Do you feel pressure to strive for change at this time of the year? How do new year resolutions apply to our yoga practice? I've been meditating on this for a couple of weeks and these are my thoughts...
If new year resolutions are generally things we want to fix about ourselves and Yoga is all about recognising that we have, and we are, all that we need within ourselves it's difficult to see that a resolution can be part of a yoga practice.
A resolution is an intent to change, to resolve something that is not complete. In our capitalist society we are constantly bombarded with messages that we are somehow lacking and in need of the latest 'thing' to better ourselves. It benefits business that most of us feel like we are not good enough. Every single advertisement is designed to convince us that our lives, our bodies, our personalities are lacking and that they have just the item to complete us for just four easy payments.
Yoga philosophy, however, wants us to see that we are perfect just as we are. We already have everything we need within us, we just need to learn how to become aware of the truth. The main message from Patanjali's Yoga Sutra-s is that the "goal of yoga is to still the mind through practice and detachment" (Vaughn 2016). In other words, all we need to do is to train ourselves to focus our thoughts away from what we wish had happened or what we want to happen ie: practice and renunciation, or the means of yoga (Bryant 2009).
Bhagavad Gita VI:20
पश्यन्न आत्मनि तुष्यति
When the mind comes to rest,
Restrained by the practice of yoga,
And when beholding the Self, by the self,
He is content in the Self, (Sargeant 2009)
You may have heard the saying "Yoga is the journey of the Self, by the Self, to the Self" a quote based on passage 6.20 of the Bhagavad Gita (Sargeant 2009). Simply, this tells us that yoga helps us find that part of our conscious that is perpetually connected with the universal conscious. We learn through the practice of yoga that the Self is a part of, and at the same time contains, the ultimate truth and that everything else is an illusion. So, if we already have the ultimate truth within us, if we're already at one with the divine, then what is it that we need to resolve?
"Each of you is perfect the way you are, and you could use a little improvement" ~Zen master Suzuki Roshi (Goleman & Davidson 2017)
Of course, after passage 6.20, in the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna goes on to tell Arjuna that the journey to the Self is a result of disciplined practice. So maybe our resolve can be to come to our practice regularly. If we follow Patanjali's 8 limbs of yoga maybe we could resolve to focus more on the individual yamas and niyamas in our daily lives, or resolve to unroll our yoga mats and come to our physical, breath and meditation practice regularly. We could resolve to schedule time for our practice. Krishna then tells Arjuna that we can only find that stillness of mind, which will reveal the ultimate truth within, when we are not focused on our desires, expectations and intentions. So now we also know that whenever we come to our yoga mats we should do so without the expectation of results from our practice. The aim of our practice, whatever form it takes, is to stay in the present moment with the practice, therefore if we are thinking about our intention for practicing or the results we are hoping to achieve we are not practicing yoga.
So how do new year resolutions apply to our yoga practice? When is it ok to have a 'sankalpa', or intention within our yoga journey?
We can use our resolutions to bring us to our practice. We can have the intention to practice yoga. But once we get to the yoga mat, the meditation seat or the mantra we practice for practice's sake and we practice to give ourselves that time and space in the present moment.
These are, of course, my own thoughts and I accept any and all blame for any errors.
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Books referenced in this blog:
Vaughn, Amy. (2016) From the vedas to vinyasa: An introduction to the history and philosophy of yoga . Opening Lotus. Kindle Edition.
Sargeant, Winthrop. (2009) The Bhagavad Gita: Twenty-fifth–Anniversary Edition (Suny Series in Cultural Perspectives) Kindle Edition.
Goleman, Daniel; Davidson, Richard. (2017) The Science of Meditation. Penguin Books Ltd. Kindle Edition.
Bryant, Edwin F. (2009). The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Kindle Edition.