So it’s that time of year again; where we hear about New Year’s Resolutions and how we are encouraged to set new goals for the year – usually in the area of good health and fitness. Have you done yours yet? Do you make one every year? Do you find them beneficial?
A New Year’s Resolution is a positive way to start the year as it helps us set clear goals and a focus. It is said that goals help us have a positive attitude and helps direct a purpose in what we do. And while I used to think about New Year’s resolutions back in my teens, it was when I started a regular yoga practice that forming a New Year’s resolution each year became obsolete. Why you ask? Well, yoga is so transformative, that I found I was renewing my health on a daily basis with my yoga practice. As a result of a daily practice; my body, mind and soul were constantly being nourished – through the natural highs and lows of life circumstances.
You see, yoga is a sadhana; a spiritual practice or discipline. Yes, a discipline. It is work. Hard work, in fact. With this hard work, yoga becomes second nature and forms part of your life and who you are, not something ‘extra’ that you do. When I began this daily practice/discipline of yoga, I found so many areas of my life changing naturally. The Yoga Sutras talk about abyasa which is translated as practice or effort. Without the actual doing, nothing happens. Practice makes it possible to go deeper, to evolve and to transform your life.
With a regular practice, my physical health boomed and I felt lighter, stronger and more open and comfortable in my body. My self-image became more positive and I generally felt great every day! I slept better and developed positive habits around sleep – sleeping early at night and rising early with the sun to start the day with a yoga practice before work. With this physical evolution, my state of mind became calmer and clearer. I developed a more positive attitude to life and a greater acceptance of life’s trials. I became more aware of how my thoughts, words and actions were deeply connected and how my yoga practice helped keep them in a state of harmony. This then affected my relationships and I developed amazing friendships with inspiring people who I would never have met if I wasn’t open to new experiences and challenges in life. This lifestyle led me to travel the world more and see the riches that life has to offer. I could never have dreamed this future for myself when I walked into my first yoga class many years ago!
Yoga cultivates a spiritual discipline, a sadhana that is addictive – but in a good way 🙂 A good yoga practice (and when I say good, I mean a steady, regular practice that is guided by a teacher), will ignite a fire within you that keeps you coming back for more. This fire or heat is known as tapas. Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras describes tapas as an important aspect of a personal discipline (niyama). You can simply look at tapas as energy or discipline. How are you directing your tapas – your energy? The Yoga Sutras say that we should direct our tapas to things that support our wellbeing and growth. So it is not just what you do on your mat but how that translates off the mat in your life. If what you are doing on the mat is good then this will be reflected in your life off the mat. For example, your eating habits may change as a result of a regular yoga practice. You may find that heavy foods bloat you or make you feel lethargic and hinder your yoga practice and so you start to stay away from those foods and choose more nutritious foods that make you feel light and refreshed.
As another example, take a common yoga pose such as virabhadrasna II (Warrior 2). After holding this posture for a few breaths, you begin to feel your legs burn and your heart rate increase, your arms aching…. this is tapas at work! It is easier to come out of the posture early and rest and more challenging to persevere and make a conscious effort to breathe through the challenge.
When people find out that I am a yoga teacher and they have never done yoga before, they often say something like “oh yoga must be so nice and relaxing!”. And while this is definitely an outcome of a steady yoga practice, it sure often doesn’t seem relaxing usually at the time! In fact, yoga is hard work that requires a great deal of focus, concentration, strength and flexibility and did I mention discipline already? 🙂
Guru Swami Haritharanda (Kriya yoga) says that “when the body develops the power to endure hardship and when the mind does not get easily upset by lack of physical comfort, one becomes qualified in practicing yoga”. So basically when you are able to stay calm amidst the discomfort; that is when you are practicing yoga. The Yoga Sutras defines asana (posture) as ‘stirum, sukem, asanam’ – steady and comfortable. You only have to look at some amazing photographs of yoga practitioners in advanced postures to think “gosh, they make it look so easy!” But this “easy-ness” appearance is exceptionally strong, steady and focused which is a result of years of discipline and work.
So for this year’s focus, perhaps direct your tapas to your daily resolution of practicing yoga. It doesn’t need to be a long exerted practice to be effective. Even a sun salute once a day, a simple breathing exercise, meditation or gentle asanas each morning upon waking or before bed. Always try and get to a regular yoga class so you can connect with your teacher to guide you along your journey. Make a daily resolution to cultivate a personal yoga practice and watch your life unfold!