to action, and it will not reveal itself until you are truly ready to act.
  • Patience: Discovering your sankalpa takes time and so does the building of fertile soil to grow it.  This may not happen in a day, or a week, or a year.  Foster an attitude of patience and recognize that although you have already arrived, you are also on a great journey of life.
  • Process: If you find the only desires that come up seem to be wants, rather than needs, that is just fine. Any desire can begin to lead you to your heart, it is just important to begin the process of understanding and acknowledging the deeper desire.  
    • Example: If the desire that you are feeling is to lose weight, here are some questions to ask yourself:
      • Why do want to lose weight, what benefit would you get out of it?
      • What deeper feeling are you hoping to feel as a result of losing weight?  Self-love, acceptance, something else?
      • If you are trying to stop certain habits associated with weight gain, ask yourself what those current habits are fulfilling in you. Is it nourishment, love, feeling comforted?
  • Present Tense:  When your heart is open and your ears begin hearing the call, make your statement, and do it presently. Instead of putting in terms of “I will” or “I hope,” put them in the present tense with an “I am,” acknowledging the truth that exists with you already.


Here is the bit about becoming.  Once you have already recognized what you possess in your innermost being, it is time to realize this in your daily actions.  It is a process to live into our true nature, but through observation of habits, use of our time, what we say, and who we support, we can begin to identify the areas where we choose to live into our divine purpose and where we struggle to do so. When you go through this process, release judgement and engage in kindness and self-compassion.  As a health coach, I help my clients set daily goals, intentions, and mini sankalpas to realize their purpose.  Here, I will lay out an example of how your sankalpa can be turned into action in your daily life.  We will begin with your greatest heart-felt desire that drives your decisions, and end with a mini sankalpa and call to action for today.

  • Sankalpa, heart-felt desire: I am whole.
  • This year’s intention: In my wholeness, I send love and kindness to my body.
  • 3-month intention: I send love and kindness to my body by nourishing myself with whole food from the earth.
  • Weekly intention: This week, I nourish my body with whole food from the earth by eating fruits and vegetables from this season’s bounty.
  • Today’s intention: Today, I am whole. I send love and kindness to my body by nourishing myself with whole, seasonal fruits and vegetables from this season’s bounty.

Voila! The act of being and becoming.  Remember the truth as you start this process: that you are all you need to be as you are already, it can just take some attempts, falls, fails, and trip ups to fully realize it.  Nobody said this needs to be done gracefully.