As one year comes to a close, and we begin to contemplate the next, a lot of us make these interesting lists called, New Year's Resolutions. They are usually brimming with hope and optimism, and chock full of things we want to “fix” about our selves, and our lives. So, how does the modern yogi or yogini go about creating a New Year’s Resolution list; and what does the ancient science of Yoga have to offer us as we consider the changes we want to make?
“ You are already whole, already perfect. There is nothing to do, nothing to fix.”
Wow. Do you feel a tremendous load off your shoulders? You are done! Hooray! There was never really anything you needed to do. You are already perfect, beautiful, radiant and whole, and you always have been.
Yoga teaches us that our feelings of inadequacy stem from the illusion of separation. We often experience this “duality” or sense of separation as feelings of isolation, loneliness, and fear. We may constantly criticize our bodies, actions, and thoughts. Yoga teaches that there is no need to do this, and that these himsic, or harming, thought patterns, are toxic and keep us from enjoying the full experience of our lives.
Yoga also teaches us to practice santosha, or contentment by letting go of our grasping to the negative stories we tell ourselves, and cultivating right thinking and equanimity. This does not mean that we do not experience all the ups and downs of life, but that we are able to view them with perspective and balance.
However, there is a paradox in the idea of Contentment. If we were all completely content all of the time, we would never do anything. A feeling of discontent is what motivates all of our thoughts and actions; from getting up to get something to eat because we are “discontent” with hunger, to making a major life change because we feel a deep dissatisfaction with something in our lives.
This brings us back to the idea of making a “self-improvement list” for ourselves in the New Year. There is nothing wrong with wanting to change or “improve” something about our selves; tremendous good can come from making changes to our lives. The problem comes when we use the opportunity for constructive change, as another means for destructive self-abuse. The first and foremost aim of any yogini should be to practice, ahimsa, or non-harming, toward herself and all other sentient beings. So, as we make our lists we need to check our approach constantly against this benchmark, to insure that we are being kind and loving to ourselves, and others, in the process.
Let’s take a very common New Year’s resolution as an example: the desire to loose weight.
A common scenario is that we begin in January filled with a fire to loose weight and get in shape. We are joined in yoga studios, gyms and walking paths by others trying to “whip themselves into shape.” By the end of January those places are far less full, and we are home feeling increasingly dejected, eating more, exercising less, and feeling pretty bad about our selves.
The Yogic perspective on loosing weight would say, “Anything can be done in time, and with kindness.”
Making changes takes time, and it takes a plan; add in the component of kindness and you are bound for success. Without kindness, self-doubt and self-criticism beginning to chip away at our “resolve”, and make us feel like the task in insurmountable.
Let’s take a look at what a Yogic New Year’s Resolutions for Loosing Weight List might look like:
I (your name here) love my body and support and nourish myself with healthy food and exercise.
I give myself this love and support to increase my physical strength, cardiovascular health, and mental health.
I show my commitment to loving and nurturing my physical and emotional growth by attending a yoga class 3 times a week for 60 minutes, and walking in my neighborhood, 3 times a week for 30 minutes.
I have a positive relationship with food, and I choose foods that will give my body the optimum nutrients and calories I need to thrive in radiant health.
I am living in a healthy body, at a weight that is beneficial for all my physical systems. My body is energetic and strong and contains all the vitality I need to live my fully realized life.
As you can see this kind of list combines concrete actions with positive affirmations. This enables you to formulate a realistic course of action for self-improvement that harnesses the power of creative visualization, and reinforces the focus on self-love and the practice of ahimsa (non-harming) toward yourself and others.
Keep your list short, affirmative and in the present tense, as if you are already living the life (in this case living in the body) that you desire to have. Remember, once you think and believe these things, they already exist, all the remains is for you to manifest them into your life in a physical way. If you cannot imagine yourself in the body, or leading the life you want to lead, it will be difficult for you to realize those things fully in your life. See it, then be it!
Another helpful concept brought to us by the science of Yoga, is the focus on action, rather then outcome. The great yogic scripture, the Bhagavad Gita states, “Have no attachment to the ownership or result...” instead the focus must always be on each individual action.
We can apply this to our weight loss example by releasing our concerns about how much weight, or how many inches we will loose, and instead focus on each thing we are doing moment to moment to reach that goal. For example: focusing on the quality and attention we bring to each yoga posture, in each class; or by placing our attention on the energy we put into cooking each healthy meal, and eating it slowly with loving care for each bite.
This focus on one thing at a time, keeps us deeply grounded in the present moment, which in reality is the only thing we can influence, and the only thing that really exists. We may start with a certain goal, and find that it ends in a completely different outcome due to circumstance beyond our control. However, if we have cultivated mindfulness and focused on actions, instead of outcomes, then it is easier for us to release that result, and know that we have done our best, and that is all that we can do.
So, as you continue working on your list of resolutions for the coming year remember to keep them positive, be kind to yourself, focus on action instead of outcome, and remember that you are already perfect, beautiful, radiant and whole, and you always have been.
© 2008 Teal Marie Chimblo and Blissful Body Yoga