Intensions and Sankalpa vs Resolutions and Goals

SANKALPA setting is so different from making resolutions. Sankalpas arise from the full heart, and a complete and whole heart is what we are at our essence. That very essence is naturally, spontaneously and automatically throbbing with impulses to grow. Sankalpa as a practice is a means to open the doorway for listening to that throbbing, acknowledging a natural call from the heart that says here, this direction now”.

– Julie Dohrman

While at times the words “goal” and “intention” may be used interchangeably, the yogic perspective offers differences that can be enlightening and empowering, focusing on the process for bringing about real transformation.

Goals & Resolutions

  • Goals are future-oriented.
  • While achieving a goal is dependent upon one’s actions, it’s typically also reliant on other factors as well. Thus, ultimate achievement of goals remains outside a person’s complete control. (e.g. Lose x pounds of weight. Earn x dollars in sales.)
  • Resolutions are also future-oriented and may look similar to a goal. The typical defining characteristic of a resolution is a desire to “fix” something that is perceived as wrong in oneself. This desire tends to come from a feeling of lack, guilt or shame and the resolution is an effort to will oneself into making a change.


  • The word “intention” is used in inconsistent ways. It’s often used as a synonym for goal, objective or sankalpa.
  • While you’ll come across various uses of the term, here’s a meaning (given by meditation expert Phillip Moffitt) that can be of great use in this discussion: Intentions are a practice of “being” that aligns actions with values. (e.g. Pay attention to my breath. Listen to my body. Focus on gratitude.)
  • In other words, with intentions, the focus is not on achieving an outcome. Rather, it’s to keep remembering and returning to practice.

Transforming Resolutions

New Year’s resolutions are typically a form of goal-setting designed to “fix” something about ourselves. While there’s a general sense of enthusiasm around resolutions, it’s becoming common knowledge that resolutions rarely work to bring about lasting change.

The yogic teaching (that may be a radical idea to some) is that we are already whole and that it is more effective to use a process of inner listening when creating intentions and endeavoring to follow through. In this model, rather than writing down a list of left-brain ideas for how to be a better person, we use yoga techniques to listen inwardly.

A common technique is to use body-centered meditation to access heart-felt desires.

Another technique is take a goal such as “lose weight” and ask what is the feeling that is desired. Physical health? Self-love? Continue to dig deeper in this way as a process for getting closer to the true desire.

[When setting an intention] Your attention is on the ever-present ‘now’ in the constantly changing flow of life. You set your intentions based on understanding what matters most to you and make a commitment to align your worldly actions with your inner values… Through the skillful cultivation of intention, you learn to make wise goals and then to work hard toward achieving them without getting caught in attachment to outcome. Only by remembering your intentions can you reconnect with yourself during those emotional storms that cause you to lose touch with yourself. This remembering is a blessing, because it provides a sense of meaning in your life that is independent of whether you achieve certain goals or not.

– Phillip Moffitt

The theme in my online yoga classes this January will be that of SANKALPA. We will explore how we can use an embodied asana practice and attention to our breath to improve our inner awareness and create intentions that help us to focus on our actions rather than on attachment to the outcome of those actions!