By Monique Parker, E-RYT
There’s no better time than the New Year to reflect upon our lives and to change habits that no longer represent who we wish to be. This formal expression of resolve or “New Year’s Resolution” is thought to date back to Babylonian times. It is noted that the Romans marked the New Year as a way to take personal inventory and to accomplish their next set of goals. Today, people all over the world continue to use January 1 to declare themselves new.
Whether it’s to lose weight, stop smoking, save money, or start working out, all resolutions have one thing in common. They require us to exercise our free will in order to change our behaviors. Unfortunately, habits run strong, which is why most people who set out to make positive changes in the New Year often give up within the first few weeks or months.
Yoga gives us tools to address the mind’s tendency to self-sabotage. In the Yoga Sutras, the “Bible of yoga”, it states that in order to change behavior and begin the process of personal transformation, we must—regardless of what we want to achieve—get behind our goal 100% and practice steadfast determination. That is, deliberately take action in order to create new habits and reinforce them.
Some say that it takes thirty days to develop a new habit. For many people, thirty days is twenty-nine days too long. Instead of focusing on the entire month, yoga would have us become mindful of what we have agreed to do today. Even if we don’t reap the benefits right away, we still perform the action. We do like the Nike campaign, and “Just do it.”
- The act of doing what we say we are going to do creates a motivating force (it feels good to keep the commitments we’ve made).
- Each time we follow through on a goal, we get better at performing it (like strengthening a muscle we aren’t accustomed to using).
- At some point, we begin to enjoy it (the fruits of our actions begin to outweigh the sacrifices).
Tapas is a Sanskrit word meaning “to cook” or “to burn”, but it also means “the fortitude to bear the discomfort that may arise in keeping our commitments. This “discomfort” can take a myriad of forms, from cutting back on the size of our proportions even if we don’t feel “full”, to going to the gym after a long day of work when we’d rather zone out in front of the television.
Yoga teaches us to physically and mentally resist our tendency to avoid work. We make short-term sacrifices in order to create lasting change. By strengthening our mental backbone, we begin to think and act in ways that are not only healthier, but that help us to step into a newer version of ourselves.
As part of my New Year’s resolution to deepen my yogic studies with my teachers A.G and Indra Mohan and their son, Dr. Ganesh Mohan, I started writing this column on January 1, during my 2-day journey from Taos to Mamallapuram in Southern India. Regrettably, I was unable to finish it while onboard the 15-hour flight between Chicago O’Hare and New Delhi, so I stayed up the first two nights in India in order to make my deadline. True, I sacrificed much needed sleep while persevering through jet lag. But I kept my commitment to myself, to the Taos News, and hopefully, to you, the reader, whose trust I hope to earn by sharing what I know and continue to learn from this time-tested discipline.
It’s now 5:09am. The mosquitoes are biting. The ceiling fan and air conditioning are simultaneously moaning and churning the humid night air. The bathroom toilet is leaking. And my computer battery is about to die. On the positive side, I fulfilled my goal: a column on how yoga deals with resolution. In the process, I got to witness a 115-year old East Indian woman whose grandson was escorting her back to India to live with her 105-year old brother. I shared a simple and delicious vegetarian dinner on a rooftop overlooking the Bay of Bengal with my two best women friends, and I gazed into the heart of a stone carver who has turned his life around from drug and alcohol abuse. Today he owns three shops and teaches others how to chip away at the marble so as to reveal the deity inside each one.
*First published in The Taos News on January 26, 2012