Welcome to the New Year 2014. I have always loved an even-numbered year, embraced the 2’s, the 4’s, the 6’s and so on of the various decades of my life. But I didn’t have the time of day for the uneven-numbered years. It is just that I love things that are even keel; numbers, family, work, money, life. But what yoga has taught me is to embrace, the uneven, the slightly off balance. We may call it the dark and the light and what lies in between – the true self. I know through age and wisdom now that I need both – to be rocked off my horse and the mundane. Here’s to what rocks your world in this new year – Salut!
Setting your Sankalpa (Intention)
Give your New Year’s resolutions a yogic twist—set an intention and infuse the new year with positive change.
A new year’s resolution is a noteworthy concept—start off the year with a change for the better. So how did it devolve into a subconscious exercise in self-loathing? Lose 10 pounds! (Message to self: You’re fat.) Stop drinking caffeine! (You’re unhealthy.) Call Mom and Dad once a week! (You’re ungrateful.) Why not celebrate this new year by trading in your tired (and probably familiar) resolutions for a sankalpa instead?
POSITIVE POWER A Sanskrit word, sankalpa means “will, purpose, or determination.” To make a sankalpa is to set an intention—it’s like a New Year’s resolution with a yogic twist. While a resolution often zeros in on a perceived negative aspect of ourselves (as in, “I want to lose weight, so no more chocolate chip cookies or ice cream or cheese”), a sankalpa explores what’s behind the thought or feeling (“I crave chocolate chip cookies or ice cream or cheese when I’m feeling stressed or sad. I will set an intention to become conscious of this craving and allow my feelings to arise and pass, rather than fill up on fats”).
EFFORT COUNTS A sankalpa also praises the nobility of the effort rather than focusing on what you are doing wrong. “New Year’s resolutions leave me feeling guilty and mad at myself for not keeping them,” says Wendy McClellan, a yoga teacher in Louisville, Kentucky. So, last year, in a conscious effort to reject the resolution rut, she taught a special New Year’s Eve yoga class and encouraged students to look back and let go. Her intention, or sankalpa? To open her heart to new possibilities. “An intention has much more of a global sense than a resolution,” she says. “It helps me be softer with myself.” With a sankalpa, the self-loathing that comes from dwelling on past transgressions can begin to dissolve. In its place is an exercise in effort and surrender—create an intention and open yourself to the universe.
LOOK INWARD For several days, set aside time to write in a journal and meditate. Mull over your typical resolutions. How do they make you feel? Anxious? Unsettled? Incomplete? Now contemplate how you would like to feel during the coming year. Is there any way you can reframe your results-oriented resolutions into something that will make this year’s journey more joyful and worthwhile?
REPHRASE IT Create a short sentence or phrase for your sankalpa. Be careful not to set limitations based on fear. For example, instead of “May life bring me only happiness and joy this year” consider “May I be happy and open to what life brings me.”
BE FIRM BUT FAIR Change doesn’t happen overnight. When you stray from the essence of your sankalpa, don’t berate yourself. Instead, gently remind yourself of your intention. But be firm in your resolve—it’s a good idea to incorporate your sankalpa into yoru daily routine. Use it as a mantra during pranayama or meditation practice; post it on your computer, phone, or mirror; or simply say it to yourself quietly before going to sleep. —C.G
Catherine Guthrie is a writer and yoga teacher in Louisville, Kentucky, and a regular contributor to Yoga Journal.
Passive Back Arch
Props: 2 blankets tri-folded lengthwise (for a less-opening stretch, go with 1 blanket)
Benefits: helps open chest and abdomen, encouraging deeper breathing and oxygenation. Abdominal organs are stimulated as well as circulation. Aids in depression
Place one folded blanket lengthwise on your mat and 2nd blanket over the first one. The end where your head will go may be flipped under to create a head and neck support. Sit at fringe end of blanket, sacrum at edge and lower down onto blankets. Arms can be straight out to the sides, hands at belly or for a shoulder opener, 90 deg. angle (Goddess arms) at either side. Stay for 5- 15 minutes, breathing a 3-Part breath.
Mountain Brook or Fish Pose
Props: 2-3 blankets, neck roll, one bolsters
Benefits: counteracts the slumped position of our posture from sitting, computer use, driving, everyday activities. Opens the chest to help breathe easier. Improves digestion, reduces fatigue and can lift your mood.
Just like a babbling brook with boulders (soft ones!), imagine your body like the soft rushing waters laying over those boulders, smooth, flowing. It will allow the natural curves of the body to be held up gently and the breath to flow.
On your mat, place one bolster where your knees will be and another where your lower legs can rest, one blanket rolled up where the bra line is (base of scapula), and a neck roll for the cervical spine. Shoulders rest on the floor, arms to side with palms facing up or come into Goddess arms. If ankles need support, use rolled-up blanket or dish towel. Eye pillows can lightly rest on eyes or even be used on forehead (useful for headaches) or even on shoulders (wherever you need to release tension). To begin with stay in pose for 10 minutes working up to 20 minutes. Great to use in savasana. Feel the heart open, the strain from holding yourself up all day evaporate.
Variations: Feeling cranky in the lumbar spine? Place blanket to fill the curves. Want to feel more grounded while still opening the heart? Place rolled up blanket against wall and soles of feet touching blanket. Need to feel cuddled? Swaddle your head in a blanket cradle.
Heart Opener Version (Fish Pose) – same set up as above but add two blanket rolls to upper back from shoulder blades down to below bra line for a deeper chest opener. Shoulders drip off of the blanket and arms come to a “T” in the gulley between head and chest. The hips may be slightly buoyant as they feel lifted off of the floor. A pillow may be needed for the head to keep the neck aligned as well. We added goddess arms on blocks for a shoulder opener.
Revolved Abdominal Twist
Props: bolster, 3 blankets, 1 extra blanket for warmth and or laying on lower back to ground
Benefits: Gentle twist for the spine (quadratus lumborom) Releases stress on the back muscles and a stretch to the intercostal muscles. As muscles relax, breathing is enhanced.
Set one bolster lengthwise on your mat. Depending upon your comfort, height can be elevated with blocks under bolster. Lay one blanket on top double-fold and one double-fold at end of bolster where your right hip will go. Sit next to bolster with your right hip touching it, bend knees, left or top ankle can lay in arch of right foot or other comfortable position for feet. For added comfort, place blanket between legs. Lengthen body over bolster, laying bent legs in one directions and upper body facing down on bolster. Arms drape down sides of the bolster.
Reclined Bound Angle
Benefits: opens the hips and groin facilitating blood and energy flow to the urinary tract and reproductive organs. Opens the chest and abdomen benefiting breathing problems.
Props: bolster, 4 blocks (or firm cushions, pillows or rolled-up blankets), 4 blankets and one extra blanket for warmth, strap and eye pillow
Place a block lengthwise under one end of a bolster to prop it up on an incline, add another block under bolster for stability. We used the wall in this week’s class placing the bolster at a higher elevation. Place a double-fold blanket on floor next to low end of bolster and a long rolled blanket on top next to bolster (for sacral support). Sit with your back to the short, low end of the bolster. Place two blocks where your knees will rest (can top with a soft blanket or use other props as necessary for propping knees) Bring your legs into Bound Angle Pose with the soles of your feet together. Wrap a blanket around your feet to create a feeling of containment. Lie back on the bolster. Place supports under your arms so that they are not dangling and there is no feeling of stretch in the chest. Stay in the pose for 10 to 15 minutes.