SANKALPA: Setting and Cultivating Your “Heart Vow” for the New Year


by Patricia Wickman

The term for intention in yoga and Ayurveda is Sankalpa. Sankalpa is more than a casual goal. The definition of Sankalpa is “heart vow.” This is a promise that you make to yourself and it comes from, takes root and flourishes in the emotional heart center. When you set a Sankalpa, you prepare the soil in your heart, plant the seed, give birth to it and love it as a mother loves her newborn baby. You set up daily routines and baby-step goals that will serve to water, nourish and offer your heart vow the energy of sunlight and the rest of moonlight.

“Each of you is perfect the way you are… and you can use a little improvement.” -Suzuki Roshi

You assist it in its process of development into a full and thriving entity.

One key component to this process is that you also let go of the fruits of your actions. This idea comes directly from the Yoga Sutras. Ishvara pranidhana means “surrendering the fruits of your labor to God.” This letting go of the results doesn’t mean you aren’t working toward your goals. It means that you know where you’re heading, you identify your limits and make small adjustments in response to the ever-changing circumstances that arise during the development of your Sankalpa. You invest in the process rather than attach yourself to the outcomes.

Here is an exercise that will help you begin your 2015 Sankalpa: Sit or lie down in a calm and quiet place. This will help your body connect with your sense of resolve and your seed of intention. Ask a friend or family member to read the prompts below to you. Your Sankalpa will evolve over time, but start with at least a first approximation of your essence and the core issue you want to work on, such as an addiction, fear, negative thought or behavioral pattern. For example, you might have a vague idea that you are developing a Sankalpa that has something to do with inner peace. Shape it into a simple, clear, present-time statement, such as “I am at peace with myself.”

1. Bring to your awareness a moment when you felt aligned and content.

2. Now give yourself space and time to embody this feeling more deeply by breathing into it, observing your breath.

3. Where is the most interesting sensation or feeling in your body?

4. Bring full awareness to that part of the body. What words or images appear? Let them float up into clear feeling or appear across your visual screen, or come as a soft, truthful voice. Be kind and curious with whatever comes up and gently ask the feeling, the inner voice or the image, “What is the essence of you?”

5. Open yourself to whatever appears. Initially, all you may get back is a body sensation, an image of a movement or a feeling. This might take some days or months to evolve. Come back to an awareness of your breath and say to yourself with love “I am” and allow whatever feeling, sensation, inner voice or image to fall into the space following “I am.”

6. Imagine yourself planting the seed of whatever your body/mind placed in the space after you affirmed “I am” in the fertile soil of your heart. Surrender to this as your heart welcomes this seed essence of you.

After the initial seed planting, establish a regular daily or weekly time when you revisit your seed so that you can nourish it as it grows into a beautiful plant and eventually flowers. This can be in regular meditation practice, yoga, journaling, or even every time you take a shower or sit down to eat. It is also very helpful to belong to a community of people who have set a Sankalpa so you can share and support one another as you watch your collective garden grow.

Patricia WickmanPatricia Wickman is a certified Ayurvedic practitioner, registered yoga teacher and certified Panchakarma technician. She is the director of the Radiant Living Online School of Ayurveda, and she owns Radiant Living Yoga and Ayurveda. Learn more at; for information about her online school, visit

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