Each month in 2018 I’ll be posting some suggestions to align outlook, inner work and yoga practice with the turning year.
Patience. Watching. Discrimination.
Every time the first day of January rolls around, my body insists that it isn’t time to start a new year yet. I suspect it comes too soon for most of us. We’ve only just finished our annual mid-winter binge, when we eat and drink too much to congratulate ourselves on surviving the darkest days of the year. Most of us are either sick or just recovering from a winter virus. Then, all of a sudden, we’re supposed to burst into life again, new-minted and raring to go.
Right now I’m still in hibernation mode. I haven’t finished exploring the darkest, quietest sector of the yearly cycle. I can feel something deep down beginning to stir, but I’m still soul-searching, asking questions of myself about how I’ve handled the year just past, and what I want from the year to come. It’s a strange, suspended time when life seems to be in limbo, all forward motion on hold.
So I’m offering you an alternative option this month, one that might help you navigate the choppy waters of January: watch, and wait. January 1st is a slightly arbitrary marker, anyway. The Gaelic New Year begins with the festival of Imbolc at the start of February, marking the first day of spring. And the Chinese New Year begins with the first new moon of their lunar calendar – this year, it’s 16th February. If we defer our fresh starts until then, we’ve got another month to gather our strength and prepare to dive into a new year. If that sounds like having my glutinous rice cake and eating it, then so be it!
I don’t like New Year’s resolutions, either. They are too often harsh prohibitions or outlandish targets that set us up to fail. Chances are that many of our big-picture resolutions have already had a wobble by now. Instead, why not use your January soul-search to come up with two or three small, sustainable, everyday habits that would enhance your energy levels or contribute to the good in the world. A big glass of water on waking, or five minutes of calm belly breathing before bed? A small monthly donation or volunteering commitment to the charity of your choice? Taking a reusable cup to the coffee shop, or refilling a water bottle every day instead of buying new plastic ones? Making more time for your yoga practice? Write your intentions down, tell a few people about them, and start practising tomorrow. Remember that a habit takes time to learn. Allow yourself unlimited slip-ups and stumbles while January is here. Make this the month you forgive yourself for falling short, and learn to get back on track faster each time you fall. By February, you’ll be flying.
In the same spirit of compassion, don’t overtax your body this month. Keep your yoga practice nurturing and exploratory, and above all patient.
Keep warm: Don’t let yourself get cold as you practise – it can be a challenge to stay warm when you’re making long, slow movements or sitting in meditation. Try using ujjayi breath to stoke your inner fires. Postures that work the thighs – like chair pose (utkatasana) and horse stance (utkata konasana) – can also really warm up the body.
Look inwards: Whether you practise at home or in a group class, try closing your eyes for a while as you run through a familiar sequence or hold a steady posture. Turning the senses inward (pratyahara) feels particularly sympathetic to this season of hidden potential. While you practise, imagine that all the warmth and life you’ll bring to the coming spring and summer is already here, packed up inside your body like a bulb under the frosty soil, full of energy but patiently waiting for the right conditions to flourish.
Cultivate stillness: Take time to rest and restore after the highs and lows of the busy holiday season. Let the social lull of January usher in the joy of quiet nights in. To help you reconnect and relax this month, I’m offering a free yoga nidra recording on the theme of patience. You can listen here: