“Anything in life can fail you, but not the sankalpa made with determination, will, perseverance and sincerity”. (Bihar School of Yoga)[1].

What is self-affirmation? Does it work?

Across the globe, in different fields, affirmations or “sankalpa” have been incorporated and validated in various forms.  Some examples are captured below:

  • A recent research in “Social Cognitive and Affective Neuroscience” journal reported that: “A large body of literature; however, demonstrates that a class of interventions called self-affirmations have benefits across threatening situations; affirmations can decrease stress, increase wellbeing, improve academic performance and make people more open to behavior change”[2].
  • Yoga nidra experts indicate that the sankalpa taken in each session of yoga nidra is perhaps the most effective technique for training the mind. [3].
  • “Self-affirmation has been shown to have powerful effects — research suggests that it can minimize the anxiety, stress, and defensiveness associated with threats to our sense of self while keeping us open to the idea that there is room for improvement[4]?

To summarise, there is sufficient evidence on the benefits of self-affirmations. The key is the process used to identify and integrate them into daily practice.

One affirmation or many together?

One, specific and measurable affirmation is good. The duration of the practice to achieve the benefit from the “Sankalpa” is “subjective” and depends on the focus, persistence etc.  Not a lot of research has been done to identify the “duration” and the “type” of sankalpa.  As per my understanding, this is part of a yogic tradition and integrated into many yogic or chanting practices (so it passes the “proven and incorporated into rituals” test).

How to identify the right “sankalpa”?

This depends and can vary from person to person.  This is covered at length in the book “Yoga Nidra” by Swami Satyananda Saraswati and we cover it in Module 1, The Journey within.  Through the process of identifying the life priority (SEE Life Priority matrix), the participant goes through a process to define an area of opportunity and identifies a “sankalpa” or “affirmation” to be integrated into step 4 of the SEE Protocol for self-hypnosis.

What about “guided imagery”?

The use of imagination while evoking the relaxation response is known to create changes in mental and physiological processes. This process (also known as imagery or visualisation used in multiple modalities such as Yoga Nidra, self-hypnosis, relaxation response), used with progressive muscle relaxation is likely to promote greater belief and expectations to achieve healthy intentions. Studies show that guided imagery helps in reducing the symptoms of pain, anxiety and other mental health conditions.  It has also been used to enhance the sports performance and improve emotional regulation.

Guided imagery plays an important role in the SEE protocol for Self-hypnosis that we have designed and following studies validate its benefits[5].

  • Guided imagery is particularly helpful for pain management and for reducing symptoms related to anxiety, stress and other mental health conditions[6].
  • Studies suggest that Guided imagery can reduce stress and elevate the immune system. (cell-specific imagery affects corresponding WBCs, neutrophils, or lymphocytes; decreases in WBC count occur in the initial stages of GI and relaxation due to fluctuations in WBC production or margination; and changes in WBC count or adherence occur earlier in medical patients[7].)
  • Useful in sports to enhance the performance and improve emotional regulation.

Is there any scientific evidence behind guided imagery?

Few examples are covered below:

  1. A study assigned 130 patients for colorectal surgical procedure into two groups, one group received routing perioperative care and the other group, in addition to the perioperative care, was given guided imagery recording 3 days prior to the surgery, during anaesthesia induction, intraoperatively and in post anaesthesia care unit and for 6 more days after surgery. The patients in the guided imagery group experienced considerably less preoperative and postoperative anxiety and pain, and they required almost 50% less narcotic medications after their surgical procedures than patients in the control group[8].
  2. Mental imagery, described as a mental experience that replicates a real experience is a key area of sport psychology literature and applied practice[9]. Early research concluded that using imagery to mentally practice a sport can improve both physical performance and its associated emotions[10].Due to its various benefits, imagery features in most mental skills training programs, where it is commonly used by sports coaches and practitioners as a supplement to athletes’ physical practice.
  3. Studies suggest that Guided imagery can reduce stress and elevate the immune system. (cell-specific imagery affects corresponding WBCs, neutrophils, or lymphocytes; decreases in WBC count occur in the initial stages of GI and relaxation due to fluctuations in WBC production or margination; and changes in WBC count or adherence occur earlier in medical patients[11]. )
  4. Guided imagery is an effective intervention for enhancing comfort of women undergoing radiation therapy for early stage breast cancer. The intervention was especially salient in the first three weeks of therapy[12].

Best wishes

Gunjan Y Trivedi

References:

[1] Sankalpa and Yoga Therapy, Dr. Swami Shankardevananda Saraswati, Yoga Magazine, http://www.yogamag.net/archives/1990s/1999/esept99/sankther.html

[2] Cascio, C. N., O’Donnell, M. B., Tinney, F. J., Lieberman, M. D., Taylor, S. E., Strecher, V. J., & Falk, E. B. (2016). Self-affirmation activates brain systems associated with self-related processing and reward and is reinforced by future orientation. Social cognitive and affective neuroscience11(4), 621–629. https://doi.org/10.1093/scan/nsv136

[3] Saraswati, Swami Satyananda, (1998). Yoga Nidra. Bihar School of Yoga, Munger, 6th edition.

[4] L. Legault, T. Al-Khindi, M. Inzlicht. Preserving Integrity in the Face of Performance Threat: Self-Affirmation Enhances Neurophysiological Responsiveness to Errors. Psychological Science, 2012; DOI: 10.1177/0956797612448483

[5] Trivedi, G. Y., Patel, V., Shah, M. H., Dhok, M. J., & Bhoyania, K. (2020). Comparative study of the impact of active meditation protocol and silence meditation on heart rate variability and mood in women. International Journal of Yoga13(3), 255.

[6] Hart, J. (2008). Guided imagery. Alternative and complementary therapies14(6), 295-299.

[7] Trakhtenberg, E. C. (2008). The effects of guided imagery on the immune system: A critical review. International Journal of Neuroscience118(6), 839-855.

[8] Tusek, D., Church, J. M., & Fazio, V. W. (1997). Guided imagery as a coping strategy for perioperative patients. AORN journal66(4), 644-649.

[9] White, A., & Hardy, L. (1998). An in-depth analysis of the uses of imagery by high-level slalom canoeists and artistic gymnasts. The Sport Psychologist, 12, 387–403.

[10] Feltz, D., & Landers, D. M. (1983). The effects of mental practice on motor skill learning and performance: A meta-analysis. Journal of Sport Psychology, 5, 25–57.

[11] Trakhtenberg, E. C. (2008). The effects of guided imagery on the immune system: A critical review. International Journal of Neuroscience118(6), 839-855.

[12] Kolcaba, K., & Fox, C. (1999, January). The effects of guided imagery on comfort of women with early stage breast cancer undergoing radiation therapy. In Oncology Nursing Forum (Vol. 26, No. 1, pp. 67-72).