This month’s series is aptly named “January Journeys” because it is so much about the process of getting there and less about the final destination.  As the new year approached, many of us thought about Resolutions, the industry standard on what we can do better.  Trying to change old ways, pursue goals whether they are physical, job-related, or in our relationships, etc.  are the usual ways to set a Resolution.  When you have a quiet moment or two, sit down with your journal and think about a few of these questions.  This process may help lead you to setting an intention or a Sankalpa for this new year (even 13 days into it).  I’ve added an article on Sankalpa which is a helpful guide to setting one.

Journal Questions

In what ways am I hibernating, turning inward, and resting at this time? 
What new insight am I looking for to guide me into the coming year?  
What’s being born in me during this dark season that needs to be sheltered and nurtured to be brought forth in the coming spring?
What positive changes have you made this past year and what are some of the changes still left to be made?

The Breath
Three Part Breath or Dirga Pranayama
This is one of my favorite breaths because I can actually feel the movement of the breath through my body, like a “hands on”.  This brings greater breath awareness and it is considered a “complete” breath where the entire lungs are filled up.  I use it to calm me down, center, become more in tune with my physical body.

Can be done either laying down, seated or standing.  Try all three positions.   
Begin the first part of the breath by placing hands on your belly, inhaling long and deep to that area. Feel the abdomen press against your palm and fingers with inhale and belly deflate with the exhale.  Stay for about 5 breaths before moving onto the second part.   Now move right hand to left side of rib cage and left hand to right side of rib cage, crossing arms in front of you.  Breathe deeply into belly, then into mid-section rib cage area.  Feel the ribs slightly separate from each other with the inhale. Exhale from mid-section and then belly. Feel ribs move back in place with the exhale. Stay for about 5 breaths.  Slide hands to under the armpits (like you are hiking up your overalls).  Breathe in deep to first part, second part and finally to upper chest.  Feel chest expand outward and a slight lift.  Exhaling from top to bottom.  Stay for about 5 breaths.   The breath may be so deep and full that the complete breath may even be felt to the base of the skull.

The Poses

Mountain Brook Pose

Props: bolster, 2-3 blankets, block, neck roll, eye pillow
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 one!), 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 the bolster will your knees will be, one blanket rolled up where the bra line is (base of scapula), a block for the feet or the heels can come to the floor and a neck roll for the cervical spine.  Shoulders rest on the floor, arms to side with palms facing up.  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.

Sublime Side Lean Stretch

Props: bolster or 2 or 3 pillows or blankets
Benefits: Stretches the torso and provides a gentle twist which allows a release in tension in the lower back area.

Place bolster or the 2 or 3 blankets or pillows horizontally on your mat or floor. Lie on right side with hip at the base of the blankets or pillows.  Torso should rest on the stack.  Right arm rest on the floor with the palm up.  The left arm can reach over the head to increase the stretch.  Close your eyes and allow your body to relax and release any stress or tension. Slowly sit up and switch sides for the same amount of time.
Focus on your breath.  Breath into your right side allowing that gentle stretch to travel from the tip of your fingers down your lower spine.  Sense the left side of your body gently melting and surrendering to the ground beneath you.  All tension and stress being recycled by mother earth.  Sense the gentle letting go of your muscles and knowing that you are safe and supported.  Breath deep and exhale soft and long.

Legs up the Wall Variation (On bolster, crossed legs)

Legs up the Wall Version

Props: 1 bolster, 2 blocks, 4 blankets, neck roll
Benefits: increases circulation and helps venous and lymphatic flow from the lower body; relieves swelling and fatigue in the legs; helps relieve muscular skeletal stress in pelvis; quiets the mind and can help promote ease in meditation and sleep

Lie on your back with your calves and feet supported by the bolster and/or blocks and blankets.  Legs can cross in Lotus, resting knees on bolster. Knees should be at a 90 degree angle.  Place a blanket across the pelvis to help release tension and assist that area in feeling grounded. Rest arms by your side or in Goddess, as shown in photo, palms facing up or down. If facing up, place weighted eye pillow or small stuffed animals in the open palms to encourage relaxation. Place a folded blanket under your head and neck roll at cervical spine. If shoulders do not rest on the floor, place a blanket there to allow shoulders to feel comfortable and not like your are holding them up. A blanket may be placed in the lumbar curve for comfort. 

Give your New Year’s resolutions a yogic twist—set an intention and infuse the new year with positive change.
By Catherine Guthrie

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.
Sankalpa Setting

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

Resolve to Evolve, Yoga Journal
Catherine Guthrie is a health writer and yoga teacher in Bloomington, Indiana. Find her