Sankalpa: Setting Your Intention
“Our intention creates our reality.” Wayne Dyer
Until I took a yoga class, I’d never heard anyone talk about “setting an intention.”
Years ago my father encouraged me to set goals, make outlines, form plans, but he never spoke about setting an intention.
What did my yoga teacher mean, I wondered, when he spoke about setting an intention? What exactly was an intention—was it the same as a goal or something different?—and how did one go about setting it?
In English, the word “intention” is defined as “a course of action that one intends to follow, an aim that guides action, an objective.” It’s a word from the Latin intendere meaning to direct attention or to stretch toward something.
In Sanskrit, the word for intention is Sankalpa, and it’s a representation of a desire or positive thought that you want to manifest in the world, a promise you make to yourself.
At Garden of the Heart Yoga Center where I take yoga classes, my teachers set an intention at the start of each class. The intention for that day’s class might be developing confidence, or nurturing faith, or discovering strength. It might be cultivating kindness or gratitude or mindfulness, qualities that I’d like to learn and bring more fully into my life.
If setting an intention is about reaching toward something—and that something is almost wordless, residing in the deepest part of your heart—then part of setting an intention involves listening carefully to learn what your heart wants, what you desire deeply.
Setting an intention involves identifying a quality or desire and, with skill and care, bringing that thought or desire, that positive value, into your life through actions that reflect that quality or thought or desire.
Here’s what Deepak Chopra says about Sankalpa:
“All creation begins with sankalpa. In pure consciousness there is the first stirring of sankalpa, which evolves into thought and speech, finally leading to that action which is evolutionary. An individual who is established in Being can harness the power of sankalpa to bring about the spontaneous fulfillment of any desire. As the Upanishads state ‘You are your deepest desire (sankalpa) As is your desire so is your intention. As is your intention so is your will. As is your will so is your deed. As is your deed so is your destiny.’” (from)
So, on some level, our intentions already exist as part of creation, and it’s our work on the mat that helps us come in touch with them. Our poses help us feel the first stirrings, and those stirrings evolve from wordlessness into thought and speech, which in turn compel us to act.
Setting our intention is, in this way, an evolutionary act in that our understanding of our intention evolves over time as we learn to recognize it, and bringing that intention into the world and into our lives helps us evolve into our fullest sense of ourselves.
As Chopra informs us, “You are your deepest desire.”
So, setting your intention is like drawing an arrow from the quiver of your heart.
You aim the arrow at a distant target, a reflection of your heart’s desire, and with care and mindfulness release the bowstring.
And as the arrow flies toward the target, it draws your heart toward its destiny.
Practice Journal: How do you set an intention? Is it different than a goal, a plan, an outline? How? And once you set an intention, how do you sustain it in a pose, or over the length of a class, or throughout the week or month? What do you need to do to maintain your intention? And how do you know when it no longer serves you and it’s time to set a new intention? Consider these questions before, during or after your asana practice, then open your journal and write about the intention(s) that you hope to set in the new year.