Are New Year’s resolutions a thing of the past? An antiquated practice moving inexorably toward extinction? If you read the numbers, you could easily get that impression. According to a CBS poll, 68 percent of Americans claim they do not make resolutions. That number is 10 percentage points higher than it was just two years ago.
Perhaps it is because we're too busy and preoccupied to ponder our goals, or maybe it’s because time and again, many of us have learned that those resolutions are pretty hard to keep after the initial bloom has worn off. The same poll says that roughly 30 percent of Americans make resolutions, but only half of those claim to keep them. Not great odds.
Still, the new year seems like an appropriate time to assess where you’ve been and how you’d like to steer your life. I think the trick is to make resolutions that you have a chance of keeping. You’ll have a better chance of keeping your resolutions if you first figure out how you can fit them into your life. Keep it simple. Start with one, the one that most inspires you. See where that goes before you attempt any more. Practicing one heartfelt resolution is truly a lot!
I like to think of yoga practice—including meditation—as my time to check in and practice who I want to be in the rest of my life. It’s the time when I give myself permission not only to replenish my energies, but to see where my body and mind are in integrity and where they are not. Here are a few of the intentions I’ve practiced with for years that have transformed my life on many levels:
Four Yoga Resolutions
Stop judging your practice according to what others are doing or what you used to do or what you think is “advanced” practice. I’m not saying this will be easy. I think the greatest challenge in Western yoga practice is to get over the deeply ingrained idea that asana practice is about achieving “perfect” or fancy poses. Even when our intellects know it’s not about competition, the roots of comparing bore deep into our beings. Often we don’t have a clue that we’re competing and comparing; it just happens automatically. Here’s the thing: our bodies are genetically unique. Once we make our entrances into the world, the countless inputs we experience every moment contribute to shaping who we are. How can you possibly compare your practice to anyone else’s? Please give yourself a break. This is real-world ahimsa practice. It starts with you.
Resolve to respect your body. Asana is not about conquering your body or forcing it into fancy poses it is not designed to do. And even if you can make your body can perform Eka Pada Rajakapotasana or some of the other fancy poses, you might find as time passes that it wasn’t such a great idea. Just because you can do something doesn’t mean you should. Here’s another real-life ahimsa practice: Think of your practice as a partnership with your body, something that mind and body explore together in friendship.
Meet your body where it is each day. Take a moment at the beginning of each practice to sit, stand or lie down and check in. What’s the character of your energy? Is it quick, sluggish, heavy, light, agitated, calm, hot, cold or something else? Twenty-some years ago I had the privilege of studying for about six months with Richard Freeman, a teacher I respect implicitly. But I found that if I was honest with myself, and respectful of my body, I just couldn’t do Ashtanga practice every day. In fact, most days my body craved something slower, quieter, less agitating. If I felt sluggish or heavy, I’d do Ashtanga to raise my vata a bit. If I felt agitated already, Ashtanga would only aggravate it. So I learned to meet my body, and partner with it so that each day’s practice produced sattvic results. When you practice this way, you are also practicing satya.
Remember the wonder. Recognize that every practice, every pose, every moment is a new moment. No matter how many times you’ve done dog pose, today is the first time you’ve done this particular dog pose in this moment. It will never be the same as that killer one you did two weeks ago. That one is gone. This one, here in this moment, is really the only one that exists. Wishing for the past or hoping for a “better” pose somewhere in the future only serves to obscure the experience of the pose you’re in. We miss a whole lot of everyday magic when we think that where we are is not good enough.
These are just a few of the intentions I’ve set for practice that have reaped the richest rewards for me, not only in my asana practice but in the rest of my life. If one of these resolutions resonates for you, take it and run with it. If not, think about what yoga resolutions you might want to make.
What are your resolutions for yoga practice this year?