A Yogi's Guide to Resolutions
Happy New Year, dear reader!
At the beginning of the new year I notice two very different sort of posts on social media pages. Either A) 10 easy ways to transform yourself in 8 Days/Setting Intentions/Manifesting Goodness in the New Year or B) You’re perfect as you are. New Years Resolutions are stupid. #NewYearSameYou
What does the yoga tradition say about goals and resolutions?
While the pantheon of philosophy is vast, the tradition seems to agree on one thing: expectations are tricky. Humans, we’ve got high hopes and that’s awesome. The downside being that we make ourselves vulnerable to disappointment. Shame, anger, anxiety, depression, apathy, so much of these are rooted in unmet expectations.
The work, says yoga, is good! I think the tradition would encourage resolutions, but when setting goals how do we stay even and not beat ourselves up too much?
I offer here three pieces of advice to anchor our resolutions and keep us steady. Two from the Bhagavad Gita and one from Yoga’s sister science Ayurveda. May they provide you nourishment in 2018.
1) Commit to the work, not the results.
I know, annoying right? We want the results. We want the fruit. The Bhagavad Gita states,
“You have the right to work, but never to the fruit of work…Perform work in this world, Arjuna, as a man established within himself…alike in success and defeat. For yoga is perfect evenness of mind.” Chapter 2 Versus 47-48
Often we phrase goals from a reward perspective, 'To lose 5 pounds, to be happier, to be kind,' for example. The reward is not guaranteed. When we instead commit to the work, we let the fruits take care of themselves. The Bhagavad Gita doesn’t say there will never be fruit. It just says, fruit not guaranteed. When we sign up for a workshop, schedule meditation at the same time everyday, or volunteer our time on Sunday mornings for the sake of commitment to practice, the let down isn't quite as implicit. The work becomes its own reward and everything else is a bonus.
2) Trust the Process
I see so many students give up in the beginning of January because they’re not seeing the immediate results they expect without noticing all the other great things that come out of consistency to any meaningful practice.
The Gita says, "Now listen to the principles of yoga. By practicing these you can break the bonds of karma. On this path effort never goes to waste, and there is no failure. Even a little effort toward spiritual awareness will protect you from the greatest fear." (Chapter 2 Verse 40)
Although we don’t control the outcome of our work, we can trust that no effort is ever wasted. Even if you’re not getting the results you may want in the short term, it’s important to keep an eye on the bigger picture. Interfacing with your karma (the net results of all your actions) and even trying to turn your karma in another direction is slow and incremental. Often on an individual level its so small we don't notice how much we’ve changed until we see an old photo or run into a friend we haven’t seen in a while. That mirror reflects back our accumulated effort or in some cases non-effort. We are an immediate gratification animal, but meaningful change takes a long time. Even the smallest effort can accumulate to yield big results.
3) Conserve your Energy
The year is long and January is the coldest, darkest month of the year! Each season, like each individual, has its own quality. I know personally that it’s a lot easier for me to set physical goals in Spring and Summer and contemplative or spiritual goals in Fall and Winter. Its important to embrace the quality of Winter. Enjoy stillness, hibernate a little. Eat warm foods and wear wool socks. Whether you have health goals, social goals, or spiritual goals, the year is a marathon, not a sprint. Take your time!
I’m no Ayurveda specialist, but each constitution (or dosha) needs slightly different things in each season to stay balanced. For resources on how to best care for yourself during Kapha season (this stage of winter) visit https://chopra.com/articles/healthy-habits-for-kapha-season.
Better yet, schedule a consolation with my friend colleague Leah Kaplan at Thunderbolt Ayurveda. (https://www.thunderboltayurveda.com)
The Bhagavad Gita translated by Eknath Easwaran