This New Year, instead of resolutions (which are bound to fail, at least most of them), try to set intentions. Setting an intention is less guilt-ridden, paving the way to long-term success. The Yamas and Niyamas offer a nice guideline to help inspire your intentions for the New Year. Here are some ways to apply them this year.
Ahmisa: To cultivate ahimsa, or non-harming, notice when you think or speak of someone in a negative way. If you find yourself doing this, remember that you are mostly hurting yourself with these thoughts and words. Take three rounds of breath to help the negativity dissolve on its own. Over time, this will be your pattern, and the thoughts and words themselves will fade.
Satya: To promote satya, or truthfulness, in your life, be honest with others and yourself as you go about your day. It is important to integrate satya with ahimsa, however, so as to not tell a truth that deliberately harms another. In this case, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.”
Asteya: To establish asteya, or non-stealing, don’t take what is not rightfully yours. Did you burrow a friend’s sweater and conveniently forgot to return it? Did you use someone’s ideas, presenting them as your own? These are forms of stealing. Notice where you may need to let go.
Bramacharya: To bring about bramacharya, or the upholding of the highest energy, remember to aspire towards your greatest good. Bramacharya is also translated as the practice of celibacy, but since we Westerners tend to be householders, Bramacharya refers to responsible use of sexual energy. Again, aspiring towards your greatest good applies here.
Aparigraha: To cultivate aparigraha, or non-possessiveness, we must find contentment (see santosha below) with what we have and with what is. Next time you find yourself longing for the social or financial status of an acquaintance, remember that comparing yourself to another only causes suffering.
Saucha: To attain saucha, or cleanliness and purification of body and mind, practice yoga and eat well. Seems simple, but it’s true.
Santosha: To find contentment, remember that you are simply the witness of your experiences. When you are able to take a step back and notice all that you are involved in without getting wrapped up in the dramas of day to day life, contentment will settle in.
Tapas: To train the senses, the practice of tapas, we must draw inward. One of the best ways to do this is through meditation practice (see ishvarapranidhara below), which helps brings awareness of how we are influenced by our senses. We begin to notice that we are drawn to certain sensations, sometimes in an unhealthy way. Noticing these cravings, as opposed to giving in to them, will help us to let them go.
Svadhyaya: To practice svadhyaya, we must seek to study the self and study of sacred texts. Perhaps you’d like to begin your study with the Yoga Sutras to deepen your knowledge of yogic philosophy. There are many great translations available.
Ishvaraprandihana: Here, we meditate. This year, if you haven’t already, why not start? Begin with five minutes daily. Find a comfortable seat, set a time, and bring your attention to the breath. Over time your practice will lengthen and deepen. Start small so that you establish the habit firmly. And see what happens from there.