The dust and confetti of the holiday season has finally settled and perhaps you have gotten some traction on your intention for 2019. Mine is/was to give up sugar for 40 days. However, the path of living into a new lifestyle is rarely a straight line. More often than not, affecting life changes is a much more messy process.
The seductive voice of comfort and convenience can creep in and derail our deeper knowing and higher aspirations. In the words of the famed warrior, Arjuna, in the infamous yogic text the Bhagavad Gita:
The mind is very restless, turbulent, strong and obstinate, O Krishna.
It appears to me that it is more difficult to control than the wind.
So how do we get a grip on our detracting desires and live into our higher aspirations? And more specifically, how can yoga help us with that?
On a physical level, yoga postures (and meditation) have been scientifically demonstrated to re-pattern the neural structures and pathways in the brain as well as correlate structures in the heart and gut, each of which has a unique intelligence.
Yoga can unlock stuck psychological patterning on a neurological level – something like untangling a knotted ball of twine and rolling it back up again, neat and organized.
There are many stories of yogis who willfully embraced extreme disciplines to arrive at a transcendental boon. Parvati ate nothing but leaves for years to win the hand of Lord Shiva, Arjuna vowed to avenge his fallen son before sundown or take his own life, Gandhi fasted and performed other acts of austerity to strengthen his resolve for an independent India.
Maybe you are not out to marry a god, make a mortal vow, or to topple an empire but you can move towards your higher-self. This requires a willingness to trade in something of lower value for something of higher, yet unknown value.
Here are four simple suggestions to help you to reassemble any bygone resolutions for the new year or simple take up a new direction for your life.
Choose Your Battles
What’s the one thing that you can embrace, or let go of, that is going to give you the greatest return on your effort? If you try to make too many changes on many fronts you are far less likely to succeed. For me, that one thing was giving up sugar. In part the benefit has come from not eating a toxic substance but the other part is that it has forced me to eat far less processed food. Which in turn has led to much more emotional and energetic stability.
Practice skillful-means. Be selective about what changes you want to make and find one simple act that can foster those changes. Maybe you want to take the task in parts.
Make Incremental Changes
People can cook up an overinflated version of who they think they should be. Book stores and libraries line their shelves with texts espousing the virtues of being a ‘Bad Ass’. And the latest seminar promises it all: wealth and glory. Grandeur can often be a toxic mimic of our true place in the world and within ourselves. Perhaps authenticity is more powerful and real than boundless desire.
Sustainable change is much more gradual than sensational. We see this in nature, the sun moves just slowly enough to be imperceptible; yet we know it is moving by watching the shadows slowly bend in its light. All life lives in relationship to the sun.
On a psychological level the mind has many self protective mechanisms, many of them unconscious, that easily rebel when they perceive the unknown coming down the road. Part of us wants to change while other parts stand ready to put on the breaks. Transformation is less about conquest and more about patience and consistent effort.
Another part of the great American mythology says that we must do everything by ourselves, to triumphantly brave adversity and arrive at our personal promised-land. In fact, you are far more likely to be successful with the support of the tribe. Many people are not fully aware of the degree to which they are isolated and lack the perspective of outside eyes.
Is there someone who is close to you that you can confide in, and start to bridge your intention from your head and into the world. Even social media could be a possible outlet for getting some collective support and accountability. Or better yet, get the support of a dedicated group of peers. This could be colleagues at work or some circle that shares the values that you are trying to create for yourself.
Yoga has been proven, time and time again, to move the needle away from self-sabotaging behaviors and replace them with more positive ones. Think of it as having a magic power. And if you water the seeds of this magic power regularly, it will grow. Whether we are trying to sleep better or give up drinking, yoga can help, particularly when given guidance from an expert teacher.
Of these four recommendations I would recommend the last one, practicing yoga, the most. Followed by getting support. Practicing yoga in a committed circle of peers, under the guidance of a advanced teacher, will nurture your intentions in ways that you are currently not present to. What’s more it will safely open the door into new realms of possibility.
Much of the year is yet to come and I invite you to gradually foster a more joyful version of yourself for your own benefit and for the benefit of those who surround you.