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Sankalpa: More Than Intention

in YogaDork Ed

thinking monkeyby Baylea Protine

“Drop in and connect with your intention,” the instructor said at the beginning of class as a brief pause of silence in the room paired with a contradicting stampede of thoughts flooding into my mind…“Did I lock my car?” “I should get gas before going to the grocery store after this,” “I wonder what poses we will do today? Hopefully not backbends, I hate backbends.” “Can she tell I’m not thinking about my intention?” “Oh crap, what is my intention?” The instructor’s voice, muffled behind my thoughts, began to lead the class…“Quick, think!…I am peace?” “Wait, what does that even mean?” “I let peace in?” I think I’ve heard that one before. It sounds nice. “I let peace in, yep, that’s my intention.”

Two to three poses later my intention flies out of the window faster than a bird spooked by my cat. This was my experience with creating mantras and setting intentions in the past. It’s no wonder I never dove in and really used them to my benefit. They were fleeting.

Fast forward, almost seven years later, still on my mat. I found myself front row at a Yoga Tune Up Level 1 Training with Jill Miller. On the first day, within the first hour, we created a personal sankalpa, our own mental resolve. My eyes must have rolled a bit as I flipped to the page in our manuals.

“Here we go again. Another intention to toss to the wayside of my mind,” I thought. When I landed on the page I was bewildered to see it bare. “Huh?” Jill’s voice interrupted my thoughts before I could doubt her process. “Answer the following questions based on your initial responses to them,” she prompted us. The questions had nothing to do with yoga or consciousness per se. Instead, they questioned our intentions for our personal lives. They asked us to nakedly look at our both our values and the roadblocks that prevent us from living out those value-based intentions. After answering the questions, privately in our manuals, we formed a short sentence which would become our sankalpa. I remember putting my manual down on the floor staring at it with a cocked head thinking, “wow, that sentence not only summarizes my life’s desires it shakes my soul on a cellular level.” Now she had my monkey brain’s attention.

Rather than an anchor, I like to think that your sankalpa acts as a suggestive stroke of paint, coloring the thoughts of both your unconscious mind and eventually your conscious activities. It allows you to tap into your inner creative, paint the scene you want and then bring it to reality. The suggestive sankalpa is what neuroscience calls a metacognition tool, a fancy word for any technique that allows you to redirect your brain toward a desired outcome. It interrupts your habitual self-destructing thoughts that ultimately distract and derail your mind despite your efforts. In addition to this intentional interruption, anytime you use your sankalpa in junction with your physiology (i.e. the breath or movement) it primes the brain for learning and growth. Your sankalpa is not only received better, it is retrieved better.

“If you want the change, you must accept the challenge.”

My first sankalpa was comfy. It made me feel all cozy and warm when I recalled it. The endurance of your sankalpa depends on its depth and the emotion it provokes. Feeling as though my mental-training wheels had been removed, picking up momentum, I graduated through to the how.

Learning from the example of Kelly McGonigal’s research in the book The Upside of Stress:: Why Stress Is Good for You, and How to Get Good at It, I began to see my mindset as she puts it, a “catalyst.” McGonigal says, “Changing your mindset puts into motion processes that perpetuate positive change over time.” So this time around I was ready for the resistance. My mindset was to be excited about the challenge. Each setback was actually an opportunity. Each distraction a boundary building exercise. Each day offered a chance to strengthen my mental muscle and actually use my sankalpa. You can’t just buy new paint for your mental picture, you have to actually change the medium. So I removed all limiting beliefs, learned helplessness and ego-based thoughts like they were toxic to my health, because they were. I replaced them with my sankalpa. I set a new standard of thinking and, thus, living.

Your mindset matters; start to see your sankalpa as something that is meant to be tested and then actually test it.

I’m not going to say that my life changed overnight, or even that I have accomplished all of my goals. I will tell you instead that my sankalpa has allowed me to create value in situations that previously didn’t have any. Although this is one of the most uncertain, trying times of my life thus far, I feel more connected to my goals and values than ever before. You see, the sankalpa struggle was part of the process, weeding out distractions and refining my intention. Expect that it will arise, but now that you know the why, the what and the how of overcoming this struggle, you’ll be able to actually experience the process. At the end of life it won’t necessarily be the accomplishments that bring you peace, but rather the enrichment of the experiences you have that brings about a life of content.


Baylea Protine is a student and teacher of mindful movement. Her teaching style nurturing yet playful. Her classes are inspired by her own self inquiry and fascination with the human body and it’s resilient host, the individual. Teaching as a 200-hr RYT since 2009 and becoming a Certified Occupational Therapist Assistant in 2014 has propelled her down a path of empowering individuals to restore the relationship with their bodies. With a trained eye in movement patterns and applicable therapeutic interventions, Baylea’s intention is to awaken individuals to the reality of functional and sustainable movement as a foundation to overall health and well-being.


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