As we approach the end of the year it’s the perfect time to reflect upon the past 12 months. When we give ourselves time to get quiet and focused it’s in those moments that we can really take stock. Often there are areas where we feel we would benefit from more balance be it work / life, rest / exercise, socialising / quiet time. All it takes is a quiet, honest review of our current lifestyle for us to recognise where things could benefit from being in equilibrium.
Once you’ve become quiet enough to listen to your own truth, how do you implement the desired changes? New Year’s resolutions, we all know them, we’ve all tried making them. Rarely do they even last until the end of January. Usually because we’ve set unrealistic goals or we’re not as focussed as we’d like to think on establishing new habits. Sometimes even the best intentions fail to take root.
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. In the case of Sankalpa, that water is awareness.Using Sankalpa to help make positive changes. 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. The simpler and broader the sankalpa the better so that it can be invited to manifest in many different areas of your life. When reflecting on your Sankalpa it’s helpful to think about where the desire to change has come from. If it has sprung from a belief that you’re not already good enough as you are, it will as such reinforce these false beliefs. Sankalpa, on the other hand, comes from the wisdom of the heart. It’s a statement of fact which supports the highest truth of who you are, accepting that you already contain within yourself all that you need to be that and the tools to do it. Sankalpa will therefore help direct you towards 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. For example 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 what to pick, 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 this to ourselves. Wellbeing truly starts at home. Once you’ve chosen your Sankalpa, stick with it. This will strengthen the resolve.
New Year’s resolutions never stick. The success or failure of sticking to resolutions depends largely on our state of mind. In order to make our mind into fertile ground 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. This is not a helpful state however for adopting and absorbing new habits and intentions. The mind or brain is far more receptive when Alpha, Theta and Delta waves are functioning. How do we induce this state of mind and use it to help us ? The answer is focused relaxation and meditation. In these altered states we can achieve neuroplasticity; in other words changing established neural pathways or 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 various different levels; physically, energetically, emotionally.
Meditation or relaxation make the most fertile conditions in the mind for adopting new behaviours. If you’re not able to try a meditation class with a teacher, there are plenty of mediation Apps available online. I use Headspace which is both simple and effective.
As for relaxation, many people think that tuning out spending time looking at social media or engaging in numbing behaviours such as drinking or recreational drugs equates to relaxation.
Yoga Nidra – In fact one of the best ways of finding true relaxation is by practicing Yoga Nidra or ‘yogic sleep’. Through the process of a guided relaxation the body unwinds, the mind quietens and the attention is turned inwards which is called Pratyahara. Pratyahara forms 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 that it can subsequently be absorbed through the altered brainwave states that are brought about by deep relaxation. It’s in those moments that we become highly receptive to new ideas and behaviours.
You can find various yoga nidras to follow online and I’ve listed some suggested ones below under Resources. They take between 15 and 60 minutes, averaging about 30 minutes and are truly worth the benefits that they bring.
If doing a full yoga Nidra seems daunting or if you really don’t feel like you have time for this, you can start out trying a shorter, guided relaxation that takes less than 10 minutes from my website (also listed under Resources). If nothing else this will help calm your nervous system and bring you into a state of equilibrium. Watch out for pains and tensions that may arise. If they do it’s because they were already there but perhaps were previously unnoticed. As your state of awareness widens you’ll become more in touch with what’s really going on inside. When you begin to realise where you’re holding tension it’s then that 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 at the outset to maintain. If possible set aside the same time each day to do your practice. It then becomes an established part of your routine. Less is more. It’s better to ensure that you do a little practice each day and organise yourself to do a longer yoga nidra a couple of times a week so that you’re incentivised 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. The more busy you are, the more important self-care becomes. Ironically, by taking a bit of time out and allowing yourself to unwind you’ll be more productive, less stressed and in better shape both physically and mentally. Truly, nothing is more important than your own wellbeing. This is not a luxury but a necessity.
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. Be the best version of you this coming year!