by Amy Leonard-King

You likely hear it in Yoga class almost every time you step on the mat: ‘Take a moment to set your intention’, but what does ‘setting an intention’ really mean? As we find ourselves at the beginning of a New Year, how is setting an intention different from setting goals and resolutions?

The Sanskrit word ‘Sankalpa’ is where the yogic idea of ‘intention’ is derived, and when broken down is defined by: ‘kalpa’ which can translate as ‘vow’, and ‘San’ which refers to a connection with our highest truth. The tradition of Yoga teaches that we are already perfectly whole and complete, and that we have everything we will ever need within ourselves, it is a process of Self-realisation. Traditional goal-setting and resolutions usually come from a place of feeling lacking, and then dreaming up how wonderful our lives would be if we just: lost those few extra kilos, or got that next pay rise, or found our 'perfect' partner. Yogic intentions however, come from a place of deep listening, realizing our hearts deepest longing rather than focussing on egoic desires, and connecting with our truth, our highest self.

My teacher and founder of the Jivamukti Yoga lineage Sharon Gannon says:

“Yoga practices shift our identity away from the ego-personality and its struggles so that we can begin to reconnect with the essential nature of our being, which is bliss.”

Setting an intention does not come from the mind, it comes from a sense of feeling into the deepest part of ourselves, some call it the heart, some the soul, but whatever name you put to it, it goes beyond the intellect somewhere deeper. We may think we want to change how we look, or the circumstances of our work or love-life, but if we really look deep enough, we’ll find that most of these more superficial desires stem from the misconception that we are not ‘enough’, that we somehow need to change in order to be happy. Yoga teaches us that this is an illusion, that happiness cannot be found outside of ourselves, but only within us, and only in the present moment. Once we begin to peel back the karmic layers of doubt, insecurity and selfishness through the practices of asana, pranayama, meditation and self-study we begin to reveal to ourselves the essence of who we really are.

Sharon says:

“Our goal as yoga practitioners is to free ourselves from selfishness and strengthen our connection to this Self. Yoga is the joining of the separate self with the universal Self; it is a process of synthesis.”

So how do you go about setting your intentions for the New Year?

Sit comfortably in a quiet place and close your eyes. Take a few full, deep breaths to help settle you into the moment, and then ask yourself: How would I like to ‘feel’ in the year ahead. Notice the words that come to mind…peace, joy, love, happiness? As you repeat these words silently in your mind, notice how you can already feel the exact feelings the words describe just by ‘thinking’ them. These qualities are already fully alive within you.

Whichever feeling or word evokes the strongest desire in your heart, use it to form a short, positive statement e.g. ‘I am at peace and eternally happy’. Feel it and realize it in this present moment. Not in future tense ‘I will be’, and not conditionally ‘When I have ‘X’ I will…’, but positively and assuredly in this moment: ‘I am…’.

From the intentions that we set on the Yoga mat and in our hearts, come the fruits of the Sankalpa. Thoughts lead to actions, and actions lead to results, so let’s begin putting the wheels into motion for connecting with our true nature, which IS happiness, bliss and boundless joy. 

Happy New Year everyone, we can’t wait to help guide your practice on the mat and watch as your intentions are realised through the year ahead.

In gratitude, Amy xx