Finding Your Sankalpa: The Meaning Beyond The Mat


When is the last time you stopped to consider how well your choices aligned with your highest purpose?

In a world where we’re often dashing from point A to point B, it can sometimes feel like we’re stuck on ‘autopilot’ but the truth is that we have more control than we think.

Maybe you find yourself dashing to yoga class, leaving just minutes to spare or you’re struggling to find time for meditation, healthy eating, or some well-deserved downtime.

woman lying on a green bolster in yoga

As yoga practitioners, we understand that yoga is a powerful tool for transformation and growth, but we need to do the work to understand our ‘why’. This is what gives yoga meaning beyond the mat and invites profound change in the areas we seek it.

When we’re clear on our true purpose, we can make conscious choices in every aspect of our lives, and that’s truly when the magic really happens!

You may already be familiar with setting intentions ‘in the moment’ at the start of a yoga class, but what if you could take this practice further by cultivating a well-thought-out, truly meaningful statement that moves you towards your highest purpose?

Enter the ancient practice of Sankalpa.

Regular and meaningful use of Sankalpa will help you to align your efforts with your most heartfelt desires, work towards authentic goals, live your life with more intentionality, and ultimately, fulfill your life’s purpose.

Now, how amazing is that?!

In this article, we will discuss:

  • The Sankalpa Meaning
  • Two Aspects Of Sankalpa
  • How To Discover Your Sankalpa
  • How To Use A Sankalpa
  • Sankalpa Examples To Inspire You
woman sat on a yoga mat with her hands in anjali mudra

What Is a Sankalpa?

The word ‘Sankalpa’ derives from the Sanskrit “San” meaning an idea born from the heart and “Kalpa” meaning solemn vow. In its essence, the Sankalpa meaning is a heartfelt promise that helps us to align our efforts to our highest purpose.

But Sankalpa is much more than just an intention.

Where intentions are usually goal driven and based around something we desire to have or be, a Sankalpa is a statement that lives in the present tense with the understanding that what we seek already resides within us.

We can find reference to this as far back as the Upanishads; a series of ancient scripts that states “you are your deepest desire“.

Indeed, the power of the subconscious mind, first theorized by Sigmund Freud, has been proven in Neuroscience. Our thoughts and beliefs really do shape our reality!

The Sankalpa aligns with this understanding in that it takes the form of a simple declaration that lives in the present tense. Think “I am” statements rather than “I will”. For example, “Love is my highest truth” rather than “I will be more loving”.

person sat on a mountain in the sunset with her hands at her heart

A Sankalpa relates to the direction you would like to move in; an area of your life that requires growth and manifestation. It is a word, phrase, or sentence that acts as a solemn promise, a meaningful vow that moves you toward your highest purpose.

In repeating your Sankalpa you make a promise to bring about positive changes for the benefit of all beings.

Speaking your Sankalpa in the present tense gives it power. In the present, your intention is no longer unobtainable, it is already manifest.

Two Aspects of Sankalpa

Let’s dive a little deeper into the subtleties of a Sankalpa practice.

There are two forms of Sankalpa:

1. The Heartfelt Desire

2. A Specific Intention or Goal

1. The Heartfelt Desire

Heartfelt desire is simply a statement that describes your true nature.

Often broad, it can be as simple as “I am unconditional love” or something more specific. Heartfelt desire requires no action on your part, it is simply a declaration of the energy you wish to cultivate in your life.

woman with her hands on her heart sat in a field with yellow flowers

As in its namesake, your heartfelt desire should come from the heart, not the intellect or ego. Your heartfelt desire will arise from deep within. You’ll know if you’ve found it if it resonates on a heart level when spoken in the present tense.

As we repeat our heartfelt desire, we work with our subconscious to align all our energies with our intention.

2. A Specific Intention or Goal

Your heartfelt desire is the work of a lifetime but there are important milestones that will keep you on track along the way. This is where creating specific intentions or goals can be useful.

When we state specific intentions or goals, we make important choices that align with our highest purpose and ultimately move us toward our heartfelt desire.

How To Discover Your Sankalpa

The process of discovering your own Sankalpa is often very intuitive as it already resides within you. For many, their heartfelt intention ‘comes to them’ in a moment of quiet reflection or within the stillness of meditation.

Discovery of this primary Sankalpa requires you to let go of ‘overthinking’ and create mental space for Sankalpa to reveal itself from a space of intuition.

person on their yoga mat in yoga nidra with an incense burning

Yoga Nidra is a wonderful practice for discovering your Sankalpa as the mind is relaxed but still completely aware. In Yoga Nidra, your Sankalpa can rise from your subconscious mind without the filter of the ego.

Dedicating time for regular meditation and reflection is also beneficial.

When a Sankalpa phrase arrives, try it out for size and see if it resonates on a heart level. Maybe it begins as one word such as ‘ healing’ or ‘peace’.

The Importance Of The Present Tense

Remember to anchor your Sankalpa in the present tense – “I am abundant” or “I am loving” rather than “I will be abundant” or “I will embrace love”.

How To Use Your Sankalpa

A Sankalpa is often used in Yoga Nidra practices. It is believed that in a state of deep relaxation, repeating one’s Sankalpa embeds it into the subconscious.

Let’s outline some other ways we can incorporate Sankalpa.

1. As Part Of Your Yoga Practice

Each time we step on the mat, we have an opportunity to decide how we want to show up for ourselves physically and mentally.

Repeating your Sankalpa at the beginning of your practice will help you to move out of your ego and remind you of the bigger picture.

woman sat on a rock in a forest with her hands over her head

Why are you practicing?

Perhaps the ego is pulling you towards a strong, dynamic practice when what you really need is to slow down and focus on your breath to come back into alignment with your higher purpose.

2. In Meditation

Sankalpa is most commonly used in Yoga Nidra meditation, however, it can also be used as an affirmation at the start of your regular practice.

In our fast-paced lives, it’s no wonder our minds often feel so distracted during meditation. These mental fluctuations, known as ‘chitta vrtti’, can pull us away from the focus of our meditation. By repeating your Sankalpa, it can help to refocus and calm the mind.

3. Morning Affirmation

A personal favourite! There is something so simple and ritualistic about including your Sankalpa in your morning routine.

I love to wake up before my family, light a candle, make tea and recite my Sankalpa before I write in my daily gratitude journal. Such a beautiful way to greet the day and set the tone for how I want to show up for myself and those around me.

morning gratitude and sankalpa list on a knitted blanket

4. When Making Decisions

The specific intentions and goals you set are a fundamental part of your Sankalpa practice. These milestones help you to align your actions with your most heartfelt desires.

This is also true for smaller daily actions. It is often said that life is lived in the daily mundane actions that we take for granted; what we eat, what we choose to say to our significant others, and how we react to outside stimuli.

Reciting your Sankalpa regularly will help you to make conscious choices and exercise willpower and moderation; something we all need a little more of!

5. Before Any Challenging Event

It is difficult to act in line with our greatest good when we’re faced with adversity. The use of Sankalpa helps us to connect with the ‘bigger picture’ and move away from ego-driven responses to challenges.

Try it next time you need to have a difficult conversation or when you’re faced with a tough choice.

Sankalpa Examples

For inspiration, here are some popular affirmations that could form a basis for Sankalpa

  • I am unconditional love
  • I am peace
  • Joy is my true nature
  • I am compassion itself
  • I am rooted in kindness
  • Positivity radiates through me
  • I am aware
  • I am abundant
  • I am whole
women with their hands in anjali mudra

A Final Word

Whereas intentions often focus on the individual, Sankalpa moves beyond the ‘self’ and takes on a broader purpose, benefitting not just the individual but our communities and the wider world.

In this way, we do our part not only to enrich our own lives but to positively enrich our environment.

Yoga Nidra teacher Ally Boothroyd describes Sankalpa as “the song of your life” acting as a compass that points “true North”, guiding our decisions and navigating the course to our highest purpose.

If you would like to learn more about Sankalpa within the Yoga Nidra practice, I would highly recommend Ally Boothroyd and Blooming Lotus Yoga.

Photo of author
International yoga teacher, lifelong student, teacher trainer, retreat leader, mamma and incurable nomad with a true passion for the art of yoga. With a background in yoga spanning 20 years, Jenn spent several years living and studying in India before launching her retreat company SoulTribe Retreats in 2015 as a way to combine yoga with cultural immersion, working with local communities all over the world. She has since led more than 70 international yoga retreats and teacher trainings in over 20 countries (many in developing nations including India, Indonesia, Central America and Africa). In 2020 Jenn founded her online yoga school SoulTribe Academy and yoga app SoulTribe TV to bring her teachings to hundreds of students during COVID. Throughout all of these offerings, Jenn encourages her students to have fun exploring their infinite capabilities … after all what your body is allowing you to do is truly amazing! Originally from UK, Jenn married the love of her life in 2020 and moved across the world from India to San Diego where she is enjoying teaching within the local community between leading her retreats.

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