Happy new year dear reader. I wonder if you have a new year’s resolution. Perhaps like me, you discovered long ago that there’s no point in making resolutions you cannot stick to. Or perhaps you are more optimistic. But the real question is, how do you treat yourself when you do not live up to your resolution. Do you get judgmental and keep criticising yourself? Or are you kind and say never mind to yourself, today was not meant for this and I will do it another day.
I recently heard someone say a wonderful thing. “Maybe you make a resolution for yourself and declare from Jan 1 I will wake up early and meditate. On Jan 1 you do that. And then on Jan 2 you wake up late and feel bad. The next day again you miss your morning meditation and berate yourself. Instead of this, look back at your life and see how many times you made this resolution and made it work even for a day … maybe you have been doing that for that last 50 years … in that case feel happy that you have meditated 50 times in your life.”
It felt very refreshing to have someone feel that even that one day of practice could have value. But we rarely look at it this way. It’s a lot easier to criticise ourselves. I can’t make this simple change. I’m so stupid and foolish and … (freely fill your own favourite adjectives for yourself) becomes a refrain we get comfortable and familiar with. What is difficult is to go easy and just be kind and accepting with yourself instead. What if your internal response could be something like, “Oh I missed my meditation … I guess I really needed that extra sleep. It was a good swap.” It can be more useful to make a suggestion to yourself rather than make a rigid resolution. You could tell yourself that tomorrow I’m going to try and wake earlier and meditate or do some yoga. Then if you don’t manage to, it needn’t feel like you are an utter and complete failure.
Perhaps part of being kind to oneself is about allowing for flexibility. Yoga is about flexibility after all. Swami Sivananda wrote the words “adapt, adjust, accommodate” in his song Serve, Love, Give, Purify, Meditate, Realise, a song about the attitudes and practice of a yogi. He wrote many songs like this, making lists of values one can work on cultivating within. I love the Song of Eighteenities which is a list of 18 virtues someone interested in a spiritual life can work on one by one. These range from serenity and simplicity to equanimity, non-irritability and absence of vanity.
In my yoga practice, I find that treating myself with kindness, understanding and an attitude of flexibility really works well. There are still times when I feel I must ‘get’ a pose, that it has to become perfect, I have to look good in it. But then after a few tries I calm down and accept my body and what I can currently do and focus on how good the asana makes me feel no matter how I may look at the time. By accepting where I am, I am allowing my body to explore the pose freely and in this way I am being flexible, if not in body then at least in my mind – which is more important.
Over the years some asanas have become more difficult (and some easier). Currently I find the plough, halasana, for instance more difficult than I did a few years ago because I have put on weight and I really feel that extra layer of fat getting in the way. Additionally, in the plough I sometimes feel stiff and my back hurts. I am barely able to hold the pose because I feel suffocated. So, if I want to be able to breathe in the plough, I have to keep my feet off the floor, which allows more space for my tummy and my neck feels less constricted and my back is more comfortable too. But it makes me acutely aware of having lost the ability to do the plough the way I could earlier, i.e., to comfortably place my toes down, have my legs perfectly straight and together and be able to breathe comfortably and stay there for long.
So in every practice, I have my reminders of all my imperfections and they could bother me a lot. Until quite recently they certainly did. But now I have been working on going easy with myself. With getting really comfortable with who I am and just allowing myself to be that way. So if that means adjusting my pose or my clothes to get comfortable – I just do that. I try not to be a slave of the weighing scale or the number on the back of my jeans. I try to create a routine for myself, but I am okay with not following it rigidly. I find I am practicing yoga far more now, when I have a relaxed attitude towards my practice than I ever did when I used to make resolutions and promises and tried to impose strict discipline and later felt bad that I could not stick to it.
What I also now do is I draw my attention to all that is good and going well and working in my body and in life too. This includes simply having a body that can get to the mat and to floor level. To be largely pain-free and able to do so much on the mat. To feel light in the headstand despite weight gain. To know how to breathe slowly and feel the blessing in that experience. When I find myself being judgmental, I now find it much easier to switch modes and let go of the hurtful criticism.
And so, this year too, I have not made any resolutions. I already am a work-in-progress and I like to work on myself by making suggestions, enjoying the way I unfold. If there is anything like a resolution, then it probably is simply to everyday do something that sparks my inner joy and peace. And if that doesn’t happen, that’s just fine. There’s always tomorrow!
Photos: Tarini Gautam
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