As we all begin to settle into our resolutions of the New Year, whether we hope to lose the holiday pudge that ‘magically’ appeared or to spend more time with our friends and family, I wanted to offer hope to those, who, like myself, may often fail in seeing the resolution to the next month, let alone to the next year.
Stephen Cope, a psychotherapist and a senior teacher at the Kripalu Yoga Center, is the author of some really engaging reads, including the one currently at my bedside: “Wisdom of Yoga: A seeker’s guide to extraordinary living”. I was introduced to Cope through the booklist Indira provided to YTT students, to prepare us for our teacher training. In this book, he uses Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras to shed light on how everyday Westerners can use yoga to reduce suffering. Sadly, simply rocking out in downward dog is not going to get us there!
Cope describes how our brain’s process over 60,000 thoughts/sensations a day. WHOA. What’s even scarier is that most of these thoughts occur on auto-pilot. The ‘witness’ brain does not acknowledge the thoughts, and thus doesn’t have the chance to interrupt our habitual patterns of thoughts and behaviors, our samskaras, that often lead to suffering. The gift of yoga is the ability to begin to train our mind, to become aware of our thoughts and patterns, so that instead of being a victim to them, we can be the conscious rulers of our own lives. When I practice, I still hear PYC YTT instructor Chris challenging me to remain still until I, 1). Recognize and witness the sensations or thoughts behind my desire to move, and 2). Decide if moving is actually what I want to do! Sounds simple, right? However, our mind and bodies are sometimes so used to freedom that reigning in our thoughts is like trying to corral chickens! We sit deep in pigeon and automatically fidget out when it the sensation gets too great, instead of first asking, why are we moving? Out of habit? Laziness? Fear? Or perhaps it is out of self-love? Cope agrees that until we become aware of our own motivations, we will remain captive to our samskaras and suffering.
So this year, empower yourself with yoga! Be armed with awareness against the cravings, aversions, and delusions that lead to your suffering! When you smell the banana muffin, as Cope anecdotally shares, will it end up in your mouth before you knew what hit you? Or will you take a moment to feel craving, or hunger, or boredom, or lust for the banana muffin maker. If our resolutions are to have any success at all, we will need as much awareness as we can muster! Which means, we all have one more resolution –more yoga!— to add to our list!