No Success With Resolutions? Begin Practicing Sankalpa!

Sankalpa / Yogic intention
Photo by Bonkosi Alyssa

Hang on to your party hats: We’ve entered the annual whirlwind of gym discounts, weight loss plans, and marketing come-ons for a “New year, new you!” If you’re like me, you might find all these resolution solutions as overwhelming as they are inspiring. Even so, according to a recent study, about half of us make New Year’s resolutions, most focusing on self-improvement, from losing weight to being more organized. The downside: Only 8 percent of us will achieve the resolutions we make. But before you resolve not to make a resolution this year, pause, take a deep three-part breath, and consider this annual tradition from a yogic perspective.

Some New Year’s resolutions (“Lose five pounds by the end of January”) are better thought of as goals or objectives. A goal is a fine thing—easily measured and broken down into smaller, doable steps—but not everyone resonates with this businesslike approach. Furthermore, the word “resolution” implies solving a problem, and the suggestion is that we’ve done something wrong. Rather than looking backward with a critical mindset, we can swap “resolution” for “intention,” placing the focus on a positive outcome.

Now, let’s put a yoga spin on it. The Sanskrit word sankalpa is usually translated as intention or resolve. Kalpa is from kri (to do) or klrip (to bring about). My teacher uses a beautiful phrase for san (also spelled sam, meaning “together”) that captures the essence behind the translation: “Becoming one with.” While a resolution, intention, or sankalpa may each begin as a simple affirmative statement, the difference is that over time, we internalize a sankalpa so deeply that it becomes an integral part of the self.

“The small seed of sankalpa, once planted, can grow and produce many fruits,” said Swami Satyananda Saraswati. He taught that in order for a sankalpa to be effective, it must be short, clear, and repeated often—with feeling—during receptive states of awareness. Though we may formulate a sankalpa with the conscious, thinking mind, it is through the unconscious that a sankalpa will take root and blossom. For this reason, Swami Satyananda incorporated sankalpa with Yoga Nidra. Other teachers suggest focusing on a sankalpa during meditative practices such as ekagrata (one-pointedness).

More suggestions: Work on only one sankalpa at a time. Avoid the superficial (“buy a new car”) or vague (“be a better person”). Don’t focus on a bad habit or addiction without looking to see what’s underlying it. After all, New Year’s Day isn’t a deadline; it’s a beginning. Spend some time practicing svadhyaya, studying your motivations, emotions, and resistance as you choose a sankalpa.

Can you begin practicing your sankalpa with a clean slate, or are you still holding onto a charge of some sort? Gradually, as you release the chatter that arises from the ego or small self, you create room for universal Self to work. Or, as some of us may remember from our Sunday school lessons, “not my will but Thy will be done” (Mark 14:36).

Finally, continue to practice your sankalpa. Most New Year’s resolutions falter as the months pass, but a sankalpa has a spiritual dimension; it’s a vow or commitment to your evolution. With dedication and practice, a sankalpa has the power to transform.

What intentions will you set and practice in the upcoming year?

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