It’s the baby New Year, a classic time for many of us to create space in our lives for resolutions to help us improve, change what no longer works and live within alignment of our deepest desires. The dawn of the New Year is a powerful juncture for setting intentions, as it psychologically marks the release of the past and can give a sense of beginning a new chapter.
Why, then, do so many resolutions fall to the wayside, usually by the end of January? By next year, most of us will have forgotten exactly what it is we wanted to resolve – or to grow – within ourselves.
The yogis had both a practical and mystical approach to resolutions, intentions and success. Not only does the yogi resolve to adjust the diet or the lifestyle the way so many of us do come January 1st. A yogic approach to New Year’s resolutions engages you in conscious daily practice and commitment to evolution – in mind, body, spirit and beyond.
An example could be cutting back on excessive meat consumption, not just for your heart health and waistline, but to reduce the suffering of animals and the environmental effects on the planet. As I support the liberation of others (in this sense, the animals, the water, the land, the air and energy), I support my own liberation from my involvement in that suffering and the possible negative effects on my health and my consciousness. *Eating meat is just one of many dietary examples.
The notion in the yoga philosophy can be seen in the word karma, which loosely translates to that which I do affects me and the world.
In the Buddhist approach to practice, there is a tradition of offering the merits of one’s individual actions toward the evolution of all beings and the planet. In the Vedas, the yogi surrenders the attachment to the fruits of his actions to the Divine.
In other words, while striving to observe certain behaviors and to restrict certain behaviors, the yogi does not lose sight of the grander goal of remembering one’s own Divinity and the Divine thread to all things in existence.
One of the great heroes of the The Ramayana, Hanuman, demonstrates the power of action that comes from a love and devotion to something greater than oneself. In this epic story, the monkey god is celebrated for the great leaps he makes – literally and figuratively – in his one-pointed devotion to serving Sita and Rama.
When Hanuman is reminded of his strength, power and capabilities, he is empowered and inspired, and, as the story goes, grows larger than life to accept the great challenges that lay before him with devotion and courage.
The practice of yoga helps us remember our true self, who we are beneath our sensations, thoughts, feelings and impressions. Remembering the Divine spark of our own be-ing can spread like wildfire in our consciousness, and help us to remember the Divine light in everything. And, like Hanuman, we can approach our obstacles, challenges and resolutions to change with a guiding sense of service to something larger than ourselves, such as love or liberation; we can be encouraged and inspired by remembering our own power and strength.
This month, as you practice, try incorporating two big stretches:
Hanumanasana, the splits. You may use a few modified approaches to help work with tightness in the hips and hamstrings.
Resolve to Evolve for the benefit of all beings and the planet. Say this mantra (or a version that works for you) before you practice, during your practice and at the end of your practice. Often we use our practices to “get somewhere”, but as you invoke the qualities of Hanuman – love, devotion, great strength and courage – your practice and all your moments can be moments of true self-realization and grace.
Warm up in your practice with standing poses and lunges.
Begin in Downward-facing Dog pose. Step one foot forward into Lunge. Lower your back knee to the ground.
Place a bolster horizontally on your mat just beneath your pelvis. From Lunge, place both hands on either end of the bolster. Slide your back leg back and walk your front foot forward to straighten both legs. Dorsiflex your front foot, push through the heel and draw your toes back toward your chest.
Press down into the bolster or blocks and lift up strongly through your pelvic floor, your low belly and your sternum.
Draw the hip of your back leg forward and your front hip back to bring evenness to the pelvis. Lift the inner thigh of your back leg to help internally spiral your thigh. Press down through the inner thigh of your front leg and reach strongly through the heel, ball mounds of the toes and inner ankle of your front foot.
Lengthen from your tail to your crown. Lengthen and expand your breath, weaving it deeply into the tissues of the pelvis, hips and legs and spreading the sensation throughout your entire body.
As you gain more flexibility in your legs and hips, try Hanumanasana without the bolster. Place two blocks beneath your hands to either side of your hips and work your legs strongly. You can alternate which leg you place the emphasis on by moving the torso. If your hip flexors and quadriceps are tight, keep your torso level and draw your weight straight down through your hips. If the hamstrings are tighter, lean forward to give a little extra weight to help open the back of the front leg.
When the pelvis is resting on the floor (or the bolster), bring your hands together at the heart. Soften or close your eyes and remember your mantra, “I resolve to evolve for the benefit of all beings everywhere”, or your own version of what rings true for you.
For a final stretch and surrender, reach up and back through your spine toward a backbend. Work your legs with subtle effort, maintaining that balanced center in your pelvis as you lift and spread the front chest and reach strongly through your fingers.
Then fold forward over the front leg and stay for a few rounds of breath and another moment of release.
Lift your torso, place both hands on the floor, blocks or bolster, draw your core in and step back to Downward-Facing Dog pose before practicing the second side.
Chrisandra Fox teaches the time-honored practice of being present in weekly classes at Yoga Tree workshops, teacher trainings and retreats. Click here for her schedule. She is a core teacher in Yoga Tree’s 200-hour Teacher Training and leads the Heart of Renewal Retreats. Chrisandra@gmail.com
Photography by Jasper Trout