With flowers blooming and leaves budding, it's a good time to re-evaluate our habits, sweep out the old, and incorporate the new! Spring cleaning doesn't have to be limited to our physical space. The seasons' change is an optimal time to reinvigorate our motivation to live healthfully and wisely. Whether your goals are a more consistent yoga practice, better eating or sleeping habits, or more time for yourself, spring clean your daily routine with this mindfulness journey.
Nurture What is Yet Unseen
Just like a gardener, we'll need to weed before we can plant. My teacher, Sonia Sumar has an analogy about cleaning out a closet: you first need to disorganize everything in the closet before you can reorganize it. Don't feel disheartened if the very things you are trying to change become more tempting or even irresistible. It's natural that your mind will complain about the control you are trying to apply, like a puppy put on a leash for the first time. Be mindful about the temptation and investigate it from all angles, with kindness. You might even like to journal with these questions in mind.
What does it feel like when I am tempted to not follow through with my goal? What images enter my head? Is my mind in the present, past or future? How is my breathing?
This can be an opportunity to know yourself better. Being curious about your habits opens you to possibilities, while stifling them has a way of building to an inevitable explosion. Try to regard this as a process and not an end goal. Your slip ups here and there will feel like necessary steps toward your goal, rather than insurmountable setbacks. We can weed out thoughts and feelings that are leading us to behave in ways we would rather not. The act of consciously cultivating our thoughts will allow us to strengthen the roots of our new routine.
Be Present as Goals Bud
Once we start having success it is easy to go on autopilot and deny any flexibility in the new routine we've set. To be sure, in the beginning this is very necessary in establishing a habit - continuous practice done with a whole heart, for a long time. But once the habit is set, a little bit of flexibility can reveal where our habits are still shaky. Sri Swami Satchidananda compares this to installing a fence post. After setting the post in a hole and securing it with rocks, the post is pounded into the ground to settle it. If the post is still shaky, more rocks are added and the process is repeated until the post is sturdy. Our mindfulness practice is like this too. Removing our attention from the material world is an important part of our work. But our practice will never be sturdy if we don't test how shaky it is. Once you have a well-established routine, you can test it's shakiness.
The application of this will be different things for different goals. Someone trying to eat better could eat at a restaurant (that has healthy options), for example. Someone cutting out alcohol could go to a party where it's being served (only if appropriate, of course) and stick to non-alcoholic drinks. If you are trying to establish a bedtime routine, going on a vacation or accepting a late-night invitation could be a challenging test. Use your mindfulness practice to be present with the thoughts and feelings that arise during moments of challenge. Recognizing, accepting and investigating the areas where we are still shaky is the first step to let old habits go.
How does it feel to be shaken? Where do I feel most sturdy? Most shaky? How does it feel to be sturdy? How does it feel to move from sturdy to shaky? From shaky to sturdy?
Celebrate the Full Bloom
In my view, this is the most important step. Celebrating the benefits of our new routine makes it more likely we'll stick to it. Plus, it's fun! Consciously holding onto how we feel after meeting our goal can be powerful medicine against temptation when it arises in the future... and it will arise. Celebrating can be part of our mindfulness practice as well. Yogis call this Bhakti Yoga or the Yoga of devotion. Bhakti Yoga is very simple, but requires total concentration. It can be helpful to set up a little altar at home. It doesn't need to be anything fancy, just images that inspire you (like family, a teacher, nature), motivating words or art, beautiful decorative objects, a plant, or flowers. Your altar can be religious or secular. Anything at all that has an uplifting effect on you. You can put on peaceful music, light a candle, or set the mood in some other way.
Think about all the forces that brought you to this moment. Feel gratitude for what your experiences have allowed you to do. Can you feel gratitude even for the challenging experiences? How do you feel when you take the time to listen to yourself? What is your breath like? Visualize stagnant energy moving out of your life with every exhale; new, positive energy entering with every inhale.
Set aside time to tend to your altar, ideally regularly. If you are inspired by nature, a nice schedule is to celebrate fullness and gratitude during the full moon; new beginnings and letting go during the new moon. Even if you don't stick to that schedule, take time to experience gratitude and use visualization to let the old go and bring in the new. Athletes often use visualization techniques to prepare, imagining a successful outcome, which gives them a competitive advantage. Dean Ornish also taught his patients this mind-body technique in his landmark study on heart disease. Visualization exercises can help us accomplish our goals by directing our mind to helpful thoughts. When we have a thought repeatedly, we are more likely to have that thought again. And as the saying goes
Watch your thoughts, they become words;
watch your words, they become actions;
watch your actions, they become habits;
watch your habits, they become character;
watch your character, for it becomes your destiny.
Erin Haddock is the director of Five Keys Yoga, LLC.