Setting an Intention for the Practice of Parenting

by Ilana Beigel

“Those who have a ‘why’ to live, can bear with almost any ‘how’.”
—Victor E. Frankl, Man’s Quest for Meaning (inspired by Friedrich Nietzsche)

Often, at the start of a yoga class, the teacher will guide students to set an intention for practice. In Sanskrit, this is called a sankalpa; san means “a concept or idea formed in the heart,” while kalpa translates as “a way of proceeding.” Thus, sankalpa can be thought of as a direction, aim, or purpose that comes from the heart—your deepest “why.”

Focusing on sankalpa clarifies one of the things that I love so much about the practice of yoga on the mat: the way it serves as a microcosm of life off the mat. When I practice asana, I not only stretch and strengthen my body, I simultaneously stretch and strengthen my resolve for everyday life.

For example, if the sankalpa of self-care is important to me right now, I can connect to it in my power flow class to help me decide if I will push up to Downward-Facing Dog or rest in Child’s pose. In my precious weekend downtime, I can return to this sankalpa to help me decide if I will accept an invitation to dinner at a friend’s house, or stay at home in my pajamas and read in bed. 

Sankalpas informs where energy and attention are placed. They increase vitality and focus. They trigger transformation.

Here’s an understatement: Parenting is challenging. Some of those challenges will easily wash over you, hardly leaving a mark; others will shake you to your core. It’s just part of what you signed up for when you took on the job of raising another human. When you connect with your intention, your sankalpa, your “why,” it can feel like a shot of espresso or a powerful round of Kapalabhati pranayama—giving you the oomph you need to push through the moments when parenting feels like a weight on your shoulders.

Author and researcher Brené Brown refers to her version of a parenting sankalpa as her wholehearted parenting manifesto.” She says, “I use the manifesto as a touchstone, a prayer, and a meditation when I'm wrestling with vulnerability or when I've got that ‘never enough’ fear.”

As a mom of three kids (two of them teenagers), I find ample opportunity to connect with my sankalpa to help me find patience and presence. I can assure you, from plenty of firsthand experience, that connecting with a “why” can help you figure out even the seemingly unsurmountable “hows.”

I think of my parenting sankalpa as a living, breathing document of sorts. My intention as a mother has changed focus over the years, and will no doubt continue to evolve and shift. In my early years as a parent, while I likely had a subconscious intention, it wasn’t at the forefront of my experience; it’s only in the last five years or so that I have been actively connecting with my vow as a mother.

The current iteration of my sankalpa is: “to love unconditionally; to nurture each child’s unique gifts and talents; to guide my children towards becoming productive, happy, contributing members of society; and to allow my children and myself to make messes and clean them up.”

Intention in Action

I recently had an opportunity to let my sankalpa lead the way as I attempted to skillfully navigate the trials and tribulations of teaching my teenage daughter to drive. When she inadvertently hit the side of the garage as she was backing out (causing thousands of dollars of damage to the garage and my six-month old car), I was able to connect with my vow to “allow my kids to make messes and clean them up.” Instead of getting angry at myself or her, I was able to remember that this is simply part of my purpose as a mother, which stems from deep within.

No one was hurt. No lasting damage was done. I was able to use the moment as a teaching opportunity, focusing on the responsibility of driving, and how split-second decisions and actions can have long-lasting and monumental effects. I was able to teach her that life can be messy—it’s just part of the deal. And when things get messy, we clean them up and move on.

If you have kids, I invite you to take some time to connect with your parenting sankalpa. In reflecting on this, you might ask yourself:

  • What is my heartfelt desire as a parent?
  • What do I want my children to know about the world?
  • How do I want my children to feel about themselves?
  • How do I want my children to treat others?

Parenting is a lifelong journey, and so is connecting with your “why.” Once you have a sankalpa to guide you, sink into that sweet and magical spot where you focus your intention in the future, and your attention in the present. This will help you flow with and through all the “hows” that you find yourself facing. 

Ilana Beigel is a Kripalu Yoga educator, life coach, and speech-language pathologist based in the Pioneer Valley of Massachusetts.