Sankalpa. In Sanskrit, the ancient language of yoga, Sankalpa means purpose, determination or will. Oftentimes, Sankalpa is interpreted as our intention. Where our will or intention goes, there too flows our energy. The effect our intention has on our energy is observable in any situation, and the yoga mat is a wonderful place for us to track it over time.
For example, last Thursday night, my hatha flow class was full of technical troubles: I experimented with a new set-up of the room and struggled to ensure that two newcomers would be able to see me adequately; while attempting to dim the already-low sconces, I accidentally blinded the whole room with full-strength ceiling lights; and the stereo made a horrific noise at the close of class while everyone was saying their blissed-out goodbyes. All that being said (and more, trust me), the energy of the room was pure magic. The problems rolled right off of us like water off a duck. Why?? Intention.
On the other hand, I have also had classes that were technically “perfect”– where the music worked seamlessly and my cues were right-on and we made our way into some advanced pretzel-pose, but where the end of the class felt… well, less than magical. Why?? Intention. I feel great responsibility to my students for holding the space in which we practice. If there is a competitive energy in the room, it’s my responsibility to dispel it (this is why I teach poses in their modified versions mostly). If there is sluggishness or stagnation, I select postures and cues to uplift. The yoga will bring us to our true nature if we give it the space, and when students attend my classes, I am the steward of that space. There have been times, however, when students and I have been distracted by our respective (and perhaps collective) human experience. In these moments, our intention may drift like a rudderless boat. That being said, the moments where we do not quite connect with our divine nature during class are just as significant to our yogic journey when they result in awareness or presence.
At the beginning of class, we generally center ourselves for a few moments by tuning into the body and breath slowly. Then, I ask students to connect to their own purpose for the practice– I ask them to set an intention. We revisit this purpose or intention throughout the physical practice in moments of difficulty, in moments of ease. We commit that intention to our dna. At the close of class, we return to each individual purpose before redirecting our rediscovered sense of lightness to a universal purpose– oftentimes this is peace, love, contentment– and we offer up the great energy of our practice to others, to our neighbors, to strangers around the world…this gift of love to others is the union that is yoga. When we commit to that gift, we dwell in light.
May your rudder keep you on course and the stars guide your way.