How to Set Intentions (or what is Sankalpa?)

Setting intentions is something that is heard frequently in meditation and yoga. What does it really mean to set an intention?

We can look to the sanskrit to better understand intention work. Sankalpa is a sanskrit word used to set intentions; one translation is “your heartfelt desire.”  San is an idea/concept formed in the heart, mind, body that represents the “highest validity” of who you are as related to your dharma. Kalpa is a steadfast determination, intention, will, promise, or a “solemn vow” to be followed above all others. This is a statement that reflects your true nature. It is literally and simply a statement of who you are, a deeply held fact, and a vow that is true in the present moment. It reminds you that whatever is required of you is already within you. 

The Upanishad Scriptures 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.

Goals and intentions are similar but slightly different. “A sankalpa isn’t a petition … It is a statement of deeply held fact, and a vow that is true in the moment.” Goals may imply a striving for a result outside of ourselves; whereas intentions are aspects of self already within that we are choosing to bring more awareness. Both are important, whatever goal arises, ask yourself what quality of being underlies this goal.  For example, if your goal is to “stop smoking” then perhaps explore what desire underlies this goal such as “health” or “I am kind to my body.” or if your goal is “I want to make more money” perhaps the intention is productivity or abundance; “I am abundant.” No matter your goal, search for what underlies it. Experiment with stating your intention in the present tense. For example, rather than saying, “I want to be more compassionate,” your Sankalpa might be stated as “I am compassionate.” Or you can state a word that you hold as a seed inside yourself, “compassion”. Visualize yourself in this quality of being. When you imagine this intention as true, what does it look and feel like? Also, in daily living, use your intention as a guidepost/bookmark to come back to. You can ask yourself does this “move me away from myself/intention or towards myself/intention?”

During meditation, when working with an intention:

  • State your sankalpa as a word or phrase “I am___”;

  • Visualize the embodiment of this intention already existing - what does it feel like?

  • Can you give this intention a place inside yourself? Planting it as a seed in your heart center, third eye, or somewhere you feel it inside your body.

  • Then let it be - know it is always there for you.


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