Sankalpas: Set a Yogic Intention this New Year (and it might just work …!)

That time of year has come, and post festive season we emerge into a new year which feels full of possibility. The New Year is a wonderful time to (re)set and renew your intentions for the coming 12 months. But sadly, most new years resolutions don’t last for very long!

New Year’s resolutions often fail to meet the criteria of goal setting – they are not SMART:

S – Specific (not generic!)

M – Meausureable (how will you know when you have met your goal?)

A – Achievable (can you actually achieve this?)

R – Realistic (do we actually think we will stick to our plan?)

T – Timed (when do you want to reach this goal?)

You can use the SMART model to help you set goals, and hopefully make those goals a reality. But first take some time to ask yourself if these goals are what you really want? Each New Year’s Day many people set goals for themselves and then fail to meet them, and find themselves stuck in a cycle of self-blame.

Much of the failure to meet our goals is that these external goals do not line up with our internal world. Often goals, even when they are SMART, can be related to societal and family expectations (lose weight, graduate school, get a better job etc). These goals are often driven by a sneaky sense of not being happy with who we are now, or what is happening in our life at this very moment.

Sankalpas, however, are quite different to goals. In yoga, Sankalpas are aligned with our highest truth, what we believe to be most meaningful and important in life. They require will, action and wisdom to make them a reality. Because Sankalpas align with who we are deeply, we often have greater readiness to change, which researchers believe is essential to bringing New Year’s resolutions to fruition.

Importantly, Sankalpas are positive, they begin with a sense of wholeness rather than lack. Resolutions, as I explained can come from a negative space. Subtle patterns of self-hatred, unhappiness and dissatisfaction gets us stuck in the same cycle of discontent that our new year’s resolution is trying to free us from!

Sankalpas help us discover who we are and what our dharma (path) is at a deeper level. Here is an example of the difference between a New Year’s resolution and Sankalpas.

New Year’s Resolution Sankalpa
To be healthier


My body is a gift and I choose to honour it as such through food, play, dance and healthy food.
To get fit I am blessed to be physically able and choose to use my body daily in ways that bring my happiness, fun and delight
To lose weight I love my body and will nourish it with movement and nutritious food.


Unlike many New Year Resolutions, sankalpas are resolutions with a deeper drive, and because of this can be much more life changing. Also, they come from a space of wholeness, we can always return to them when we forget without the same level of negative self talk.

While writing this, I realised that the opening of the Yoga Space back in late 2005 highlights the difference between a New Year’s Resolution/goal and a Sankalpa. We were in Mysore, India for a 6 month study trip at the K Pattabhi Jois Ashtanga Yoga Institute and our teacher Sri K Pattabhi Jois had given us his blessing to teach and instructed us to open a shala with a Mysore program at home. From India we found a property in West Perth, negotiated a lease and just weeks back into the country started renovating our first yoga studio! We had been teaching for years with no dedicated space and didn’t really think about opening studio as a goal – there was no business plan, projections, revenue estimates and all that goes along with goals as we traditionally understand them.  They would have been SMART, and probably helpful in some ways. Instead, perhaps naively?, the Yoga Space was established out of a deep sankalpa to share a traditional method of yoga.

I’m not suggesting you let your sankalpas throw you in the deep end of big changes without any planning! While we didn’t have a business plan, we worked other jobs (and still do) so we weren’t fully reliant on yoga for our income. It can be helpful to integrate both the SMART model and sankalpas when you start thinking about what lays ahead in 2017. But the key is to start where we are right now – as this is the only place we can begin!

This involves a settling, a slowing down and not rushing or forcing.

It can be uncomfortable to explore those more hidden or deeper longings. We may reflect on the choices we have been making and experience a sadness of the path we have found ourselves on. Yet there is good news – the acceptance of where we are now, and the realisation of these deeper longings is the beginning of the process for change.

So when you find yourself setting your sights on 2017 and all that it may hold for you, be sure to make a cup of tea, sit down with a pen and paper and get in touch with what you really want this year to be about. Start from a place of wholeness and gratitude and be sure to be forgiving if your choices up until now don’t always line up with your sankalpas, or what you know deeply to be true. And if you do feel unsure, always consider that you can set a sankalpa around getting to know yourself better!

 Wishing you all a happy 2017, and hope to see you on the mat in Perth or Asia,



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