Well, here we are. New Year’s Day 2018.
When I was a child I always thought we’d have moon-boots and fish-bowl helmets by the year 2000. And yet here we are. Babies born in that year will be entering adulthood this year and there is still an extreme lack of moon-boots and fish-bowl helmets in the clothes shops.
And, by the way, where the hell is my hoverboard? Michael J. Fox really set us up for a big disappointment on that one.
Seriously though, as a yoga teacher (and co-owner of a yoga shala) I’m supposed to sit here at the beginning of a new year and write to you about how 2018 can be a new beginning; the perfect time to take up yoga, or get back to it, or to commit to doing it more regularly.
But I’m not going to do that. New Year’s resolutions don’t work. If we really want to change the way we live our lives we don’t have to wait until the first of January to do it. We can make healthy choices whenever we like.
New Year’s resolutions are problematic in a number of ways, the biggest of which is that we tend not to stick to them in the long-term. Most of us don’t have the required resolve for long-term resolutions. So not only do we end up back where we started, we’ve also thrown a healthy helping of failure on top of ourselves.
So I am proposing a new approach this year. These are my proposals for this year’s resolutions.
Do what makes you feel good. Avoid what makes you feel bad. Always.
If you love doing yoga and it adds to your enjoyment of life then do it. If not, don’t. If eating well makes you feel good, then do that. If eating rubbish in front of the telly makes you feel good, then do that.
The hard part is cultivating the discernment so that you can tell the difference between what makes you feel good from what makes you feel bad. Practising ashtanga yoga can really help with that, but more on that next time.
I’ll give you an example: I love coffee. It makes me feel fantastic too. And a second cup makes me feel even more fantastic than the first. So I should drink more coffee right? The problem is that I can’t sleep if I drink more than one coffee in a day, and even if I drink that one cup of coffee after 8 am (yes, A.M.!) I wake up at 3 o’clock in the morning and can’t get back to sleep. Seriously! I didn’t believe it for a long time myself until I finally gave in.
So does coffee make me feel good or bad? Unfortunately, it makes me feel bad (if I drink too much). But, because I’ve realised that it does make me feel awful (I don’t function at all well when I haven’t slept enough) it’s actually easy for me to avoid it, despite me enjoying the taste and the immediate surge of energy.
Yoga philosophy does not teach a morality or a code of ethics, despite yama and niyama being in the yoga sutras (see our last blog post for more on that). Yoga doesn’t have a “ten commandments”. What it does have are guidelines towards happiness and equanimity. So yoga philosophy says: Do what makes you happy, avoid what makes you unhappy. Because we are all, to some degree, suffering from avidya (ignorance) the hard part is to know the difference.
Yoga Sutra II.5: anityāśuci duhkhānātmasu nitya śuci sukhātmakhyātir avidya
Ignorance (avidya) is mistaking the impermanent for the permanent, the impure for the pure, the painful for the pleasant, and the Self for the non-Self