Typically vows are associated with weddings as partners make promises of commitment to each other. A vow is simply that: a promise. Whether verbal or written, a vow is a promise you make to commit yourself to a certain role or course of action. We make promises and commitments to others all the time, but when was the last time you made a vow to and for yourself?
Think about your yoga practice, how it’s evolved over time and how your relationship with your practice has evolved as well. How do you perceive your relationship with your practice? How do you measure its growth?
When I initially did this mental exercise, I considered four elements of my practice: asana, pranayama, dharana (concentration), and dhyana (meditation). I realized that I had only been focusing on a few aspects of yoga, so I made a vow to myself to explore other areas of my practice. And I’m encouraging you to do the same.
Make a vow that you can (and will want to) commit to
After recognizing the areas missing from my progress report, I decided to begin by incorporating the ethical values of the yamas (“do not’s”) and niyamas (“do’s”) into my practice. Trying not to feel intimidated by all the ground to cover (there’s always more to learn!), I began my quest for growth with one niyama: santosha (contentment or acceptance).
My vow: I accept that I have much to learn, and I vow to practice santosha when facing new lessons. Note: “lessons” is my optimistic euphemism for “challenges.”
Find specific ways to practice your vow
Unlike a goal, which can be measured by a clear and definitive destination or checkpoint, a vow is a bit more abstract. Therefore it’s important to find some practical ways to demonstrate your promise to yourself.
For instance, let’s take the wedding vow to unconditionally love your partner “in sickness and in health.” A practical application of this might look like bringing your partner tissues and tea when they have a cold rather than covering them with a blanket and running away.
In a yogic context, I can apply my vow to practice santosha when struggling with a new asana by practicing self-compassion with an encouraging word or phrase and/or smiling after each attempt.
Keep yourself accountable to your vow
- Write your vow. Put a piece of paper with the word or phrase near your mat or carry it with you in your pocket. Consider keeping a yoga journal.
- Recite your vow. Repeat it before, throughout, and after your practice or at certain points throughout the day.
- Share your vow. Find a vow partner! It can be helpful to have someone check in on you. Plus, you may even inspire them to do the same in their practice.
- Symbolize your vow. Wear something that reminds you of your commitment. I knew someone who tied a red string around his wrist, and, every time he complained, he had to switch wrists. After one day he was so annoyed with it, but it kept him mindful of his habit!
- Teach your vow. If you teach yoga, create a class based on your vow. If you’re focusing on aparigraha (liberation of excess) sequence your class with chest- and hip-opening poses.
Reap the benefits
Having a personal promise with a clearly laid-out application adds an element of mindfulness to not only your yoga practice, but also to your daily thoughts, actions, and interactions. I can apply my vow to practice santosha by expressing gratitude in challenging times—both on and off the mat.