Sankalpa is a foundational concept in yoga. It invites you to connect your heartfelt desires to your deepest reason for being, your chosen path in life. (Your dharma.)
Unlike typical New Year’s resolutions, which fail under the “set and forget” model, a sankalpa is more actionable by design. It’s a journey rather than a milestone.
The sankalpa you choose sets “specific intentions [that] can help you align your moment-to-moment choices with your heartfelt desire.” Day by day, “your specific sankalpa will describe what you need to do, and where you need to direct your energy, to make progress on your larger life’s goals.” (For more, see “How to Create a Sankalpa.”)
The Journey Is the Reward
The practice of well-being invites a commitment to action, finding the right balance from moment to moment between being and becoming. Being well; becoming well — seeking and nourishing the qualities of well-being in myself, my loved ones and the world around me.
- Health, happiness and prosperity
- Engagement, relationship
- Joy, satisfaction, ease, gladness
- A life worth living
These are the qualities that have been associated with well-being for many years.
While preparing for last year’s workshop, I discovered that the meaning of well-being has evolved over many years, influenced by changes in cultural values and norms. Lately it has become closely linked with health and fitness, perhaps too narrowly focused there. The gym culture impact…
That said, a longing for lifelong health and fitness was one of the things that prompted my choice of well-being as my sankalpa.
I chose this sankalpa knowing that being more mindful of well-being, for any of its associated meanings, would benefit me, my family and engagement with the larger community.
And so it began.
The Path Is Not Always Straight
2014 kicked off with a bang. I invested in an unlimited yoga pass for six months, and made time to take four or five classes a week, plus daily practice at home on the off days. I bought a FitBit for my husband and me; went for 5-mile walks with friends, shared the occasional tandem bike ride with my husband, and relished the benefits of getting stronger and more flexible.
I was able to avoid colds and flus last winter. I lost some weight, as a happy side effect of this journey. Got a cute haircut. Made more time for friends. Landed a new client, in a new industry.
By April I was strong and ready for a weeklong intense yoga retreat in Mexico, the highlight of the year. I shared the experience with a dear friend from California.
But shortly afterwards my physical condition went downhill. Too much travel? An overloaded briefcase? Heavy luggage for long trips? Reluctance to ask strangers for help when putting bags in overhead bins on planes? (Metaphors for burdens perhaps…)
Who knows why, but chronic neck issues flared up in early May. My left shoulder became frozen. I could no longer do daily vinyasa practices. Warrior 2 was no longer possible, and chaturanga was out of the question.
A Different Kind of Practice
Since May my yoga practice has been largely replaced by exercises directed by a physical therapist. And gentle asana practices at home where it’s easier to listen carefully to what my shoulder is telling me, or when to avoid poses beyond my current reach.
In May I went back east for a family gathering to remember/celebrate my mother, who died a year ago of complications from COPD. My sister announced she was on the verge of surgery for stage 1 cancer (thankfully, all is well now.) A friend underwent cancer treatment this fall.
In August my brother-in-law died suddenly after a brief but intense bout with thyroid cancer, leaving his wife ill equipped for the practical challenges of home maintenance, finances or the lonely realities of her new life. She’s going to have to sell her home in the country and move closer to a city, to be with friends. Since August my husband and I have needed to spend a lot of time and psychic energy helping her cope, to prepare for her painful transitions. This too has come at the expense of time for traditional yoga practice.
Beyond the Physical Aspects of Well-being
But as I re-examine the deeper meaning of well-being, I’m reminded that engagement and ease, a life worth living, are important components of its benefits. My sister-in-law’s tragedy and health challenges among friends and family have redirected my attention to others’ well-being. A more purposeful, other-directed engagement.
Although my quest for well-being may have started by being somewhat overly focused on physical dimensions, it has been redirected, necessarily, into other arenas since May. With the benefit of 20–20 hindsight, I now realize the frozen shoulder and pain of this past spring were really a wake-up call.
As painful as this journey has become, I’ve come to realize that this, too, is a yoga practice, even if far from what I had intended for the journey. It has demanded much more mindfulness, especially off the mat.
As for the physical limitations imposed by a frozen shoulder, neck stenosis and a stiff thoracic spine, I’m now — finally — on a path to getting better. Thousands of dollars later, with no reimbursement from health insurance, as a result of high deductibles on the family’s insurance plan.
A cortisone injection two months ago restored much of my range of motion, so my therapist is now shifting our attention to exercises designed to improve mobility in the upper back and neck. Likely triggers for the frozen shoulder flare up this spring.
In doing so my therapy team is forcing me to confront one of the most fundamental challenges of all: relearning the proper postures for sitting and standing. I’ve gotten stuck in bad misalignment habits that have contributed to spinal dysfunction.
Relearning to sit or stand properly requires moment-by-moment attention, a conscious discipline of realigning my neck or lower back whenever they revert to bad habits. It’s hard: often what feels most natural or comfortable is not, in fact, safe or healthy. What feels most natural to me results in an overly arched lower back, or a head that protrudes too far forward. My internal bio-feedback for proper alignment is not yet working.
I’ve learned that the mandate to “stack your bones” properly is not something that changes overnight. Correcting misalignment moment by moment is an irritating discipline.
It’s been a tough year, but it’s now clear that well-being was an inspired sankalpa for 2014.
Having only just begun the journey, I see the wisdom in recommitting to this sankalpa for 2015. After all,
What makes you a yogi is living in the moment on and off your mat, with kindness and love for yourself and everyone around you — no matter what. That’s yoga and that takes constant practice.
– Alexandria Crow, quoted in Yoga Journal, January 2015