So, here we are at another New Year. For most of us, it is a time of reflections and resolutions… a moment to look back at the year behind us – the challenges, victories, missteps, and lessons. And gaze into the year ahead – identify opportunities for positive change, reassess our goals and priorities, and imagine what we might become. Although it is an arbitrary moment on a man-made calendar, New Years Day is considered a reset point. After the year we’ve had, it certainly feels like a poignant moment of possibility and optimism…and a much needed return to hope.
Unfortunately, we’re not going to wake up on January 1st to find the pandemic eradicated, or the economy fully recovered, but as we turn the page on another year, the possibilities seem closer somehow. It is the perfect moment to explore the first teaching of the Patanjali Yoga Sutra. Atha Yoga Anushasanam– Now the process of yoga is explained (PYS 1.1). The 196 sacred seeds of yoga wisdom open with an invitation. I like to translate this sutra “And now the yoga begins again…” The very first word “Atha” or “Now”, is a prayer found at the beginning of many spiritual texts. It indicates an auspicious moment of readiness, a continuation, a next step, a fresh start. This first sutra rolls out the red carpet for anyone interested in following along with the teachings, right now, regardless of whether we have explored them before. No beginning takes place in a vacuum, but rather follows that which has led up to it. We can choose more of the same, or move towards a pivot or reversal. Even the tiniest shift can lead to great change down the line. Imagine you are preparing to walk a hundred miles. If you turn even one degree to the right or left as you start out, you will end up somewhere very different at the end of your journey. Atha is a ripe opportunity to move in the direction of a more authentic and peaceful future.
Whether or not we’re aware of it, we are constantly shaping our future. Our thoughts are the architects of our actions. Our actions are the building blocks for our experiences. Yoga teaches us to familiarize ourselves with the thoughts that drive us, so we can decide which ones align with the future we desire. When we put in the work to uncover our unconscious triggers and biases, we stop reacting and lashing out in ways that damage our relationships and wound our sense of self. As we clear away the cobwebs of our unexamined beliefs, we begin to move through the world with clarity, and learn to avoid kneejerk reactions that can lead to unnecessary suffering. Yoga is a tool for cultivating peace, and a time tested method for reuniting with source. The yoga path is always there, just waiting for us to take a step. How wonderful that we don’t have to wait another 365 days to begin again! The possibility for the smallest shift in behavior, thought patterns, or perspective is available any time. We can recommit again and again…
Every Practice – “As I set my intention and chant “Om” to plug into universal assistance, I listen to what my body is asking for, prioritize my breath, remain on the lookout for self-criticism, and cultivate gratitude for all of my blessings.”
Every Asana – “I focus on my own practice with honesty and curiosity. I build this pose from the ground up, with loving attention to detail, mindful of where I am pushing too hard or holding back out of fear.”
Every Interaction – “I remain open, patient, and compassionate. I understand that everyone is battling demons I cannot see. I seek out the best in everyone, and excuse any unkindness as a manifestation of unattended pain or fear.”
Every Breath – “I draw this breath deep into the places of tension in my body, pause in fullness, and invite release. I let this breathe go with faith, and surrender into the emptiness that follows…confident that the next breath will come”
Every Moment – “I choose to stay present, accepting the reality of this moment. I investigate my inner landscape, and recognize the urge to react. I pause & consider the most appropriate and loving response.”
Yoga teaches us that we always have a choice in how we meet each moment. Every second we are alive is another opportunity to choose love, peace, kindness, forgiveness, tolerance, patience, and acceptance. Even if we have never made those choices before. The past is behind us, and the future lies ahead. The direction we face NOW determines where we will end up.