NOW Can We Talk About Resolutions?
Those of you who know me personally, have taken classes with me live, or have read some of my other essays will not be surprised that I have little patience for the latest trend of NOT making new year’s resolutions because you might feel bad when you don’t live up to them. It’s often accompanied by advice to just be kinder to yourself and practice self-care. Wtf?
Ok, here we go… let’s unpack this, shall we? First of all, what is a resolution?
- a firm decision to do or not to do something.
- the quality of being determined or resolute.
Taking the first meaning, “a firm decision to do or not to do something” sounds like the product of self-reflection. In yoga, the fourth Niyama is Svadhyaya, or self-study. This is something we should be doing all the time. It’s true that we should be doing it way more often than just once a year, as we close the door on one year and open the door to the new, but why the heck wouldn’t you take the opportunity to greet the new year with self-reflection and a plan to move forward? Sure, I suppose if you want to get all yogi about it you could time it with solstice, but that’s just quibbling over timing. The suggestion that I read often is that you shouldn’t be making resolutions at all.
Of course you should be making resolutions. If you want to call them by a different name, go ahead. But yes, you should sit down and do a postmortem on the last year. You should study yourself, your behavior, your habits, the way you treated yourself and the way you were with others. What did you do well? There is no better year than 2020, a year like no other, to take a moment to see where your strengths came shining through. Lean in on those. Recognize them so you can call on them in the future. Make a list of things that you absolutely rocked. Then make a list of the things you didn’t rock so much.
For me, I found that one of my qualities that I would ordinarily list as a flaw was a strength in this unique year. In my life, I avoid confronting my emotions, and make big, reckless decisions in lieu of dealing with them. Where many –if not most –people fear change, it is where I’m most comfortable. It’s my go-to. When my father died last February, I was in a prime position to react in some creative (read: self-destructive) way when the virus hit the news and our lives. Everything changed for me. School was now virtual and the kids were home. My husband was also furloughed and home. My beloved yoga studio home shut down. From the outside, it may have looked like turmoil, but it was just enough change to stop me from blowing something up (metaphorically speaking, of course). I was also so happy for all the change that I somehow managed to convince my kids that 2020 was the best year ever.
On the other hand, I found myself lacking compassion for those not adapting as easily as myself. I am usually someone who oozes compassion. I experienced great trauma in my early life, I struggled with drug use, and the subsequent chemical imbalances of anxiety and panic disorder. I have always considered those struggles gifts that have made me patient, empathetic and non-judgmental and compassionate. I’m no better than anyone else. I believe that at my core. But if I’m being honest in my self-reflection, 2020 did not bring out those qualities so much. So, this is an area I will seek to address moving forward.
Resolutions ARE Self-Care
The other issue I take is that making resolutions is somehow not practicing self-care. I think there is a misunderstanding about what self-care is. I’m not saying don’t get a massage, or your nails done, or get away from your kids for the afternoon, but those are very superficial band aids. When I think about self-care- caring for myself- I think about doing things that will bring me closer to my authentic self, to living the life I’m meant to live. Studying yourself, learning about yourself, thinking about the person you want to be, making a plan to get there that includes little steps like resolutions. How could anything be more about self-care than that?
The final issue I take with the “don’t make resolutions” crowd is the fear of failure. What if I make a resolution and I don’t follow through? Then I’ll feel bad about myself. 2020 was already so hard. First of all, if you don’t follow through, so what? You pick up and try again the next day. Let’s say your resolution is eat a salad for lunch 3 times a week because you’ve determined that it’s healthier and more nutrient-rich than the choices you been making. July 14th rolls around it hasn’t happened once. So the fuck what? Tomorrow is another day. Have a salad on July 15th. If you have practiced with me long, you have heard me talk about Abhiyasa and Vairagya, the two main principles upon which yoga is based.
Abhyasa is defined as practise and repetition of practice. “It is the art of learning that which has to be learned through cultivation of disciplined action. This involves long, zealous, calm and persevering effort.” (Iyengar, 1993, p5). Vairagya is renunciation, detachment or dispassion. It “is the art of avoiding that which should be avoided”
The lesson of Abhiyasa and Vairagya: Just keep showing up. For yourself. If you fall, pick yourself up. No judgment. But there will be no progress if there is no effort to begin with. To grow and move forward, you must do the work. You must look at yourself, the good and the bad. You must RESOLVE to move forward. The easiest way to do that? Make resolutions.
Or better yet, commit to a Sankalpa.
Sankalpa is a Sanskrit term in yogic philosophy that refers to a heartfelt desire, a solemn vow, an intention, or a resolve to do something. It is similar to the English concept of a resolution, except that it comes from even deeper within and tends to be an affirmation.
This term comes from the Sanskrit roots san, meaning “a connection with the highest truth,” and kalpa, meaning “vow.” Thus, it translates to denote an affirming resolve to do something or achieve something spiritual.
In yoga, we often commit to a 30-day Sankalpa. Pick something that you want to be a habit (or alternatively, a habit you want to banish) and commit to 30 days. Think of them as mini resolutions, if you want. But it’s every day for 30 days. No excuses. Nothing stops you from your Sankalpa. It is a solemn vow you’ve made for yourself. Wanna go next level? Get cumulative, every 30 days you add one.
Some inspiration on creating your Sankalpa (I’ll list my own within the parenthesis)
1) Something that brings you joy (create art)
2) Something that’s healthy for your body (take a multi-vitamin – why do I find it so hard?)
3) Something that is good for your spiritual self (pray before bed – I’ve lost the habit)
4) Something that is good for your personal relationship (spend five minutes of truly connected conversation with my husband without the distraction of kids, social media, tv, laptop, etc.)
5) Something that is good for your family/children (walk with my boys – we actually have another one that is a resolution instead of a Sankalpa. We’re doing at least 25 family hikes this year. So far, we’ve done 3!)
6) Something for your mind (read at least 30 pages of fiction every night)
7) Something for your yoga practice (hamstring stretches)
Your list could be totally different from mine. I hope it is. I hope it is personal and the result of vigorous Svadhyaya. Happy New Year.