One of the most common occurrences as one year fades into the next is the creation of a resolution (or a list of them), in hopes of starting the New Year fresh. It is a noble idea delineated by dates on a calendar, but all too often those things that we vow to do, become, achieve, or create end up in the left in the dust, or filed away to come back to sometime in the unnamed future. Yoga often ends up on the list of resolutions with the hope of increasing our health or our balance. But something that is less as well known, is that the practice of yoga itself can add power to resolutions and to your efforts to honor them. Some of the more subtle practices of yoga, like pranayama and meditation, are designed do just that, to make our resolve our reality.
First, we have to clean the slate. All of us are enmeshed in habitual patterns of behavior that make it difficult to create new paths, known in yoga as samskara. You can think of our behavior patterns as rocks in the soil. If we plant a seed in rocky soil, it takes much more energy and effort for that seed to grow. Intentions are seeds that we plant in the soil of our minds and hearts, so if we create optimum growing conditions our seeds have a much greater chance of successful growth. There are several different techniques that can be used to “clean” the psyche of our past impressions, to remove the rocks. Yoga Nidra is a powerful technique to disengage our habitual behaviors, as well as healing and cleansing meditations like the Prana Healing Meditation. The pranayama practice of sama vritti, or balanced breath, also goes a long way towards removing our psychic debris.
The next step is to be clear about our resolution or our intention. The process of creating new patterns is much more powerful when we identify the root of our desire. The yogic text the Upanishads say, “we are what our deepest driving desire is.” So when we create a resolution to achieve a goal, a necessary step to empower this achievement is to ask ourselves what is motivating this, to uncover the part of our subconscious or unconscious self that is inspiring the more superficial desire. This process of self-inquiry is known as svadyaya, one of the five Niyamas of the Ashtanga (eight-limbed) path of Yoga as outlined by Patanjali. The technique of Vipassana is a great way to uncover those things within us that are driving our external responses or reactions.
Now that the soil is sifted and the vision is clear, we can get to work on making our resolve our reality. There are many techniques that bring energy to our intentions. Choosing a mantra that aligns with your intention with the energetic intent of the sound can be quite effective. So can visualization and meditation techniques that can enhance the power of our resolve. The tantric tradition of yoga has many techniques that encompass ritual and meditative practices in addition to the use of mantra which can bring more energy to our intention. These techniques are best learned under the guidance of a trained teacher, but there are other more accessible methods to fertilize the seeds of intention.
We can use asana to align our bodies and minds with our intention and to become aware of any inner attitudes that may not be in tune with our desires. If your desire is to become more expansive, or open to a new experiences, extension asanas like trikonasana or parsvokonasana are good to practice to expand beyond our perceived boundaries. If your resolve deals with the space of your heart, maybe in the form of compassion or love, then back bends can help to open this energetic space in the body. Poses like dhanurasana, bhujangasana, or urdhva dhanurasana open the space of the heart and support the alignment of heart-centered intentions. Resolutions that address our domestic lives and our groundedness can be supported with grounding asanas like utkatasana, virabhadrasana II, and prasarita paddottonasana. When your intention is designed to bring more balance into your life, then the repertoire of balancing asanas is extensive and can include asanas like vrksasana and ardha chandrasana. There are countless asanas that can support your intention, and a well trained teacher can help to identify other asanas that may be supportive of your individual resolution.
So this year, don’t simply make a resolution or intention and sit back and wait for it to come to fruition. Take control of the infinite possibilities, and cultivate the clear and fertile soil of your inner landscape to provide the optimum conditions for you intention to take root.
If you find these techniques helpful, or have suggestions of your own, we would love to hear about it.