Last week was my first week back teaching my yoga classes after the Christmas holidays. I've enjoyed the break but I've been working hard - planning new and good things for Thrive Yoga and for myself and my family. There's something about the beginning of January that makes us clear out, take stock and re-adjust things to help us reach our potential in the coming year. Ah, the possibilities!
But so often we set ourselves really tough goals and Resolutions and then by the end of the month they've fallen by the wayside and we say to ourselves 'well that's that for another year' and carry on just as we were. Sound familiar?
There are some problems with this scenario... firstly we have that nagging feeling that we'll never be able to ..... (insert Resolution whether it's lose weight, learn Spanish, get a new job etc) and that, deep down inside, we aren't quite up to achieving that anyway. Repeated failure to reach our goals confirms this to us and so the cycle continues. Secondly, Resolutions imply that there is something wrong that needs to be 'fixed' and that, if only we could (insert Resolution again), we'd be happy and life would be perfect.
Yoga philosophy teaches us that there is a gentler, kinder way to look at things. The ancient texts tell us of Samskaras - repeated patterns of behaviour or thinking. They are like grooves in a vinyl record and our needle gets stuck and we go round and round, doing the same thing over and over again. Samskaras can be positive patterns, such as cleaning your teeth or having a daily yoga practice, as well as negative self-destructive patterns such as addiction to alcohol for example. Changing these negative Samskaras is possible but first we have to be really honest with ourselves about them. This is the process of inner inquiry that we start to learn on the yoga mat. When going through the postures we ask ourselves "How do I feel in this pose? Why does this feel like this? Why and how does this challenge me mentally and physically?" Through our yoga practice we get to know ourselves a little better.
Once we have looked deep within and recognise our Samskaras we can begin to change them if we want to. We do this by setting intentions, known as Sankalpas. If you regularly go to a yoga class you will probably have set a Sankalpa at the beginning when you ask yourself what you want to learn from your practice or make a promise to take care of your body. This intention helps you plot your course, guides you and keeps you on track as you move through the postures.
We build awareness of ourself and our habits. We start to notice if we tend to turn the toes out in our forward bends and we notice if we get distracted or irritated by something or someone and we gently and kindly ask ourselves why. We shine a light into the darker corners and learn to face what we see with equanimity and without fear. We start to adjust ourselves. We then use our inner fire, our determination and self-discipline to fuel the intention to make the desired change and create a new, positive Samskara.
If we can do this on the mat as we are practicing our yoga then we can do it off the mat in all the other aspects of our life. We know that we have the awareness, the self-love, and the discipline to change our Samskaras and replace them with positive, life-affirming ones.
I love that yoga recognises that we are all human and can easily fall back into our old ways - as the wise and revered Vietnamese monk Thich Nhat Hanh says "No mud, no lotus", meaning that we can't have the beautiful blossom without pushing through the dirty stuff first. Our practice nurtures us and we get back on the mat and try again. And again - pushing through the mud little by little. No criticism, no self-reproach - just a gentle observation and a desire to grow and blossom.
So I wish you a Happy New Year. Set yourself some Sankalpas instead of Resolutions. Be kind to yourself but be set on your course. Grow up towards the light like the lotus and may you blossom and thrive in 2017.
This Week's Recipe... Crispy Garlic Chickpeas
These make a really healthy snack. If you like something crispy and salty these will be better for you than a bag of crisps - they're rich in protein and fibre.
1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed II used a small tin and halved the rest of the ingredients)
1 tbsp olive oil
1 garlic clove crushed
half a teaspoon of sea salt
Fresh ground black pepper, to taste
Half a cup of grated Parmesan cheese
Preheat oven to 200°C, 400°F, Gas mark 6
Spread the chickpeas on some paper towels and pat them dry.
Place the oil, Parmesan cheese, garlic, salt and pepper into a bowl and mix well until you have a crumbly texture.
Add the chickpeas and stir them into the mixture until they are coated.
Spread them onto a baking sheet. Tip - you might like to put them on some parchment paper to stop them sticking and pull them into towards the centre of the baking sheet - the outer ones have a tendency to burn.
Put in the oven for about 25 minutes, turning often, until golden and crispy.
Best eaten fresh.
This Week's Musical Offering... Horizon - a relaxing track from cellist Garth Stevenson's album Flying, perfect to accompany a mellow, gentle yoga practice.
This Week's Video... at the beginning of this new year, is there something that you'd like to do but think you can't? Watch this video of the world's oldest yoga teacher Tao Porchon-Lynch and see if she helps you change your mind....