Thank goodness this year is almost over, amirite? I know that so many of us want to create as much distance as possible between this fall and ourselves, and having the mark of a different year on our calendars feels significant. But for deeper levels of change in myself and my community to occur, I know that I need to make bigger, yet sustainable steps into the future that I want to see than ritualistically burning my calendar (Kidding. It’s going into my recycling. . .after I tear it apart.)
For many of us in DC, we’re looking at a future that looks to be filled with roadblocks. But the magic of yoga practice is how it carves out spaces for light during dark times – how even on a rough day, it allows us to appreciate the expansion of our intercostal muscles in a side bend; how we can expel a sense of stuck-ness by flowing or holding utkatasana (chair) until we break into beads of sweat; how we can move with a childlike sense of playfulness on our mats. Let’s look to our practice for hope, for space, and as a way to spark our creative fires this year.
Not convinced? Does it feel selfish or fake or impossible to you to remain hopeful that change is possible? I hope that you will find these words from historian Howard Zinn elucidating:
“To be hopeful in bad times is not just foolishly romantic. It is based on the fact that human history is a history not only of cruelty but also of compassion, sacrifice, courage, kindness.
What we choose to emphasize in this complex history will determine our lives. If we see only the worst, it destroys our capacity to do something. If we remember those times and places—and there are so many—where people have behaved magnificently, this gives us the energy to act, and at least the possibility of sending this spinning top of a world in a different direction.
And if we do act, in however small a way, we don’t have to wait for some grand utopian future. The future is an infinite succession of presents, and to live now as we think human beings should live, in defiance of all that is bad around us, is itself a marvelous victory.”
So what changes shall we make in the new year, friends? What can we actually do?
I don’t have all the answers, but I do have a few ideas about actionable intentions and questions to help clarify them, as well as some news about Calmaraderie, the off-the-mat arm of my teaching. Here goes:
1. Answer the why and allow for change – Last year, like many previous years, I vowed to get on my bike more. Like many previous years, I failed miserably. But! When I was reflecting mid-year as to why I was still going nowhere by bike, I clarified why I want to ride more – it’s because I feel pretty guilty about the amount of driving I do. I actually have almost no desire to ride my bike in traffic, or in the dark, or on hills (my list of excuses is near-endless). At this point, I pretty much gave up on biking – instead, I redirected my efforts into walking more of my errand runs, taking the bus, or leaving enough time to walk the mile to the metro when going downtown. I’ll often put my phone on airplane mode and use the time as a series of mini-meditations between stops.
Also, I took concrete steps to address my feeling that I was wasting hours behind the wheel by pushing myself to interview at a studio that is actually close to my apartment (hello Willow Street! I’m teaching there on Thursday and Friday evenings this winter), and to changing my dentist and hair stylist - I'd been going to the same ones for a decade plus, out of habit/intertia/fear of change despite them being nearly clear across the beltway from where I live. I have now survived two teeth cleanings and two haircuts at places that are within walking distance of home or work. So, while I still almost never get on my bike, I’ve made moves to address the root cause (heh heh) of my desire to change.
2. Concentrate on actions, let go of expectations of results – IMHO, too many intentions that I hear are big leaps – they’re vague (“I’m going to: eat healthier. . .turn into a cleaner person. . .be more organized”) or potentially outside of our control (“I’m getting a new job”). These usually need to be filed down into achievable, adult steps. I now make a better effort to get more and more specific about my intentions (“I’m going to try out one new vegetable-based recipe a month, and if I like it, add it to my rotation”) and focus on what I can do (”I’m going to apply to one new job a week”), not on things that are dependent on other people (aka hiring managers).
3. Make it doable – Some people quit things cold turkey, and make huge changes overnight. But I know that I’m an incremental changer, and often need to visualize a change for a while before I make it happen. Does what you want to do seem daunting? Think about it. Examine the places of resistance carefully, and work on workarounds. It might feel like the things you can do now are small (“I’m going to look up vegetable-based recipes”/ “I’m going to work on one section of my resume this week”), but a step of any size is one that takes you forward.
4. Make it bigger than yourself – One of the reasons I’ve been able to stick to intentions of keeping up my home practice is that I find that when I make time to be with myself and my thoughts, I’m better able to peaceably navigate my relationships with others, and less likely to ignore important things that my gut tells me. Will you be more likely to stick with intentions if they positively influence the environment and those around you? Or perhaps you’d like to dedicate more of your intentions this year towards helping others more directly? That's the direction I'm headed with Calmaraderie. On Monday, January 16 (MLK day), we'll meet at A Wider Circle in Silver Spring to organize household items for local families in need, and you can also join in practice at Blue Heron beforehand, with donations going to AWC.
5. You don’t have to go it alone – I’m fortunate that I’ve been able to carve out space and time for a home yoga practice, but I still attend at least one group class a week – I rarely go for a full hour on my own at home, and being around other people sometimes makes me push myself, and sometimes invites me to soften. Just the sound of other yogis’ breath reminds me that I’m not alone. When I stick to regular group practice, it actually makes my home practice stronger. And I'm much more likely to engage in healthy habits and use kind speech when I make an effort to surround myself with people with similar goals. Even if your intention requires you to do work on your own, are there parts of that work that you can do alongside others?
I hope that no matter what you do and what 2017 brings, you can meet yourself with acceptance and kindness. I also hope you love this change-oriented playlist:
all my love,