For thirteen years now, I’ve stood at the top of my yoga mat with my eyes closed and hands at heart center to set an intention for practice.
This yogic tradition, known as sankalpa (intention), invites us to call to mind our heartfelt desires and place our attention on what we want to create in our lives. When we hold our intention during asana practice, our postures become a devotional expression of our sankalpa.
Until recently, I have not actively practiced sankalpa during asana. Not because I do not believe in its power, but because I have trained my attention to rest on my breath and the postures, which I find to be challenging enough. Unless reminded by the yoga teacher, I simply forget to return my attention to my intention.
My personal commitment to practice sankalpa with asana was sparked by my studies to become a yoga therapist. Robert Butera, PhD, founder of the YogaLife Institute, explains in his book, Yoga Therapy for Stress and Anxiety, that the innate benefits of yoga postures are amplified when we perform them with intention.
Butera writes, “By holding a spiritual intention such as peacefulness, compassion, or self-love, you will experience its impression upon your states of mind, body, and breath.”
When we combine sankalpa with asana, we merge the innate power of yoga postures with our innate power to manifest what we want to create in our lives.
I call this embodied intention. How, then, do we embody our sankalpa during asana? How do we hold an intention for the duration of class with the same emphasis as we do on the breath and movement?
I have discovered in my own practice that, like breathing and moving, embodying an intention is a sensory experience. In this way, sankalpa becomes another point of meditation that is not separate from my breath and movement. I bring together intention, breath, and movement to manifest the benefits that each offer individually and together.
Here are five possible ways that you can practice embodied intention during asana.
1. State your intention. Identify a value that you want to bring into your life. A single word or short phrase will be the easiest to remember. Stand tall and relaxed as you say your sankalpa to yourself. Imagine the word or phrase mapping itself across your heart and mind
2. See your intention. Give your intention visual qualities. See the word(s) in your mind—the curve of the letters, the shape of the words. Assign it a color or symbol. As you move from pose to pose, see these visual aspects in your mind. As you look up and reach up, see your intention and become open to what may be. As you fold forward, bow with an attitude of respect to yourself and your innate power to manifest your intention.
3. Hear your intention. Breathe into your intention as if you are breathing it to life. Hear the rhythmic sound of your breath. With each inhale, breath your intention deeper inward. Allow each exhale to affirm your sankalpa. Consciously listen as you move your intention to your center and bring it out into the world.
4. Feel your intention. Connect with poses that bring your sankalpa to life. For example, lately my sankalpa is, “I trust myself.” During balancing poses my perfectionistic tendencies tend to kick in. To keep those tendencies in check, I must breathe deeper and trust that my poses are perfect as they are. I imagine the word “trust” mapped onto the shape of my poses so as to “feel” my intention as well as to honor it.
5. Bring it all together in Savasana. Savasana offers the ideal opportunity to bring together the total sensory experience of sankalpa and asana. As we lie in stillness, we can see, hear and feel our intention—we experience its impression upon our mind, body, and breath.
Through the repetition of these practices, we fortify our innate power to manifest what we want to create in our lives. Ultimately, we each can find unique ways to practice sankalpa and embody our intention off our mats, so that our words, actions, and decisions align with our sankalpa.
Author: Jennifer Kreatsoulas
Assistant Editor: Kelly Chesney / Editor: Catherine Monkman