January is the busiest month of the year in the yoga business. My clients are rejuvenated after holiday vacations, and highly focused on new year’s resolutions to lose weight, get in shape, and eat healthier food.
I love the enthusiasm, but I try to remind everyone that resolutions are rarely enough to create sustainable change in our lives. If we hope to stick with our commitments for 2013, we must resolve to be healthier, but also commit to practice new habits, and cultivate non-attachment to experiences and outcomes.
Most of us already understand the practice part, and are adept at setting goals. We want to get back in shape, so we commit to work out every day. We want to lose weight, so we swear off processed foods and refined sugars. It’s easy to measure: either you did it, or you didn’t.
Learning to let go of attachments is a totally different animal.
What exactly are attachments? They are stories we tell ourselves about our experiences, that keep us stuck in non-productive thoughts and behaviors. We think they have power over us, but they really don’t.
From the moment we are born, we form attachments to people and experiences. We associate good or bad with everything that happens in our lives, and make repetitive choices, based on these beliefs. For example, as adults, we think chocolate chip cookies are a reward, because when we were kids, Mom rewarded us for good behavior with a homemade Tollhouse. It can be difficult to separate the cookie from the feeling of being nurtured by a parent…but it’s easier when we realize that it’s founded more in interpretation, than in truth.
The same is true for exercise. Many of us struggle to change our routines (or lack thereof), because we are attached to the way we have always done things. When we try to learn a new exercise (running, yoga, etc.), we face resistance, and our attachments lead us to think that our previous strategies must have been better. The potential to better ourselves is often outweighed by the potential for failure, or simply the desire to stay home and catch up on our TV shows.
The sneaky thing about attachments, is that they often feel right, but are usually wrong. This is why it is so important to learn to let them go. They tell us that we can’t resist a piece of cake, or a glass of wine, but is that really true? Are we so weak that we can’t say no to habits that ultimately make us unhappy? We think that losing weight is the secret to happiness, but doesn’t real joy come in knowing that we are nourishing our bodies with exercise and healthy food?
Resolutions are the first step in learning to let go and live well, but they are prone to fade away, if we are not also practicing self-study and self-discipline. If you want to make the most of your new year’s resolutions, acknowledge your attachments, and learn to let them go. When we empty ourselves of attachment, we create more space for happiness and good health.