“Let the fairy tale of the New Year
Bring you so much joy and happiness,
That would be enough
For every day of the coming year.”
While sitting on a slow ski lift on New Year’s Eve I asked my beloved, “Did you think that 2016 was a terrible year?” I was curious to know his impressions, since my social media feeds indicated that the people I knew or followed overall felt that 2016 was a whopper of a disappointment.
“No, it was just another year like any other,’ he began, “but the holiday is something like a disappearing act and people like magic tricks”. (For those of you who haven’t met my beloved, he has an uncanny way of observing the world and distilling observations down into a clear and visual way.)
Thus began a long contemplation sparked by a small inquiry on a cold and snowy morning. Had 2016 been so horrible? I began to run over the last 12 months in my overactive brain and overwhelmingly it felt no better and no worse than other years, as I catalogued successes, failures, events and moments. It just felt like, well, a whole year had gone by.
Don’t get me wrong, I could definitely join the bandwagon and gang up on 2016. I could without any guilt at all dramatically proclaim 2016 as “The Year That Yoga Was Revoked” from my future, having been diagnosed with a serious hip injury that has resulted from a structural problem coupled with years of athletics and also attempting to put my feet over the back of my head. As a new yoga studio owner, this turn of events felt somewhat conspiratorial on the part of the Universe. Yet somehow my disappointment and frustration at this plot twist within my life, nor my future hope and inspiration moving forward isn’t tied to the Roman Calendar. What keeps me going is this: abhyasa and vairagya -- the two yoga pillars of practice and detachment.
If you’re thinking “what is this hippy dippy yoga stuff” -- hang on -- I promise, it’s not as nutty as you think and don’t let the Sanskrit words put you off. As you are reading this, I assume you are someone who takes their health & wellness seriously, and so you know that the next couple of weeks at your gym or yoga studio is going to be unusually crowded. According to Statisticbrain.com, 45% of Americans routinely make New Year’s resolutions (the number one resolution being “to lose weight”!) yet only 8% will achieve success in meeting their resolution. Are there methods that are applicable and sustainable then, to embody the hope and enthusiasm of New Year’s Day that could actually produce better results in the long run?
When I began practicing yoga -- and by yoga I primarily refer to yoga asana, the physical poses you shape your body into during a hatha yoga class -- I turned to my usual Type A methodology of “more is better”. As a new student I watched lithe and flexible bodies bend, balance and handstand their way through classes and I made it my goal to be able to do as many of the poses as I could. I dehydrated myself through 2 hot yoga classes per day for almost 2 years, rushed through yoga teacher training and dove into teaching yoga, all while consistently running at least 50 miles per week as a long distance runner.
It was through the practice of teaching asana that then the yoga journey really began for me. I began to “yoga gypsy” around, finding new studios, new teachers and in retrospect I realize I was seeking a deeper wisdom from Yoga, something that would not just make my body strong and limber, but help calm my carnival-themed monkey mind and help my heart to reside in the wellspring of compassion I knew existed deep down within me. I practiced with some stellar asana teachers and discovered not all of them “walk the walk”. I practiced with some teachers whose sequences were not as skillful but could only hold them in high regard upon discovering how genuinely compassionate and loving they were, as though touched by Buddha himself.
It was during this time I began to practice with someone that I will always refer to as “my teacher”: a thin and tall wise man who swore to me that despite his incredible flexibility and calm demeanour, that he used to be an inflexible and anger ridden man before really diving into yoga. In studying with him I digested the Bhagavad Gita, and the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, the latter of which I had only limited exposure (the typical 8 limb overview) during my teacher training. When he first uttered “abhyasa and vairagham” I swear he sounded like Yoda in Star Wars. There was something really comfortable about the lyrical nature of these words that convinced my mind it was time to settle down and really listen, even though the message seemed like a riddle at first.
The concept is this: Effort and Surrender. Practice with commitment, work hard and then as dispassionately as possible, let go of the results. I won’t lie to you, the first time I heard this my workaholic brain had a really hard time with it. What does it mean to work your ass off and then have no expectation to the outcome? As a former scientist who likes to apply equations to everything in life, this one had me a little confused.
That is, until I experienced “THE WORST YEAR EVER” -- the year that I fractured not one but both my ankles, necessitating surgeries and re-learning not once but twice on how to walk, and of course not being able to practice asana. During this time I discovered that yoga is not about the physical form. With the help of my teacher I dove into meditation and learned breathing techniques that not only got my sweat on but I swear brought on sensations of being high as a kite. I began to really practice yoga, in the way that I believe Pattabhi Jois meant when he famously coined the phrase, “Practice and all is coming”. I had no idea what was coming but I knew that the commitment to working hard on myself and just letting go of what would happen in the future was giving me a level of comfort that I had never previously experienced.
If I look back over the last decade and identify where in those years I felt “miserable” or that the year had disappointed me, I see that those moments were wrapped up in expectation, ego-attachment and “control”. When I have gone with the flow, practiced varaigya in terms of mindfully letting go of expectations, I have been met with the most wonderful of surprises, including meeting my beloved who wisely encourages me to “just do you, don’t worry about anything or anyone else”. He doesn’t realize it but his mantra sums up abhyasa and vairagya pretty darned nicely.
As I open the door to 2017 I don’t know what the future holds. Will my surgery be successful? Will I ever be able to enjoy pigeon pose on my left side ever again? Will people still want to practice with me if I cannot demonstrate every asana? Without any answers I walk through the New Year’s threshold committed to doing the work, and letting the current of life take me where it will. Will you join me?