Just when I think Spring has arrived, a wave of non-springlike weather arrives, followed on its heels by a wave of summer/spring weather. Do I mow, do I not mow, do I mulch, do I not mulch, do I plant those newborn vegetables, etc.? Such decisions…. Really, it is not so bad and I go with the flow. My intention lately has been to go with whatever presents itself. I still plan and create the conditions for movement on a pathway but if a big boulder gets set down on my pathway, I strive to stop, consider how to carve a new pathway around the boulder or even climb up the boulder to reach new heights.
When we begin our class, we may set an intention for our practice, when we wake, we may set an intention for our day. These intentions may be broad sweeping or specific to one goal. The following article gives wonderful suggestions for setting a broader, more positive intention or Sankalpa. Take out your journals after reading it, and maybe go through some of the exercises listed below. If all else fails, doodle in your journal!
Give your New Year’s resolutions a yogic twist—set an intention and infuse the new year with positive change.
A new year’s resolution is a noteworthy concept—start off the year with a change for the better. So how did it devolve into a subconscious exercise in self-loathing? Lose 10 pounds! (Message to self: You’re fat.) Stop drinking caffeine! (You’re unhealthy.) Call Mom and Dad once a week! (You’re ungrateful.) Why not celebrate this new year by trading in your tired (and probably familiar) resolutions for a sankalpa instead?
POSITIVE POWER A Sanskrit word, sankalpa means “will, purpose, or determination.” To make a sankalpa is to set an intention—it’s like a New Year’s resolution with a yogic twist. While a resolution often zeros in on a perceived negative aspect of ourselves (as in, “I want to lose weight, so no more chocolate chip cookies or ice cream or cheese”), a sankalpa explores what’s behind the thought or feeling (“I crave chocolate chip cookies or ice cream or cheese when I’m feeling stressed or sad. I will set an intention to become conscious of this craving and allow my feelings to arise and pass, rather than fill up on fats”).
EFFORT COUNTS A sankalpa also praises the nobility of the effort rather than focusing on what you are doing wrong. “New Year’s resolutions leave me feeling guilty and mad at myself for not keeping them,” says Wendy McClellan, a yoga teacher in Louisville, Kentucky. So, last year, in a conscious effort to reject the resolution rut, she taught a special New Year’s Eve yoga class and encouraged students to look back and let go. Her intention, or sankalpa? To open her heart to new possibilities. “An intention has much more of a global sense than a resolution,” she says. “It helps me be softer with myself.” With a sankalpa, the self-loathing that comes from dwelling on past transgressions can begin to dissolve. In its place is an exercise in effort and surrender—create an intention and open yourself to the universe.
LOOK INWARD For several days, set aside time to write in a journal and meditate. Mull over your typical resolutions. How do they make you feel? Anxious? Unsettled? Incomplete? Now contemplate how you would like to feel during the coming year. Is there any way you can reframe your results-oriented resolutions into something that will make this year’s journey more joyful and worthwhile?
REPHRASE IT Create a short sentence or phrase for your sankalpa. Be careful not to set limitations based on fear. For example, instead of “May life bring me only happiness and joy this year” consider “May I be happy and open to what life brings me.”
BE FIRM BUT FAIR Change doesn’t happen overnight. When you stray from the essence of your sankalpa, don’t berate yourself. Instead, gently remind yourself of your intention. But be firm in your resolve—it’s a good idea to incorporate your sankalpa into yoru daily routine. Use it as a mantra during pranayama or meditation practice; post it on your computer, phone, or mirror; or simply say it to yourself quietly before going to sleep. —C.G
Catherine Guthrie is a writer and yoga teacher in Louisville, Kentucky, and a regular contributor to Yoga Journal.
Ten Breaths – The Centering Breath
10 beautiful breaths brings you to the present, the here and now. A great way to transition in a yoga class, or anytime in your life where a little space is needed before moving onto the next thing. 10 long inhalations, 10 long exhalations. Feel your body expand with the breath in and feel it release and become centered.
Props: 2-3 blankets, neck roll, two bolsters
Benefits: counteracts the slumped position of our posture from sitting, computer use, driving, everyday activities. Opens the chest to help breathe easier. Improves digestion, reduces fatigue and can lift your mood.
Just like a babbling brook with boulders (soft ones!), imagine your body like the soft rushing waters laying over those boulders, smooth, flowing. It will allow the natural curves of the body to be held up gently and the breath to flow.
On your mat, place one bolster where your knees will be and another where your lower legs can rest, one blanket rolled up where the bra line is (base of scapula), and a neck roll for the cervical spine. Shoulders rest on the floor, arms to side with palms facing up or come into Goddess arms. If ankles need support, use rolled-up blanket or dish towel. Eye pillows can lightly rest on eyes or even be used on forehead (useful for headaches) or even on shoulders (wherever you need to release tension). To begin with stay in pose for 10 minutes working up to 20 minutes. Great to use in savasana. Feel the heart open, the strain from holding yourself up all day evaporate.
Variations: Feeling cranky in the lumbar spine? Place blanket to fill the curves. Want to feel more grounded while still opening the heart? Place rolled up blanket against wall and soles of feet touching blanket. Need to feel cuddled? Swaddle your head in a blanket cradle.
Childs Pose Variation (Balasana)
Props: bolster, one blocks, 2-3 blankets, neck roll for forehead
Benefits: Gently stretches the lower back, relieves shoulder tension and quiets the mind. Give a sense of security. Feeling support and release. Gently lengthens the legs.
Extras:sandbag for sacrum
Place bolster on the mat lengthwise and lay a blanket over it. Make a smaller roll for the ankles and place at the other end of the mat. Also place a block at top end with a neck roll or eye pillow on top. Begin on all fours and lower your upper body onto the bolster. Settle the tops of the ankles on the smaller roll and adjust the body so that the tops of the thighs rest on the edge of the bolster. Lay the forehead on the cushioned block and place the arms to the side, shoulders dropping from the ears. Soften your jaw and let the body sink into the supports and the floor.
Reclined Bound Angle (Supta Baddakonasana)
Benefits: opens the hips and groin facilitating blood and energy flow to the urinary tract and reproductive organs. Opens the chest and abdomen benefiting breathing problems.
Props: 4 blocks (or firm cushions, pillows or rolled-up blankets), eye pillow
Again we changed this a little to make it lower, more grounded. Place two blankets stacked on top of each other lengthwise. Recline head, upper body onto blankets. Bring feet together in bandakonasana with support under the knees. Arms can rest by your side with an eye pillow over the eyes and any other support under your neck. As we have entered the windy fall, allow a blanket to hug in your body warmth. Stay for 10 minutes, breathing into sensation.