We all saw a lot of “good riddance to 2016” posts. It was a hard year for many including my family. My husband’s mother was diagnosed with a brain tumor in January and died in June. His father died in August from complications from COPD. Everyone knows that losing loved ones is a major life stressor – it’s been rough for sure.
But this time of year naturally lends itself to feelings of hope and optimism for a fresh start. I started to think about the yogic tools we have used to help us make it through and carry on, and I’ve summarized them here.
Difficult times offer an opportunity for reflection. This yoga practices is called svādhyāya – looking deeply in to the heart of a matter, applying your insight, rationality and intuition, and seeking to bring about a deeper understanding of yourself, your situation, and the world. As my husband’s mother and father became ill and died, part of his grieving process has involved spending a lot of time in svādhyāya – looking deeply into his relationship with his parents and its impact on his life.
It’s also given me an opportunity to reflect on my relationship with my husband – how I show up and how I succeed or struggle with being a supportive partner. Yoga practice and philosophy have helped me to take responsibility for my own life situations, to use compassion when I don’t understand others’ behaviors or attitudes, and to be more mindful of my reactions to people and situations.
Give yourself 15 minutes each day for the next few days, preferably after meditation, to reflect. If you are in a good place, then go into it. Choose the most challenging situation you faced in 2016 and reflect on it (perhaps through journaling). Ask yourself these questions:
- What was the hardest part of that situation?
- How did I get through it?
- What are my resources?
- What could I have done more gracefully?
- How would I like to show up next time I encounter this level of stress?
You can do the second step here as you journal or use it as a separate practice.
Numerous research studies, like this one and this one, have demonstrated the benefits of practicing gratitude.
When I was in India, I met a young yogic renunciate at an ashram. I asked him why he had chosen to study to be a monk. He told me that he felt so full of gratitude that he had been afforded the opportunity to practice so much meditation that he could see no other path for his life than to teach others how to meditate. His face was radiant. Maybe you have had a similar experience with meditation or maybe it’s something else that has filled you with gratitude. We all have numerous reasons – be they people, situations, jobs, relationships, work, material possessions, etc. – that give us meaning, purpose and fulfillment.
Gratitude lists are a great way to start, but I’m a little more interested in the experience of gratitude – how it feels in your body.
Here’s a practice to try: sit comfortably and notice your breath. Then hold that which you feel grateful for in your mind’s eye. Begin to notice how your body feels – your shoulders, your stomach, the muscles in your face when you focus on gratitude. The feeling of gratitude lowers stress and relaxes intrinsic muscle tension in the body. Practice for 2-3 minutes each day after your journaling from #1.
New Year’s Resolutions are great and can be motivating and healing. But commitment or sankalpa is a yoga practice that moves beyond self-talk or cognitive reframing and helps you embody a new way of being. From the two previous practices of reflection and appreciation, allow a sankalpa for this year to arise. Here are some questions which may help:
- What did I learn from my experiences last year?
- What are my strengths and how did I leverage them?
- What values do I want to highlight this year?
Then use present tense language to form a sankalpa. Here are some examples of what I’ve been thinking about after a difficult 2016: “This year my focus is boundaries” and “This year I focus on creating compassionate community.”
Once you have a sankalpa, post it in the comments below. We’d love to know what motivates you and how these practice support your inner work. Then use your sankalpa as an intention during your asana practice over the next couple of weeks. Let your practice help you to embody the spirit and meaning of your sankalpa. Enjoy the process of manifestation.
Happy New Year!