Tuesday, February 2, 2016

Hello, February


Here we are: February. One month into 2016.

Have you blown your resolutions yet?

Yoga studios always have such a great buzz right around the New Year. Classes are packed and energy's high and people are fired up to get back into their practices, many after a few months away. There's a thrumming hopefulness in the air. 

But I've always liked that late January/early February time a little better: the period some pseudoscientific studies argue is the most depressing time of the year, when the holidays have faded, resolutions have lost their glow, and credit card bills are coming due. It's that grey, cold time when winter sets in and the crowds thin out and some people are already wondering if they should just resign themselves to another year of sweatpants and Netflix, their yoga mats collecting dust in the closet.

Back when I was bartending in grad school, this time of year always amused me, and made me a little sad, all at once. Folks would roll in on January 1st and order iced teas (no sugar) and salads (dressing on the side, no croutons, please). I'd smile and nod and say, "Ok, sure; you got it." By about the third week of January, people were dragging in hungry and exhausted, saying "Ohhh, screw it" and ordering dry martinis and enormous platters of french fries. The strange beast that was Resolution Time faded away, and life behind the bar settled back into its familiar beer-battered rhythm, until the next January circled around.

It was tough to witness people struggling; tough to witness the inevitable crash and burn of such high expectations. Made me feel so tender; so human; so connected.

(And really, who wants to live on iceberg lettuce, anyway?)

Yoga philosophy reminds us that we're brand new every time we take a breath. That in every moment, we get a fresh start, a chance to begin again, to drop all our stories. (You know the ones: I'm schlumpy, I'm a failure, I'm not an athlete, I'll never be able to put my foot behind my head, I'll never fall in love, I'll never get the job I really want, I'll never be able to do an arm balance. You get my drift).

Every inhale, a new beginning.

Every exhale, a chance to let go of what was.

So if you spent the first half of January rocking your resolutions and the second half sprawled on the couch shoving nachos into your face watching Grease Live, then hey. Ok. No big deal. That was then. This is now. And in this breath, in this moment, you get to begin again. Whether it's the new calendar year or the first day of school or some unremarkable morning in June, it's all the same: the first day of the rest of your life.

That said, there are two key instructions you wanna put in your pocket and carry around with you this time of year (and every time of year, to be honest). And they're both totally rooted in your yoga practice.
 
The first? Be gentle. Treat yourself like you would a small child. When you fall out of natarajasana for the 50th time, or you sleep through morning practice after another late night, or wind up at happy hour instead of at the studio unrolling your mat: be gentle. Nobody ever made good, healthy, lasting change by beating himself up. Nobody ever laid the path to consistent success by flogging herself. So be a little kinder. Trust that you're doing the best you can. Give yourself the benefit of the doubt. And just get up, take a deep breath, and get back on the horse. Or the mat. Or the bike.

The second? Be curious. Rather than judging your creaky body or your too-tight pants or your half-assed push-ups, think to yourself: "Isn't that interesting?" These three words can change your life. "Isn't that interesting? I was stressed out and exhausted so I skipped class, went home, slammed a pint of Ben and Jerry's, drank a bottle of wine, and passed out in front of the TV." It's not good. It's not bad. It just IS. You were probably just trying to take care of yourself in the only way you knew how. And when you can look at your life with the lovingkindness and compassion that you'd offer a small child, you're better able to step back from some of your, erm, uglier moments, and say, "Huh, isn't that interesting. I was really trying to take care of myself by (getting bombed) or (avoiding my family) or (staying in bed all day) or (fill-in-the-blank)." 

There's a reason we roll onto our sides after savasana and rest, curled up in the fetal position like little children. It's an embodied reminder that we're starting over. We're childlike, open, light, unburdened, having let go of our old stories, last year's baggage, having unraveled the lifetime of knots in our shoulders and hips with a good, soul-shakin' yoga practice or two.

All those places in your life where you might find a whole lot of harsh self-talk and judgment? Try substituting gentleness and curiosity instead. And remember: you're inherently good. You're inherently whole. It's true! You are. Sometimes we just need one another around to remind ourselves.

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