Sunday, April 13, 2008


The world of yogic philosophy offers a wealth of complementary approaches to personal and spiritual development: physical practice, self-study, meditation, mindfulness, the list we’ve all become familiar with through our own personal practices. We often devote ourselves to these practices, deepening their significance through careful attention and dedication. Sometimes, though, perhaps it’s a good idea to push the envelope and venture beyond the tried and true boundaries of our own comfort zones in the effort to progress spiritually.

For most of us the physical practice is an oasis, an opportunity to reconnect to our inner selves and realign our physical bodies, thereby restoring balance to our daily lives. It is a crucial component of our equilibrium, but for many of us not necessarily terribly challenging to our willpower, fortitude, or sense of resistance. We love the practice. It makes us glow, makes us happy, so we continue to step again and again back onto the mat.

But what about those things we really know we should be doing but seem unable to focus energy on? We all have them. Many people are mired under piles of things they ought to be doing, but don’t. Obesity as well as other harmful body treatment, violence, intolerance, stagnation…the unhealthy dregs of misguided intentions can often swell to proportions big enough to sully entire lifetimes. Students of yoga philosophy, however, have at least the understanding that self-study is an inescapable stop along the path to freedom, and thus we’re open to the idea of trying.

This is where sankalpa, the yogic answer to a New Year’s Resolution, comes in. According to the on-line dictionary for Shoshoni, which is where I received my yoga teacher training, a sankalpa is “a vow to perform a particular spiritual practice for a specific length of time, at a specific time of day, in a specific place.” Other sources define the practice more generally, just as a resolution of any sort, but still with a spiritual focus. So really the actual activity involved can be just about anything – for people who struggle with maintaining a physical practice, daily sun salutations might be appropriate, for others maybe meditation or seva (selfless service). Even giving up television, fast food, or complaining (my new personal favorite).

The point is to bring us face to face with what we resist and thereby allow ourselves the opportunity to grow beyond the range of our self-imposed limitations. Sankalpa is our own inner disciplinarian, hands on hips, not caring to hear for one second what we don’t want to do, what makes us uncomfortable, what we’re used to doing, it doesn’t care about sleeping in or BBQ sandwiches or too-long to-do lists. Sankalpa wants what’s best for us, and it’s ultimately in our own best interest to concur. And so we hold our noses and dive into the icy waters outside the boundaries of our comfort zones.

The primary reason I chose sankalpa as this week’s topic is because I have avoided for too long now taking my own meditation practice to the respectful place it deserves in my day. As I mentioned in a previous week’s topic, I fit my meditation in where I can, working it into my day where it fits. This means that some days I find myself in my parked car, hands folded in my lap in the driver’s seat, eyes closed. Some days I go from one place to another in my home looking for a quiet place, dogs barking, kids wrasslin’, life humming around me. Or I wait until bedtime and sit before sleep, tired and perhaps unfocused. All the time knowing that what I need to do is get up half an hour earlier, sit in meditation first thing in the morning, and start my day with practice.

So this will be my first sankalpa. For forty days. Hopefully by the end of that time the practice will have become habit, and I’ll be one step further along. At the very least I will have gained strength through discipline and dedication, and perhaps emerge more willing to delve into things that on the surface look impenetrable. Wish me luck!

And happy practicing. Namaste.

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