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Harnessing the Power of Sankalpa

In the vast realm of yoga and meditation, the Sanskrit term "sankalpa" holds a profound significance. Translated as an affirmation or intention, sankalpa represents a powerful tool that can be utilised to manifest positive changes in our lives. Research on the power of sankalpa, intention setting, and affirmation provides valuable insights into the transformative effects of these practices. Moreover, understanding what happens in our brains when we use positive affirmations over negative thoughts sheds light on the neurological processes underlying their effectiveness.

The term "sankalpa" is derived from two Sanskrit words: San, which means "a connection with the highest truth," and Kalpa, which can be interpreted as "vow" or "intention." In essence, sankalpa refers to a heartfelt resolve or determination that aligns our thoughts, words, and actions towards a desired outcome. Research has shown that individuals who set specific, high-commitment goals, similar to intentions, experienced higher levels of goal attainment and well-being compared to those who set vague or low-commitment goals. This suggests that the clarity and determination inherent in sankalpa can significantly contribute to achieving desired outcomes.i

Creating a powerful sankalpa begins with carefully crafting its wording. It is crucial to frame the affirmation in the positive and present tense. Research in neuroscience reveals that our brains exhibit a phenomenon called "neuroplasticity," which refers to the brain's ability to reorganise and form new neural connections throughout our lives. This means that we can reshape our neural pathways through repetitive and intentional practices like positive affirmations.

When we use positive affirmations, we engage the prefrontal cortex, the region of the brain responsible for decision-making, goal-setting, and self-regulation. This activates the brain's reward system, releasing neurotransmitters like dopamine that create feelings of motivation and pleasure. As a result, positive affirmations help shift our focus away from negative thoughts and rewire our brains to reinforce positive beliefs and behaviours. By focusing on what we want to achieve, rather than what we wish to eliminate or change, we redirect our energy towards growth and expansion. For example, instead of saying, "I will overcome my fears," we can rephrase it as "I am courageous and confident in every aspect of my life." This affirmative approach triggers a shift in our mindset, empowering us to embrace our desired reality.

To fully integrate sankalpa into our yoga practice, we can explore various techniques and modalities. Whether through meditation, asana (physical postures), or yoga nidra (yogic sleep), these practices provide fertile ground for planting and nurturing our intentions.

Meditation serves as a powerful medium to connect with our inner selves and align our consciousness with our sankalpa. Research has shown that self-affirmation reduces the brain's response to threats and diminishes stress.ii By engaging in positive self-talk, individuals exhibited decreased activity in the amygdala, the brain region associated with the fear response. This suggests that positive affirmations have the potential to alleviate anxiety and promote emotional resilience.

By finding a comfortable seated position and focusing on the breath, we can cultivate a state of mindfulness and stillness in meditation. As we enter this serene space, we can repeat our sankalpa silently or aloud, allowing its essence to permeate our being. With regular practice, our affirmation becomes deeply ingrained within us, influencing our thoughts, emotions, and actions beyond the meditation cushion.

Incorporating sankalpa into our asana practice enhances the mind-body connection. Research published in Health Psychology demonstrated that individuals who engaged in self-affirmation experienced better health behaviours and outcomes, such as increased physical activity and improved diet choices.iii The power of sankalpa extends beyond mental and emotional realms, influencing our physical well-being as well.

As we move through the physical postures, we can infuse our movements with the energy and intention of our sankalpa, feeling the meaning of our intention and moving as if that were our truth. For instance, during a heart-opening pose, we might focus on expanding our capacity for love and compassion. Or if our intention is to feel strength than repeating our sankalpa whilst practicing a warrior pose will help us embody that intention. By consciously bringing our affirmation into our yoga practice, we create a harmonious blend that boosts its transformative impact.

Yoga nidra, also known as yogic sleep, offers a unique opportunity to plant the seeds of our sankalpa in the fertile soil of our subconscious mind. This guided relaxation technique induces a state of deep relaxation while maintaining awareness. By repeating our sankalpa at the beginning and end of a yoga nidra session, we can harness the power of the subconscious mind to reinforce our intention and create lasting change.

In the journey of setting and nurturing a sankalpa, the guidance and support of a yoga teacher or yoga therapist can be invaluable. These professionals possess a deep understanding of the transformative potential of sankalpa and can assist in the process of crafting a meaningful affirmation. They offer a nurturing and non-judgmental space where individuals can explore their aspirations, values, and desires, providing insight and encouragement along the way.

A yoga teacher or yoga therapist can also incorporate sankalpa into personalised practices, tailoring sessions to align with individual intentions. Through customised meditation techniques, asana sequences, or yoga nidra scripts, they can help individuals deepen their connection to their sankalpa, making it a central focus of their practice. With this guidance, individuals can navigate the complexities of their journey, overcoming obstacles and nurturing their sankalpa into fruition.

Research supports the efficacy of sankalpa, intention setting, and positive affirmations in transforming our thoughts, emotions, behaviour, and even physical health. These practices tap into the brain's neuroplasticity, rewiring neural pathways and promoting positive beliefs and actions. By engaging the prefrontal cortex and activating the brain's reward system, positive affirmations help us overcome negative thoughts and cultivate motivation and resilience. This research underscores the profound impact of sankalpa and affirms its potential to facilitate personal growth and well-being.

If you would like help and guidance in how to listen to your own inner wisdom to work out what affirmations and intentions would best support you going forward as well as how to incorporate that into your yoga practice then do get in touch.

iGollwitzer, P. M., & Sheeran, P. (2006). Implementation intentions and goal achievement: A meta-analysis of effects and processes. In M. P. Zanna (Ed.), Advances in experimental social psychology, Vol. 38, pp. 69–119). Elsevier Academic Press.

iiJanine M Dutcher and others, Neural mechanisms of self-affirmation’s stress buffering effects, Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience, Volume 15, Issue 10, October 2020, Pages 1086–1096,

iiiCooke, Richard & Trebaczyk, Helena & Harris, Peter & Wright, Alison. (2014). Self-Affirmation Promotes Physical Activity. Journal of sport & exercise psychology. 36. 217-23. 10.1123/jsep.2013-0041.

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