The Sankalpa

Anna Guest-Jelly

Recently, I was listening to a podcast by one of my favorite yoga teachers. Anna Guest-Jelley is the yoga teacher of my dreams her online studio, podcast, and mantra for life is Curvy Yoga. She teaches, not about loving your body, (though, that is part of her practice) but deciding to cherish and take care of the body that you’re in. There is a lot of unpacking to do in that last statement, but, let’s just say she feels that yoga is for every body. (Space intentional). You can find more about her approach to yoga at curvyyoga.com.

While I was listening to her Word of The Year recap, I realized that I look forward to this episode of her podcast every year. I love hearing about how her word has appeared in her life and how it has shaped her year. Last year, as a part of my Yoga Teacher Training, we did a sankalpa exercise. Sankalpa, as with any Sanskrit word, has many meanings, but basically it means intention. It can also mean anything from focus to higher purpose. Yogis and non-yogis alike have a strained relationship with this concept because it can be interpreted to mean that we can assert our will over our life, mind, feelings, and thoughts. However, I am using this concept to create a guidepost. Instead of deciding that this word or idea should be the guiding principle in our life, for most people, a word of the year or sankalpa, is much better suited to being an intention starter.

A word of the year can be used as the starting point for a resolution, or as a feeling that you want to usher in to your life. The reason I like hearing Anna recap. her year is because she talks about how many ways her word appeared in her life, generating good feelings as well as complex feelings. It is her honesty that inspires me to examine the sankalpa that I made for myself last year, and determine whether it really suited me or if it did me more harm than good.

My Journey:

The sankalpa that I created for the end of 2016 and I used the entirety of 2017 was Strength.

Some yogis choose to keep their sankalpa private and work with their intention on their mat. I have been very open about mine, attempting to bring it into every aspect of my life, and discussing it with everyone who showed the slightest bit of interest. This preoccupation with my word, I felt, was part of realizing the word itself.

From the micro- — will this choice of exercise, spending time with friends, cup of tea, make me stronger/give me strength? To the macro- — will starting this job/venture, taking this opportunity, or choosing this path in my personal life give me strength? I thought I was using my word to promote positive growth in my life. And, yes, it is amazingly easy to make decisions based on a simplified version of your intention for yourself: Does buying this sharpie set make me stronger? Well, no — ah, it is much easier to leave that sharpie set behind.

But quickly, as with any oversimplification, things became blurry: Does dissolving this relationship make me stronger? That’s a toughy. Certainly staying in the relationship would prove my fortitude — is that fortitude strengthening me? Cutting someone out of my life takes courage, and that can feel like strength.

During many people’s year, they do not have to think about the big questions. So a guiding principle can have a lot of application for those people. However, may I make a suggestion? No nouns.

Nouns like strength, happiness, kindness, lightness, art, family, health, power, love, community. These words smack of achievement. A noun is a stationary object that you are reaching toward. It’s an achievement, and once you set an end goal for your sankalpa, it ceases to be helpful for your growth. I was thinking of strength all wrong – “will this make me strong?, “does this give me strength?”. Those questions pull me out of the purpose of a guiding principle and thrust me back into the world of goals and achievements.

Did this word teach me a lot about myself? Yes. It certainly did. It taught me that I need to ease up on myself. It taught me that I can use anything, even good intentions to push myself harder. It also taught me that I will still be the same me – I will still rationalize that a doughnut will make me stronger and the adrenaline of procrastination is invigorating.

 

A Practical Guide to A Word of the Year:

1 – Learn about how other people construct their intentions. There are so many blogs, podcasts, and YouTube videos that this step is not difficult. I challenge you to look for people who talk about their revelations as well as their stumbling blocks.

2 – Take out a pen and paper. Napkins work, so do journals, and the backs of bank statements that you wish they would stop sending — yes I know how much money I have, don’t kill a tree (make a note to switch to paperless statements).

3 – Write the words that flood into your mind. This may be a list or a stream of consciousness conversation with yourself. This meditation on your word as well as the act of making the word concrete is important. You can see the word, feel the word, and even hear the word as it gets put onto the paper. (or into your notes app, because you seriously hate killing trees)

4 – That’s it. What you do with that word is now between you and the word.

Suggestions: write it when you journal, bring the word to mind when you wake up, think about all the ways the word presented itself to you in the past day/week/month, visit the word when you work out. Some people like to make a collage, put it on their dream board, or scrapbook it. I do not suggest getting a tattoo of your word since your word will probably transform throughout the year and during the course of your life.

All of these things are great but there are no rules. Even my “no nouns” rule is more of a suggestion. If your word is a noun, that’s fine, you have already read about my pitfalls and will be able to notice them when they come up with your word. And if you have a great tattoo artist in mind, I will not stop you in your pursuit of ink.

Resolutions, words of the year, sankalpa, dream boards. These things are all meant to be a light on the path to our goals – they are not meant to be the goals themselves.

 

If you’re interested in hearing Anna Guest-Jelley’s podcast, and specifically the two referenced here in Vicki’s column, visit:

https://www.curvyyoga.com/podcast/2017-word-year-reflections-season-5-episode-1/

https://www.curvyyoga.com/podcast/my-2018-word-of-the-year-season-5-episode-2/

 

 

Vicki Scott is a freelance writer and a welcome addition to the list of Next Ten Words contributors. She can be contacted at info@nexttenwords.com

 

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