esther m palmer

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions. I've noticed over the years that when I want something to shift or grow in my life, it happens with greatest fruition before I'm compelled to write it down or dwell on it, but instead just believe it and do it. If there's even a smidgen of doubt, I almost always fail to follow through.

For example, even though I assume it would be "better" for me to give up watching movies with dinner, I love watching movies with dinner and gain some real space in my day from it. Until that changes, I don't think much else is gonna shift, no matter how often I resolve to eat dinner in silence.

So, no "resolutions". But I do have a sankalpa.

A sankalpa is an intention that comes from "deep within". It's basically something you need in your life, whether you've realized it with your conscious mind or not (learn more about sankalpa on my blog). If you haven't realized it, though, how do you know it's your sankalpa? There's a rather involved meditation that helps identify it, so I created the below guide that lets you uncover your sankalpa using tools already at your disposal.

Fair warning: it might take some patience and strategic timing, but I think that's a small trade off to see what your innermost self has in store for you.


Guide to Sankalpa

Exploring your way to your sankalpa is really all about intuition and listening.

You have an intuition. Do you listen to it much? At all? Try not to second guess what you came up with when you started to recall what "intuition" means for you, and just own it. That's your intuition. Got it? Let's keep going.

You've got an idea of what your intuition is...

Now dig into your memory banks and notice in what situations you find your intuition talking loudest. It's probably not moments when your brain is crowded with to do lists and decision making (but it might be). It's more likely to be when you have landed in your most calm and spacious "place". Ya know, where everything just feels right. It might be on some far away sunny beach or winter retreat. It might be in the moments of peace you have with your morning coffee. It doesn't matter much when or where it is, as long as you feel whole and at ease. Know the moment I mean? Good.

You'll need to take some time out (minimum 10min) in one of those moments to sit with your sankalpa.

You don't need to force yourself into one of these moments, but if they're reliable enough in your day (like with a morning run or coffee), plan for extra time there for a few days or weeks in a row. If you need to just wait until the stars align for your moment of space and the extra ten minutes to coincide, totally cool too. However you get there, get there. Arrived? Awesome.


Listen. Focus your attention on your breath and then wait.

It's possible "nothing" will happen. That's ok. Try again next time.

It's possible a feeling or thought or image that resonates with you may come into your awareness.

The stronger the resonance, the more likely you are to go "oh! that's it! that's the thing!" whether there are exclamation marks in your thoughts or not. When something like that comes up (again, don't fret if it doesn't... but maybe do come to yoga class this year), spend some time with it. Let it get solid and sturdy and real. Then, turn it around in your mind until it's got a positive, affirmative spin (think "I want to be healthy" instead of "I wish I could stop smoking").

Now, take this positive story and pack it into a single word or image that captures the intention within it.

That's your trigger word or image, so it only needs to make sense to you. Let's call this your sankalpa.

Sit with your sankalpa for as long as you can this first time.

If your mind drifts to complex thoughts, gently nudge those aside and keep zoomed in on your sankalpa (you can repeat it over and over, like counting sheep, but try not to fall asleep). Come back to it again and again as best you can. When you need to stop and return to your day, give the time with your sankalpa some closure. A deep sigh might do it. You'll know what's right for you.

Over the course of the next month, revisit your sankalpa.

Sit with it in a similar manner as above for about five minutes every day-ish (i.e. maybe it's once a week cause that's all you got space for, super cool, just return to it regularly! Set calendar alerts!). You can do that, I promise. You can stop "doing" long enough to check in with your sankalpa - think of it like pausing to say hi to a dear friend. 

After a month of regular check-ins, let the sankalpa be and just carry on living like usual. 

I'll meet you back here in a year to see how it went. 

hari om tat sat! (in a nutshell: live your sankalpa!)

When I first started studying the Alexander Technique, I overdid everything. AT helps students discover unconscious postural habits and then gradually and through a teacher's help, "undo" those habits by not doing them. AT students don't learn to "do" some new thing to correct their habits and they aren't taught how to "fix" their habits, but instead guided to an awareness of said habits as unnecessary actions in the body that they can "simply" stop doing.

If I were to spend part of every day schlumping in a chair, it's likely my back and abdominal muscles would get used to the shape that would result and remember the shape as "normal," returning to it by default even when not sitting in a chair. Imagine this schlumped posture becomes part of my standing posture and my walking gait, and eventually results in back pain. Let's look at two ways to address my condition:

Scenario A - I go to a physical therapist
Using the tools of her profession, the PT would assess the range of mobility in my joints and the strength of my muscles. Likely, she'd discover that my abdominal muscles were short/tight and weak (from disuse and chronic shortening) and my back and outer hip muscles were long/tight and weak (from disuse and chronic lengthening). She'd assign some manner of core strengthening (abdominal + back muscles) and manual release or stretching for the tight spots. She would assign the opposite activity that the muscles were currently experiencing to bring everything back to being able to fully support the spine.

Scenario B - I go to an Alexander Technique teacher
Using the tools of her profession, the Alexander teacher would work through some observations of my posture and movement and response to hands-on guidance. She would point out my habit of pulling my pelvis forward and under and use hands-on to guide my pelvis and spine to as neutral an alignment as would be possible on the first day. She'd likely instruct me not to get attached to the feeling of the new posture (because it will feel weird, not like normal), and help me understand what I'm doing (pulling pelvis under) that I can begin to undo. That would be my homework. As often as possible, observe myself in my habit and then cease doing it. Gradually over time, this undoing would result in a change in my muscles (greater balance in the useable length and strength of all the core/back muscles) and neutral would to come feel normal and be manageable as a conscious choice for long periods of standing, walking, and sitting

But I was born a doer. An introverted do-it-all-by-myself kinda doer, but nonetheless someone who wants to control the change I seek. Needless to say, the "undoing" of AT was a frustrating challenge for me. I struggled with it for months: I could observe my habits, but not "undo" them - instead, I wanted to do what I thought created the "fix" in order to create "correct" posture. This fixing established new patterns of mind-imposed ideas of right and wrong in my body, where AT proposes that ease of moving and being is the "natural" state we return to if unconscious and limiting patterns are removed. To help me learn and embody this lesson of removing patterns through undoing, my teacher suggested that I think of allowing. Rather than doing the undoing (which I had turned into just one more kind of "doing"), allow the undoing to happen. This was pivotal for me. Everything began to fall into place after that, and allowing has been key to my evolution towards self understanding.

Sankalpa is an intention you allow into your living.

Allowing your most essential self/nature to emerge and lead you through life takes a fair amount (ok, a lot a lot) of conscious effort. It's not easy to undo the programming that we acquire growing up, being part of society, and figuring out how to live.

Allowing does not mean just do whatever you feel like doing. Very often urges come out of the trappings of patterns which, though they may be serving us well, may also not be. The trick is that when our behavior stems from habits, they are almost by definition unconscious and it is difficult to tell where they originate from and what they're doing to us.

Allowing means doing the hard work of learning to recognize your patterns. Build awareness and establish practices that undo those unconscious habits to make room for deeper, fuller knowledge of your self --make room for the gradual building of new patterns that fuel rather than confuse your life lived in harmony with this self.

Sankalpa, literally an intention from deep within, uses a somewhat involved meditation to put this clearing out, discovering, and setting yourself on a clear "path" of living (joy)fully into a step by step process that anyone can do. Each new year, Alan and Sarah Finger offer a sankalpa workshop to guide the ISHTA community through this meditation. It's an incredible two hour process that, very much like working through the Alexander Technique, uses movement and kriya to first clear blockages from your energetic system, then employs a deep internal attention to allow a sankalpa (intention) to come up (it doesn't necessarily always do so on one go, sometimes it takes several days of repeating the process for a sankalpa to become clear), and then uses meditation and samyama to plant that sankalpa into your deepest unconscious, so that you can move through the year ahead, living out this intention from a place of allowing rather than doing or forcing.

I've done the workshop three times in the past four years --and the year that I missed, I was still riding the wave of the intention from the year prior-- and there's nothing magical about it. That is, the meditation is completely magical, but not in false or unbelievable way. I have walked away each time moved, humbled, and in awe of the honest simplicity of my sankalpa. Throughout the years past, I have watched my sankalpa unfold into my life, again, not as if by magic, but through my attention to it, an attention that is spontaneous and genuine. And because it comes from a deep desire (not one I've taken on because of magazine ads or peer pressure or family expectations), I can say I've lived out my new year's intentions with great success... by allowing them in.

I hope you discover deep and true intentions flooding into your life this year!

hari om tat sat!


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