Many teachers advocate the use of sankalpa - a resolve or intention, at the beginning and end of each nidra session. The aim of sankalpa is to release ingrained habits and thoughts (samskaras) that hinder us from realizing our potential.
A clearly defined sankalpa focused on a chosen goal can release great power, as our will becomes engaged and conscious awareness harnesses generally dormant unconscious forces. It must be a short phrase or sentence, clearly and simply expressed in the present tense.
Some teachers claim the sankalpa should not change until it becomes realized, or ever. However, many people don’t know what they really want and therefore do not know their sankalpa. A good example of needing to change the sankalpa is the intention to give up smoking – if someone succeeds in quitting, the sankalpa will change and a higher resolve can be made.
Swami Anandakumar Saraswati on the nature of Sankalpa
Swami Anandakumar Saraswati outlines 4 stages of identifying our sankalpa, partially dependent on the personality and age of the individual. He claims sankalpa is really always one, but in order to recognize the deepest quality of sankalpa, we may have to go through some of the stages along the way like stepping-stones across a river, each step within reach of the last one.
There are exceptions to these stages – some people have an inner knowing of their life’s path from a very early age and never waiver from this chosen path.
The stages are as follows:
- Eliminating bad habits
- Improving the quality of life and living
- Creating a real change within our personality
- Realizing what we are trying to achieve in this life
Sankalpa is like a seed with tremendous potential, when sown in fertile ground and tended daily, with the knowledge that it will bear fruit in its own time. The mind nurtures it at deeper levels as it extends roots, and over time this enables us to resonate with and accept it on every level.
NB It can be non-verbal - the visualization of a symbol, a felt sensation, or an all-pervading feeling of knowing.
“Lastly, the sankalpa need not be influenced by words alone. It may also be visualized symbolically as an image, felt as a sensation; it may bring up certain feelings, which have a recognizable force or are just quietly known. In the end the sankalpa is not just something nice you say three times twice in yoga nidra, but it is a motivating force that you are living and moving toward all the time, every day.” Swami Anandakumar
When choosing a sankalpa, be aware that it doesn’t come from the intellectual mind, and don’t worry if nothing springs to mind yet.
A great video by Kamini Desai of the Amrit Yoga Institute on sankalpa, affirmations, and the difference between Yoga Nidra and hypnosis https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=SFGq_3mvkeM
Many, but not all, teachers advocate the use of sankalpa - it is optional. Yoga Nidra has many benefits with or without it, not least that it indicates to the unconscious mind a willingness to stop and listen to what’s important. A spontaneous, heartfelt desire arises during practice for some; for others, over time, a specific sankalpa begins to emerge.
In the absence of a sankalpa, it is believed that the soul’s innate wisdom heals what needs to be healed. If there is conflict regarding the choice of sankalpa, or anxiety as to its ‘rightness’, wait for divine guidance, or start with a short-term goal, because conflict and anxiety are counter-productive to deep relaxation.
Profound resolutions come from our true nature; the need for them can eventually dissolve as we reconnect with our divine essence.
This article on the history and development of Yoga Nidra is essential reading, and explains how sankalpa was introduced in recent years, whereas the medieval yogi whose goal was samādhi aimed to rid the mind of all sankalpa or intentional thought. https://www.theluminescent.org/2015/01/yoganidra.html
Determination and patience
In his book The Essence of Spiritual Life, Swami Rama stresses the importance of determination and patience, two essential qualities on the path to enlightenment. He defines sankalpa as determination rather than intention – more than just a statement of cognitive intent, it must align and resonate with the heart, soul and will.
Stating an intention can seem like setting a goal or repeating an affirmation, but in yoga the focus is on the quality of attention with which we practice rather than the outcome. This can be a challenge for some in our goal-oriented society.
‘Patience is a great virtue that needs to be cultivated. Whenever you find an obstacle, you should learn to be patient.’ Swami Rama
We can (and often do) become slaves to our mind, but with patience and determination to practice, we can be free of its many games and fluctuations. Patience is the reward of patience - the ability to endure what must be endured, in the knowledge that this too shall pass, and the stillness, silence and pure light within us shine on regardless.