As we enter a new year it’s the perfect time to reflect upon the past 12 months to take stock of those areas of our lives where we want to achieve greater balance. To do this we need a quiet, honest review of our current lifestyle but even then it's not easy to implement change.
When it comes to New Year’s resolutions, we’ve all tried them, but they rarely last even until the end of January. It's usually because we’ve set unrealistic goals or we’re not as committed as we think to establishing new habits, despite our best intentions.
Sankalpa – Planting a Seed
In yogic terms, an intention or resolve is called Sankalpa. It’s like planting a seed. In order to make our seed grow we need to add water regularly and in the case of Sankalpa, water is awareness.
In order to make your Sankalpa or intention more powerful, it should have real heart and meaning for you. It should also be positive and simple and the more simple and broad the better so it can be invited to manifest in different areas of your life.
When reflecting on your Sankalpa it’s helpful to think about the origin of the desire for change. If it has sprung from a belief that you’re not already good enough as you are, it will reinforce these false beliefs. On the other hand, Sankalpa comes from the wisdom of the heart, as a statement of fact supporting the highest truth of who you are, accepting that you already contain within you all that you need and the tools to do it.
Sankalpa will help direct you to becoming the best version of yourself and to make choices which support your highest self. Your Sankalpa is stated in the present tense as if the thing we are seeking to do or be is already happening. Rather than stating “I want to be more patient with my family” your Sankalpa might be “I am patient and positive in my outlook and disposition.”
If you’re not sure where to start, your Sankalpa can simply be the intention to be kind to yourself at all times. This is called Metta or compassion. Before we can offer Metta to others we have to be able to fully offer compassion to ourselves. Wellbeing truly starts at home and, once you’ve chosen your Sankalpa, stick with it to strengthen the resolve.
As for relaxation, many people think that spending time looking at social media or engaging in numbing behaviours such as drinking or recreational drugs equates to relaxation but this is false.
New Year’s Resolutions Never Stick!
The success or failure of our New Year's resolutions depends largely on our state of mind. To make our mind into fertile grounds we need to be in a receptive state.
During our day-to-day lives the brain mostly operates in Beta waves which are helpful for habitual tasks and conditioned behaviour, but it's not a helpful state for adopting new habits.
The brain is far more receptive when Alpha, Theta and Delta waves are functioning, so how do we induce this state of mind and use it to help us? The answer lies in focused relaxation and meditation, altered states where we can achieve neuroplasticity to change established neural pathways and habits.
How do we create new neural pathways and adopt new habits?
It sounds complicated but in reality it simply means getting quiet and focussed, learning to listen and feel what’s going on inside on different levels: physically, energetically and emotionally.
Meditation or relaxation create the optimum conditions for adopting new behaviours and, if you’re not able to take a class with a teacher, there are plenty of mediation Apps available online. I use Headspace which is effective and simple to use.
In reality, one of the best ways of achieving true relaxation is by practicing Yoga Nidra or ‘yogic sleep’. Through a process of guided relaxation the body unwinds, the mind quietens and our attention is turned inwards. This is Pratyahara, the 5th step in the 8-fold path of yoga towards enlightenment or connection with one’s higher self.
During Yoga Nidra your awareness remains awake yet disconnected from mind and body leading you into a deeper state of consciousness. Sankalpa can be applied at the start of the process so it can then be absorbed through the altered brainwave states brought about by deep relaxation. It’s in these moments that we become highly receptive to new ideas and behaviours.
You can find a range of Yoga Nidras to follow online and I’ve listed some suggestions below. They take between 15 and 60 minutes, and are well worth the benefits they bring.
Revitalize Yoga & Reiki
If doing a full Yoga Nidra seems daunting, or if you don’t feel you have the time, you can start out with a shorter relaxation technique that takes under 10 minutes which will help to calm your nervous system and bring you into a state of equilibrium.
Be aware of any pains and tensions that may arise - if they do they were already there but perhaps went unnoticed. As your awareness strengthens you’ll become more in touch with what’s really going on inside and once you realise where you’re holding tension you can start the process of releasing it.
How often should I practice Yoga Nidra?
New habits generally take a minimum of 21 days to install and a lot of effort to maintain. If you can, set aside the same time each day so it becomes an established part of your routine. It’s better to do a little practice each day and organise yourself for a longer Yoga Nidra a couple of times a week so you manage to stick to your resolution.
Think of Yoga Nidra as self-care. When we feel most under pressure and too busy to look after ourselves that’s when we need it the most.
And by taking a little time out and allowing yourself to unwind you’ll be more productive, less stressed and in better shape physically and mentally. Nothing is more important than your own wellbeing; it's a necessity not a luxury.
So make 2018 your year! Embrace a Sankalpa that reinforces healthy, sustainable habits. Practice meditation, relaxation and Yoga Nidra and allow yourself the time for these practices to work their magic. You have nothing to lose and everything to gain, and you’ll be working with your highest potential.