The way that we have organized the end of the year -- and by we I mean Americans -- is funny and crazy and so endearingly American.
We create all this stress around Christmas. rushing to buy each other stuff and becoming furious at other drivers in the parking lot of Target. We feel overwhelmed because there is too much to do.
On the 25th, we drive to four different family members houses, eating too much, not digesting any of it well, and feeling guilty for not spending enough time anywhere.
Then, hungover from cookies and wine, we go back to work for a few days before New Years. Meanwhile at home, overwhelmed by the clutter from Christmas presents, we purge and pack up boxes of our old stuff to Goodwill.
When January 1st comes, the desire for a fresh start, for a tidy home, for a happy gut, for a thinner body, is so strong that we want just want to forget about the last week of 2019. We crave a fresh start so badly that we leave the last year behind without saying a proper goodbye. Without getting closure.
We skip saying goodbye to what has been. We don't look back on the amazing path we have traveled in the past year. We don't give ourselves the opportunity to discern what we should let go and what we should keep carrying.
One of my yoga teachers at Kripalu, Coby Kozlowski, says there is this idea that gets passed around in the yoga world that attachment to anything is bad, and that all desire is problematic. But it’s not. The problem comes when you are attached to a season that has run its course.
Non-attachment made sense for monks who were learning yoga because they really were trying to leave everything behind. But for us householders, yoga has a different purpose. Yoga gives us the discernment and the skill to move through the seasons of life, and to feel each part of the transitions. Beginnings. Middles. Ends.
In 2019, how can you stay present with the ending?
Take a quiet afternoon. Put on some music. Light a candle. Review what has happened in 2019. What was wonderful? What was so hard? What did you learn? How are you wiser? Where did you avoid growing?
You could also come to workshop I am teaching called New Year Nidra: Intentions and Visions at Shanti Yoga (South City) on Saturday, January 4, 4 to 6 pm.
The theme of the week is tapas. No, not small portions of Spanish cuisine. I am talking about the Indian kind of tapas. (Don’t even get me started on small plates! It’s always the same price as an entree, and the waiter is like, “We recommend getting 2 or 3 per person.” Plus then you are worried you are eating more than your share...I just want a plate to myself!)
Tapas is one of yoga’s ethical guidelines known as the yamas. It’s a Sanskrit word that translates to “heat” or “fire.” Tapas is the discipline of doing the things that move you toward positive transformation. Beyond that, tapas is doing those things even when it is hard, even when you don’t want to, even when there is discomfort and sacrifice.
The basic idea is that growth can feel good and satisfying, but it can also feel really uncomfortable. Whenever you start to change, there is a part of you that pulls you back, that makes excuses, that tries to talk you into staying in bed. Tapas asks us to stay with the discomfort, rather than choosing the option that will make it go away the fastests, and to choose not to listen to the limiting voice.
Think of the scenario in If You Give A Moose a Muffin.
You make a commitment to practice yoga every single morning for 30 minutes and spend 30 more minutes journaling.
You choose to do that because you want to live a meaningful, purposeful life built on your deepest values.
Which means you need to spend time grounding, reflecting, and setting your priorities.
So, in order to do that hour-long practice, you have to wake up an hour earlier than normal.
In order for that to be sustainable, you have go to bed earlier and get better quality sleep.
In order to do that, you have to cut out the habits that are least supportive. The weakest links—like watching that extra episode of Netflix, endlessly scrolling down your Instagram feed, or having another drink—have to go. The things you eat that make getting out of bed in the morning harder—also have to go if you are really committed.
It’s hard!! Many days you don’t want to keep your commitment. But that friction, the discomfort in doing-it-anyway is the magic spark that creates the transformative fire of tapas.
If you keep it up for long enough, say a couple months, you will notice a change for the better in your body, your mind, and your life.
Start with what is important to you. How do you want to live this one, precious life on planet Earth. What practices or habits will help you align your actions, thoughts, and words toward that aim? Commit to doing something, anything, even 5 minutes, everyday that supports you. Stick with it. Feel the friction! Let it spark into a fire, and the let the fire transform.
...but I haven't been doing a consistent morning home practice for three months. Yikes, has it really been that long? At first I typed, "one month." Then, I deleted it and retyped, "two months." Then, I realized it is mid-December, and it is seriously taking all my honesty and vulnerability to admit the truth, and keep "three months." Three months is my longest hiatus in years, and as a yoga teacher I feel hypocritical and guilty.
Not to say that I haven't been doing yoga at all. That would be impossible. Each week, I spend hours planning classes, and I usually attend one or two at the studio. I do videos on Yoga Glo and Yoga International to get fresh ideas. But all of that feels like work in service of my students, not my own time to feel grounded, to gain perspective, and to set intentions for the day.
And it's also not to say that have been eating Cool Ranch Doritos and watching the Simpsons in the morning. In September, I wrote stream-of-consciousness for thirty minutes every day. In October, I ran. In November...okay fine! In November I ate Doritos every day and watched blooper reels on YouTube!! And every night I write down what I am grateful for.
But it's not the same as a regular yoga + breathing + contemplation practice.
Students sometimes ask me for advice on sticking with a home practice, and I tell them what I'm telling myself now:
If you have also been on a hiatus from your spiritual practice, I invite you to join me for the next 30 days. It is the perfect time of year to pray, to meditate, to remember your compassion, to slow down, to prepare your heart for the holidays.
This is the morning routine I am committing to, based on years of figuring out what works best for me, how much time I can realistically spend in the morning right now, and what sounds good! I have my journal, a good pen, a time, my mat, and a blanket all set up from me the night before. I will commit to everyday, but if I miss one day, I will be sure not to miss the next.
Morning Routine Refresh
Remember that it's okay for life to go through cycles and seasons. Sometimes I am hardcore practicing on my mat an hour every morning. Sometimes I am wiping the Doritos dust from my face before Dan sees. But for me (and maybe for you) the season is calling me to return to a simple, consistent spiritual practice.