Soma Sankalpa

soma = body

sankalpa = intention

Soma Sankalpa is an approach I have developed to integrate intention into the body using movement, through the creation and practice of individual ‘movement phrases’ – helping you to move through strong feelings, like anxiety, overwhelm or any triggering situation.

Practiced regularly, and when faced with the argh moments, it can demonstrably change patterns of thought, emotion and behaviour, by aligning physical movement with your consciously stated intentions.

Because Soma Sankalpa (SSK), like meditation, is a practice rather than a therapy or specific treatment modality, it can be used by anyone, anywhere, who intends anything, ever.

I’m currently teaching SSK online, so you can book a single session to learn the practice and begin applying it straight away, or come back for more sessions over time if you want to work more deeply. The sessions available are:

slim woman dancing in studio


Learn how to apply Soma Sankalpa to any aspect of your life with one to one guidance, tailored to your individual needs. You will work with Anna to look at which area of your life you want to focus on, learn the practice and develop your own unique movement phrases.

Where: Online or f2f North London

Duration: 45 mins to an hour

Fee: GB£20/ US$25


This session is for those who have already learned the practice and want more personalised input on their evolving process. You might want to continue working on the original issue, or you may find that a new area of focus has emerged that you would like to explore.

Where: Online or f2f North London

Duration: 45 mins to an hour

Fee: GB£30/ US$35

What You Will Learn

Acknowledge & allow what you are feeling

Enunciate how you intend to move through the feeling

Evoke the words with your unique intuited movement

Practice daily & whenever you face a triggering situation

What Clients Experience

These are the benefits that clients have said they experience after practicing Soma Sankalpa:

Accept and move through difficult emotions, rather than suppressing or repressing them

Empower the shift from flight/ fright/ freeze to a more relaxed and grounded state

Identify and connect with your authentic intentions

Disrupt destructive patterns of thought and behaviour

Create versions to apply in different settings and situations, from your office to your living room

We know there is intention and purpose in the universe because there is intention and purpose in us.

GB Shaw

Understanding Soma Sankalpa

What are the benefits of expressing your intentions through the body instead of saying them?

Our thoughts feel like they’re true even when they’re not. The ego likes to busy itself with all kinds of stories, but is only ever seeing a reflection of itself.

Humans can be good at lying with words – frequently and most dangerously, to ourselves. But truth shows up through our feelings and bodies. Where we have inner conflict or unresolved past experiences, our cognitive functioning is overridden by less conscious processes, which our smart thinky brains have little or no power to control.

Notice what happens when you try to get your body to lie for you. When you start to create a movement phrase, the body does a ‘scan test’ on the intention – it will let you know whether or not this particular intention is genuine and meaningful for you. Through repetition you will also begin to see where your blocks or doubts are.

Why might intention be more effective than will or affirmations?

Operating on self-will puts us in continual competition with others and with the person we think we ought to be, but never fully become. Operating on intention frees us from that cycle of competition, finding peace in the awareness that we are always in the process of becoming.

Affirmations tend to be aspirational, so that they are less firmly rooted in reality, whereas intentions bring us into the present moment with an acceptance of our vulnerability and struggles as well as celebrating the possibility of greater serenity.

Both will and affirmations can stir up inner conflict, self-deception, and trauma memories, so intention is a more grounding position from which to move towards resolution and authentic growth.

What is a movement phrase?

A movement phrase is a movement or series of movements that, in Soma Sankalpa, expresses thoughts, feelings, images or concepts through the body.

It can consist of a small, slight movement, a larger sweeping movement, or a series of movements.

There’s no wrong, or not good enough movement phrase – if it resonates with you, it’s right for you.

The purpose of sankalpa is to influence and transform the whole life pattern, not only physically, but also mentally, emotionally and spiritually.

Swami Satyananda Saraswati

Sankalpa is a Sanskrit word, variously translated as a solemn vow, purpose, or determination. Although the word appears to date back as far as the 2nd century, its application reflect what contemporary research in neuroplasticity demonstrates about the “massive bi-directional highways” of the body (Richard Davidson, Prof Psychology and Psychiatry)1, and the transformational potential of consciously stated intention.

The brain is built to change in response to experiences, and our brains are constantly changing – wittingly or unwittingly – and I think most of the time for most people, our brains are being changed unwittingly…  The invitation in this work is that we can actually take more responsibility for the shaping of our own brains to cultivate wholesome and virtuous qualities of mind, which also have beneficial effects on the body.


What are the features of a sankalpa?

A sankalpa is framed as a positive – to move towards something that is positive or loving, rather than moving away from that which is perceived as negative or feared. So for example, the intention to stop emotional eating would be about taking care of the body, or ‘I have enough’ as opposed to stopping the eating pattern.

When we word a sankalpa, we say that we are what we intend, or that we are becoming what we intend, rather than saying we want to achieve a particular goal or we desire the object of our intention.

Sankalpa comes from a place of enough rather than scarcity and lack – reminding ourselves to move towards with love, instead of away from with fear.

The Science

This approach didn’t come from a lab – it came from repeated compassionate testing on humans.

As I’m not a trained neuroscientist, I spoke to someone who is and she helped me to understand what’s going on in the brain while formulating and practicing Soma Sankalpa®. Dr Jennifer Sweeton PsyD, neuroscientist, trauma expert, and best-selling author explained the different ways that this combination of intention, movement and repetition act on the brain. 

“When we’re forming intentions about our health, family, work, whichever part of our lives”, Dr Sweeton said, “these are all different neural networks, like different stories, and the different networks have bridges between them.”

How Soma Sankalpa impacts the body & mind

“So movement helps people to navigate through the networks. Ideally they’re all connected like one big integrated web, but with trauma or disregulation, networks get separated, no longer connected, and movement can form bridges that bring them back into the web.”

Here’s how she explained why intuitive movements test out the authenticity of our intentions: “A movement will match the neural network it’s associated with, so if it’s incongruent then that’s because there’s no neural network for it yet – it’s not associated with who the person is, or wants to be. It’s not one that resonates with them”.

“So it feels counter-intuitive to go into a feeling like anxiety, but that’s what brings the associated experiences back into the web.”

Like therapy, the combination of movement and intention helps to “purposely emphasize some networks and de-emphasize others, and to move into a particular neural network that’s more helpful. It facilitates the creation of a bridge between the networks and the bridge is strengthened with repetition”.

When I told Dr Sweeton about using Soma Sankalpa for either triggers or as a daily practice, she said that if you want to facilitate a brain change, it works best to do both.

“The brain likes repetition and consistency – that you’ve done something multiple times. It’s just like with maladaptive self-talk, it’s the repetition that has an impact. So a repeated thought or movement facilitates a different type of learning.”


Barrett, L. F. (2017). How Emotions are Made: The secret life of the brain. Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Harcourt.

Brooks, A. W., Schroeder, J., Risen, J. L., Gino, F., Galinsky, A. D., Norton, M. I., & Schweitzer, M. E. (2016). Don’t stop believing: Rituals improve performance by decreasing anxiety. Organizational Behavior and Human Decision Processes, 137, 71–85. 

Calvo-Merino, B., Grèzes, J., Glaser, D. E., Passingham, R. E., and Haggard, P. (2006). Seeing or doing? influence of visual and motor familiarity in action observation. Curr. Biol. 16, 1905–1910.

Damasio, A., and Carvalho, G. B. (2013). The nature of feelings: evolutionary and neurobiological origins. Nat. Rev. Neurosci. 14, 143–152. doi: 10.1038/nrn3403.

Damasio, A. R. (1999). The Feeling of What Happens: Body and Emotion in the Making of Consciousness. New York, NY: Harcourt Brace.

Damasio, A. R., Grabowski, T. J., Bechara, A., Damasio, H., Ponto, L. L. B., Parvizi, J., et al. (2000). Subcortical and cortical brain activity during the feeling of self-generated emotions. Nat. Neurosci. 3, 1049–1056. doi: 10.1038/79871.

Decety, J., Jeannerod, M., Germain, M., and Pastene, J. (1991). Vegetative response during imagined movement is proportional to mental effort. Behav. Brain Res. 42, 1–5. doi: 10.1016/S0166-4328(05)80033-6.

Doll A, Hölzel BK, Mulej Bratec S, Boucard CC, Xie X, Wohlschläger AM, Sorg C. (2016). Mindful attention to breath regulates emotions via increased amygdala-prefrontal cortex connectivity. Neuroimage. Jul 1;134:305-313. doi: 10.1016/j.neuroimage.2016.03.041. Epub 2016 Mar 24. PMID: 27033686.

Duclos, S. E., and Laird, J. D. (2001). The deliberate control of emotional experience through control of expressions. Cogn. Emot. 15, 27–56. doi: 10.1080/0269993004200088.

Jerath R, Crawford MW, Barnes VA, Harden K. (2015) Self-regulation of breathing as a primary treatment for anxiety. Appl Psychophysiol Biofeedback. Jun;40(2):107-15. doi: 10.1007/s10484-015-9279-8. PMID: 25869930.

Koch, S. C. (2014). Rhythm is it: effects of dynamic body feedback on affect and attitudes. Front. Psychol. 5:537. doi: 10.3389/ fpsyg.2014.00537.

Koch, S. C., Fuchs, T., and Summa, M. (2014). Body memory and kinesthetic body feedback: the impact of light versus strong movement qualities on affect and cognition. Mem. Stud. 7, 272–284. doi: 10.1177/1750698014530618.

Kühn, S., Müller, B. C., van Baaren, R. B., Wietzker, A., Dijksterhuis, A., and Brass, M. (2010). Why do I like you when you behave like me? Neural mechanisms mediating positive consequences of observing someone being imitated. Soc. Neurosci. 5, 384–392. doi: 10.1080/ 17470911003633750.

Levine, P. (1997). Waking the Tiger: Healing Trauma: The Innate Capacity to Transform Overwhelming Experiences. US: North Atlantic Books. 

Linden, P. (1988). Being in Movement: Intention as a Somatic Meditation. Columbus Center for Movement Studies.

McLaren, K. (2010) The Language of Emotions: What Your Feelings are Trying to Tell You. Sounds True Inc.

McGarry, L. M., and Russo, F. A. (2011). Mirroring in dance/ movement therapy: potential mechanisms behind empathy enhancement. Arts Psychother. 38, 178– 184. doi: 10.1016/ j.aip.2011.04.005.

Norton, M.I. and Gino, F. (2014) Rituals Alleviate Grieving for Loved Ones, Lovers, and Lotteries. Journal of Experimental Psychology: General 143, 266-272.

Naito, E., Kochiyama, T., Kitada, R., Nakamura, S., Matsumura, M., Yonekura, Y., et al. (2002). Internally simulated movement sensations during motor imagery activate cortical motor areas and the cerebellum. J. Neurosci. 22, 3683–3691. 

Nestor, J. (2020). Breath: The New Science of a Lost Art. UK: Penguin Random House.

Newberg, A. B. (2014). The neuroscientific study of spiritual practices. Frontiers in psychology, 5, 215.

Philippot, P., Chapelle, G., and Blairy, S. (2002). Respiratory feedback in the generation of emotion. Cogn. Emot. 16, 605–627. doi: 10.1080/ 02699930143000392.

Riskind, J. H. (1984). They stoop to conquer: guiding and self-regulatory functions of physical posture after success and failure. J. Pers. Soc. Psychol. 47, 479–493. doi: 10.1037/0022-3514.47.3.479.

Shafir, T. (2015). Movement-based strategies for emotion regulation. Handbook on Emotion Regulation: Processes, Cognitive Effects and Social Consequences, ed. M. L. Bryant. New York, NY: Nova Science Publishers, Inc, 231–249. 

Shafir, T., Taylor, S. F., Atkinson, A. P., Langenecker, S. A., and Zubieta, J.-K. (2013). Emotion regulation through execution, observation, and imagery of emotional movements. Brain Cogn. 82, 219–227. doi: 10.1016/j.bandc.2013.03.001.

Shafir, T., Tsachor, R. P., and Welch, K. (2016). Emotion regulation through movement: unique sets of movement characteristics are associated with and enhance basic emotions. Front. Psychol. 6:2030. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2015.02030. 

Shafir, T. (2016) Using Movement to Regulate Emotion: Neurophysiological Findings and Their Application in Psychotherapy. Front. Psychol. 7:1451. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2016.01451.

Sweeton, J. (2021). Eight Key Brain Areas of Mental Health and Illness. New York, NY: WW Norton & Company.

Sweeton, J. (2019). Trauma Treatment Toolbox. Wisconsin: PESI Publishing & Media.

Tolle, E. (2000). The Power of Now. New World Library Audio.

van der Kolk, B. (2014). The Body Keeps the Score. UK: Penguin.

® SOMA SANKALPA is a registered trade mark of AR Psychotherapy