Yoga, Strength, and the New Year's Resolution

It is the time of year when many people are working to stick to resolutions and maintain personal growth for the year ahead. Commitment to your goals is not always easy, and there will be moments of challenge and temptation where you might feel like giving in and reverting to old ways. We all struggle with these moments, but if you have a clear concept of where your strength comes from, you will be ready to face obstacles with a sense of power and determination.

So, where do we find this strength in times of weakness?

Let’s begin by reflecting on the past year. Make a mental list, or jot some thoughts down, of the things you are thankful for in the past year. Notice that some of the things you may not have been initially thankful for, such as losing a job or going through a difficult break up, may be the things that you ended up being most thankful for. Change is difficult, no doubt, and no matter how much we try to deny it, life involves suffering. The best we can do is to keep coming back to the moment, breathe ourselves through just this moment, and then keep breathing through to the next moment, knowing at some point, the going will get easier. You may even want to post a copy of this list on your refrigerator or bathroom mirror so that each morning you remember what you are thankful for before you start your day.

Now, the next question is this: How do we get through the moment without breaking down and giving up? Let’s approach this question from a yoga pose perspective. I often hear people tell me that they could never do yoga because they aren’t flexible. The poses are meant to gradually increase your flexibility, not force yourself into the pose on the first try. While in a pose we practice being present by focusing on the sound and depth of our breath, resting our eyes in one place and engaging our core muscles to stay centered and balanced. All of these seemingly physical techniques draw our minds to a place of stillness so that we can just be in the pose without our inner critic starting to babble. We learn to find a place in the pose where we balance sthira and sukha, comfort and effort. When we take this practice off our mats we find that in times of stress we can stay calm and focused so we can make better decisions aligned with our beliefs. So, in the same way we learn to remain in a yoga pose and breathe, try to gradually increase your mental flexibility as you hold your state of mind in the present moment, and breathe right into the next, noticing how your anxiety dissolves and you find a clear mind with which to react from.

Your yoga practice offers many ways to strengthen your body as well as your beliefs. Your practice also offers ways you can find more compassion for yourself and others. Now is the perfect time to clear out old ways of thinking, and maybe even the old ways of exercising! Consider adding a few new poses to your regular morning routine and give yourself time to breathe and notice the positive changes these techniques can add to your life.

Try the pose below for inner focus and stability, as well to stretch and strengthen the body.

Natarajasana: Dancers or Natarajas Pose - Begin by standing about an arms length away from a wall. Place your fingertips on the wall to steady yourself and hold your right ankle with your right hand. Breathe here for a moment while you straighten your spine and find balance by lifting your chest to keep your spine tall. Gently begin to press your foot into your hand so that your heel moves away from your buttocks and you get an easy stretch in the front of your right shoulder. Then, remember to lift your chest again, pause and breathe. Each time try to push your foot into your hand a little bit more, lift your chest, keep your gaze forward rather than down at the floor, and breathe. With practice you will be able to start to take the fingertips away from the wall and eventually move away from the wall completely. This pose combines leg and foot strengthening, a thigh stretch, shoulder stretch, twist and inner focus to find the stability needed to maintain balance.