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Developing Strong Resolve: Sankalpa

There is word and practice in yoga science that I find compelling and since we are now in the fresh bud of 2011 it seems like a good time to talk about it. The word: Sankalpa.The definition: resolve or will.

Imagine a sieve in which you are pouring water. Water enters and immediately leaks out of all the holes. You can't fill the sieve because as soon as you do it empties itself. Our attention and actions are often in a state of steady leaking. We think about intentions or, as we might say during this time of the New Year, we create resolutions but often those well-intentioned resolutions morph into short-lived wishes. Wishing and wanting something to be (or not to be) is one thing but developing a strong and consistent practice that shapes our actions towards a desired goal is where we test our resolve.

Sankalpa is a practice. Setting sankalpas is something we can sincerely thread into our thoughts, words, actions, behaviors and heart. Making sankalpa a part of our yoga practice is our way of doing our best to seal the leaks that cause our resolve to dissipate.

One of my teachers, Parvathi Nanda Nath Saraswati once said when discussing working with sankalpa that one ought to "aim high". If one gains clarity about their life's purpose then one ought sankalpa to relate to that. There is no right and wrong in this practice- there is you, your deepest desires and your determination to keep your actions, decisions and work congruent with your sankalpa. Use your own words and keep it real.

How does one begin to weave sankalpa into yoga practice?

Perhaps in the few moments at the start of class when we still our body, rotate our attention towards our breath and allow the heart to make itself heard your sankalpa will take form. When emerging from savasana (corpse pose/relaxation) at the end of class is a good time to (quietly and inwardly) repeat your sankalpa. Any moment is a perfect moment for sankalpa practice.

Don't create stress around this practice. Your sankalpa can, and will, change with time so trust that what might be a very true desire today might evolve into something else a year from now.

Sankalpa is not positive thinking. Sankalpa is hard work with some positive thoughts fueling that hard work. Strengthening our resolve allows us to refine and target our energies. As our determination takes root, our old patterns (known as samskaras in yoga psychology) begin to weaken. It's a bit like the Hebb principle in neuroscience that proposes that "neurons that fire together, wire together." Keep on activating a deep, heart-felt desire and watch what happens. Strong intention coupled with steady resolve begets increased resolve.

I'll end with a few words by Pema Chodron from Comfortable with Uncertainty:

"Breathing in, breathing out, feeling resentful, feeling happy, being able to drop it, not being able to drop it, eating our food ,brushing our teeth, walking, sitting- whatever we're doing could be done with one intention. That intention is that we want to wake up, we want to ripen our compassion, and we want to ripen our ability to let go, we want to realize our connection with all beings. Everything in our lives has the potential to wake us up or to put us to sleep. Allowing it to awaken us is up to us." -Pema Chodron

Donna Sherman

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