Most of us begin each new year with a resolution—a pledge to accomplish something or change something about ourselves, whether it be our weight, exercise regime or TV consumption habits. For budding devout yogis, the New Year’s resolution often revolves around yoga, and the vow to practice daily through asana, meditation or following the principles outlined in the Yoga Sutras.
Our pronouncements are made in the face of optimism and an auspicious moment holding the promise of a clean start: 12 months ahead to achieve our earnest goals and transform our lives. For most of us, the will is strong during that first and second week of January. We approach each day with resolve, confident in the idea that, gosh darn it, this time around we really are going to fit the bill of the devoted yogi we strive to be.
The challenges usually arise sometime around February (give or take). In just a matter of weeks, our resolve wanes and our enthusiasm fizzles out. We abandon the resolution, and just like that, find ourselves back at the starting gate, living within the old paradigm that initially propelled us to seek change.
But the paradigm wasn’t that we were fed up of not being more devoted (or physically fit, etc.), it was that we felt we were lacking in something. As if we weren’t good enough the way we were.
That’s the ego talking—and one of several obstacles that impede us in our yoga journey.
The term antaraya in Sanskrit refers to “obstacles” or powerful distractions that deter us from the single pointed focus needed to achieve our yogic goals. When we allow ourselves to be led and distracted by our ego, we operate from the proposition that we are lacking in something or that we are not good enough. Our identification of ourselves with our ego—or asmita (I-am-ness), creates in us an image of who we think we are or who we think we should be—not who we actually are. It traps us and leads us to believe that only by achieving our goals can we be happy or fulfilled.
Asmita is just one of the many obstacles—or kleshas—that stand in our way of releasing the paradigms we seek to move beyond. We can try for weeks, years, even a lifetime, to overcome these obstacles, but this is hard to do if we cannot name them. They include: Avidya (ignorance), the misconception of our true reality; raga (attachment), the attraction for things that bring satisfaction and pleasure; dvesha (repulsion), the aversion towards things that produce unpleasant experiences; Abhinivesha (will to live) or fear of death.
When we over identify with the ego and our lives become governed by these obstacles, we believe we have to look beyond ourselves for happiness, pleasure or change. We resolve to go to the gym more, attend more yoga classes or work harder to make more money. We believe that in order to become whole, we have to look outside of ourselves for transformation.
This mindset sets us up for failure. We would walk a profoundly different path if we approached these resolutions (health, yoga, etc.) with the acknowledgement that we already have all we need and that we are already whole.
Practicing sankalpa (Sanskrit for “intention”) guides us toward the premise that we already posses everything we need. In order to better manifest our “heartfelt desires” and embrace our true natures—we must intend to move toward them, not change who we inherently are. Sankalpa provides a way for us to live and behave in manners consistent with our true selves—not the other way around. We already are whole, we just need to start living up to that.
In practice, embracing sankalpa means that you choose not to indulge in the late-night TV show or unhealthy snacking because you already are a devoted yogi, and so you’re making choices aligned with that, like living more healthily and rising early with the dawn to embrace your practice. You are not saying it the other way around: that if you don’t have the snack or watch the TV, and only if you wake up early, will you be able to become a devoted yogi. Sankalpa is practiced daily and in each present moment through making conscious choices. We can cultivate attention to our breath, live full lives and learn to align more fully with our true selves.
So if you did forget your New Year’s resolutions, it might have been for the best. And if you’d like to set a new intention for yourself and your yoga practice—if you are seeking to become that perfectly dedicated yogi, then remember: You already are. You just have to act like one.