The new year can be a time for a fresh start with our habits for taking care of our bodies, minds, and hearts. Especially after a few years of a pandemic, it's a good time to start again with our practice of self-care.
As we move from external focus from the holidays and bring our attention back inward towards our own bodies, minds, and hearts, it's important to move forward with a balanced approach to our healthy habits. Nothing forced. Nothing tightly controlled.
Our world is in a state of ongoing strivings, in which control seems to be the highest virtue. We don't have to look far to observe this, particularly during a pandemic. Currently, we are having to control how we move around, how we gather, how we greet each other in order to keep each other safe and healthy. Even without a pandemic, we feel the need to control our bodies, our children, our gardens, in some cases our partners, and our future. And especially in the new year, we rigidly try to control our diets and exercise, perhaps white-knuckling our habits of health and well-being.
Control isn't always a bad thing. In order to survive, we need to exert our influence on our surroundings to some extent. Self-control can lead us in a more positive direction. For example, self-control can help us manage cravings when we feel the urge to smoke, drink, overeat, shop, shout (fill in your own unconscious compulsion here ____ ). Without self-control, human civilization wouldn't exist as we know it. But, too much of it doesn't get us anywhere. It seems that we systematically underrate and show little value to the natural influences that lie at the root of our daily lives.
We can't control everything and many things happen when we stop controlling them. Let's take a tree, for example; we can plant it, we can water it, we can make sure it's exposed to enough sunlight, but any more intervention can damage it if we don't let nature do its job. Same with our bodies; we can nurture it with healthy food, good sleep, exercise, but trying to tightly control the aging process or the natural changes in our bodies is only an exercise in frustration.
We can look at the wisdom of Taoism for some healthy reminders when it comes to control. Taoism revolves around going with the flow and letting go. At first glance, the act of letting go can look like a form of weakness. But, according to the Taoists, by a correct understanding of how the universe works, we approach life more intelligently, more efficiently, and go with the flow, rather than swimming against it. Therefore, the power of letting go is a form of strength that's based on wisdom rather than force.
The Tao Te Ching, the main Taoist scripture tells us the best way to move forward is by practicing the art of "non-doing." The Taoist concept of Wu Wei can be explained as "effortless action" or a "flow state," which means knowing when to act and when not to.
When we stop striving we give nature space to unfold. We develop trust in the world around us and become aware that life itself is ever-changing. In this awareness lies the opportunity to become loose and supple instead of rigid and brittle. The power of letting go means that we float along the stream, instead of clinging to roots and branches. We cut loose deadweight (habits that don't serve us) so that we can navigate through life with a sense of effortlessness and ease. Nothing forced.
Epicurious also observed that the basic necessities for life are easy to come by and living life moderately (there's that middle place again) is the key to happiness. It's a path that's easy and sustainable.
How can we apply this concept to our yoga practice? Each time you roll out your mat, set your intention to find the middle place in your practice; the difference between controlling and allowing. Or, as they say in the Taoist teachings; "be like water." (or was that from Bruce Lee?). Start by deeply listening to your body or, very simply, just giving your body your full attention. Noticing what your body might need from your practice, moment to moment, and meet it there. It's with this deep listening and inward attention of the body that we can move forward with a sense of flow and allowing....nothing forced. The key to longevity in your practice is finding this middle place and learning to go with the flow. Your yoga mat can be the place where you find that daily middle place and you teach your body, heart, and mind to accept, adjust and adapt.
Come to your mat to practice to find your own middle place. Discover your own state of flow and move forward in 2022 with a sense of ease and balance.
My regular classes restart on January 3, 2022. I hope to see you in the studio or on Zoom.