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Sankalpa – setting intention

Sankalpa, often defined as intention, is one of the most powerful practices in Yoga. It can and does change your life. Intention is so powerful that Rhonda Byrne wrote a best-selling book about it, The Secret. For a seemingly simple practice, there is a lot more to setting intention than meets the eye.

Rama Jyoti Vernon ( defines sankalpa as: san, “to become one with,” kalpa, “time,” sankalpa = becoming one with time. I love this breakdown of the Sanskrit word but I would like to look a little more at the word “time.” There are a number of ways to define the word time and we all have an understanding of it when we look at a clock, or feel its passage. But, what is time? Is it future? Is it past? Is it something that we can tangibly interact with (other than the counter that tells you where you need to be)? Time is an abstract notion and we have all agreed on a method of keeping it, so that we can meet each other in the same place at the same time. For the purposes of this discussion, it may be helpful to think of “time” as the present moment. From this thought comes my preferred definition of sankalpa, “becoming one with the present moment.”

In a Yoga class or session, a therapy appointment, even a meeting, you may be asked to set an intention. I always begin my classes, sessions and workshops, with an invitation for a sankalpa. Through my work with Amy Weintraub (, I have learned that this is a very integral portion of the Yoga practice. Your intention sets the stage for the work that you will be doing during the session/class. It may be the reason that you have come to the mat, or it may be the change that you are manifesting in your life through your Yoga practice. Whatever the origin of your sankalpa, think of it as your guide for your practice, on and off the mat.

Key points to setting an intention:

  • Positive – focus on what you would like to manifest or bring into your life, rather than what you would like to get rid of
  • Present Tense – as though it was already happening in your life
  • Short – if your intention is too long, you are likely to forget parts of it
  • Simple – stay away from complicated intentions, you don’t need more work

An example:
Let’s say that you tell me you would like to be less stressed out. I would ask you what the opposite of stressed out is, or what would it look like if you were less stressed. A couple of examples might be: peaceful, easeful, relaxed, calm, tranquil, etc. Then I would ask you to bring it into the present moment, following our guidelines. For instance, “I am peaceful,” or “Relaxation breathes through me now,” or “I am open and available to receive tranquility” (credit to Amy Weintraub).

The last piece, that I feel is really important, is to anchor your intention. This can be done by cultivating a visualization, an image, or a feeling in the body. It may be a visualization of yourself achieving your intention; down to the minutest detail (what you are wearing, where you are). It may be an image that represents your intention. It could also be the feeling in the body when your intention is achieved.

“Whatever the mind thinks of, that alone it sees” Vasishta’sYoga, Swami Venkatesananda, page 92.

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