Early this week, a dear old friend was in town and we got a chance to meet. We’re both in our early 40s and discussed the humility of realizing how little we have directed in our lives.
Though no one controls outcomes, there are aspects of our life experience we can command. We can hone our approach, manage expectations, set intentions.
Back in January, nilambu notes set forth the yogic approach to setting intentions. Rather than make resolutions and focus on the results (the scale, your marital status, achieving lotus pose), yogis set intentions and concentrate on the steps that make up the process of change.
While we can’t control results, we can direct our approach and our behavior.
This nilambu notes outlines how to do that, how to integrate your intentions into lasting change and new habits.
So what do you do?
There is another term in yoga – samskara. Samskara is an ingrained pattern or “grooves” of thought OR behavior. These ruts are changed by creating new ones.
And that’s where the three niyamas – burning enthusiasm, self-study and devotion to a higher power – come in. (See the last nilambu notes).
And they do so in four distinct steps, that you cycle through over and over: S.A.S.A. which stands for see, accept, set, act.
You need to see clearly what is – what are your ruts, samskaras? What are your ingrained patterns of thought or habit?
An accurate perception of your limits, your unhelpful habits, your distractions is the entry point to change (and you’ll re-evaluate your perception along the way).
Nothing will change if you don’t see clearly. At this stage, others can help provide loving perspective. Turn a flashlight on in your life. See what is really going on in those dark corners so you can dust them up.
How do we do this? Using burning enthusiasm (tapas), we study ourselves ( svadhyaya). That may mean keeping a food diary or examining your schedule to see where you allot your time. This self study reveals your patterns, your values and can help you see clearly what is. You do this again and again as you evaluate and reassess, and nimbly readjust your behavior. Self-study can help you see unconscious habits that could sabotage your intentions.
With devotion to a higher power (ishvara pranidhana), we humbly accept what is, what we don’t control.
So, for example, we admit we don’t really as eat as well as we think, we have a serious illness with no cure, we are beyond our breaking point with stress, the mother/father of our children doesn’t want to be married any more. Further, we accept what we cannot change the outcome.
Some realities are mutable; some are not. When we accept the things we can not change, that yielding can allow us to relax. It can lift a tremendous burden. We can stop fighting.
A yoga teacher of mine told me you can have pain without suffering. What she meant was that we can’t always control the pain, physical or emotional, but we don’t have to suffer if we are able to adapt our response to the pain.
Admittedly, sometimes that may be easier to do than others. But by yielding to what is, to what we can’t control, that acceptance can alter the experience. And in doing so, you may actually change the dynamic of your situation, your nervous system will ease and may even improve your vitality and ability to deal with illness, or divorce or grief.
So this is the interesting thing: sometimes things, situations, reality will change as a result of accepting what is. That shift in perception, that letting go, can confer a freedom that will in fact improve whatever situation was resisted, struggled with or burdensome.
You set an intention. Make a promise to yourself and remind yourself over and over of that intention. Plan, with specificity, a course of action that will support your intentions. You can do that for each intention and one intention may have several supportive steps.
Some examples are:
- Practice yoga 20 minutes every day.
- Keep a food diary
- Wind down your day by 10 pm by creating a night time ritual.
- Eat without the television on.
- Meditate 5 minutes.
- Speak to your partner lovingly, and if necessary with a therapist to navigate communication and prevent harm.
- Hug your spouse and hold them for a full minute every day.
Try to visualize and imagine yourself doing what you promised yourself. Schedule activities into your routine. Put up reminders around your home or in your car.
Not giving up helps too, which brings us to action….
You act. You take a step. A small step, again and again.
Don’t visualize the goal; visualize the step, the action.
Don’t give up. Keep getting up. If you get knocked down, get up and get up and get up. Another said you might have to keep at it “a billion times.” No matter how weary you are, keep going, keep trying.
Burning enthusiasm (tapas) works at this stage as well. Sometimes you can only get up with discipline or with burning enthusiasm for the intention because the short term result seems so undesirable.
This stage is crucial; no question it can be easier to stay on the floor and not get up. It is easy to stay in the old patterns and habits and ruts (samskara).
If your actions are not in line with your intention, with out judgment or self-laceration, see that clearly through your self-study and adjust your course. Be willing to adjust your course. And don’t give up.
To sum up:
See (clearly) – using self study and discipline
Accept (reality) – using humility
Set (intentions, sankalpas) – using much specificity, planning, visualization, and imagery
Act (over and over) – using discipline and that burning enthusiasm
S.A.S.A. You go through this cycle over and over – See, accept, set, act.
Finally, be gentle with yourself. And you’ll be able to create new habits (samskaras), new grooves for your life, better actions and possibly a new outcome.
Oh yes, and according to a British study, yogis (men) do better if they are specific while yoginis (women) more often succeed if they share their intentions. So be specific and share! (depending on your gender)
And The New York Times earlier this month published a piece on changing your habits that echoes many of these themes. One of those quoted noted, “you cannot have innovation unless you are willing and able to move through the unknown and go from curiosity to wonder.”