December 31, 2010

Good-Bye, Mr. Fix It!

Yoga Thoughts on New Year’s Resolutions

This time of year it is traditional to set resolutions. Lots of times these resolutions are designed to inspire change in our lives. Perhaps we’d like to run a 5k race, read the entire body of work by our favorite author, learn how to cook or earn a promotion at work. Sometimes we hope these resolutions will help us fix something about ourselves that we don’t like. Perhaps we’d like to eat better, stop swearing, lose weight, or be more patient and focused. No matter how gung-ho we are when setting our resolutions, research shows that less than half of all “resolvers” stick with their resolutions past June. (Click here to see study.) In other words, our New Year’s “fixes” don’t necessarily work very well.

This annual preoccupation with fixing ourselves reminds me of a wedding gift from my dad. He gave us the book Men Are From Mars, Women Are From Venus by John Gray just after we were married. I clearly remember laughing out loud at one of his points which even I, a newlywed, could see was as true as true gets. Women, Gray writes, express their problems to have them acknowledged. Women want sympathy, empathy and maybe even company as they struggle. But, when faced by a problem (their own or someone else’s), men go into fix-it mode.

Without too much stretching, I think Gray’s masculine notion of “fixing” applies well to America as a whole. We Americans like to fix things. (Which could, in part, explain our fascination with these annual resolutions.) We like to fix up our homes – witness the virtual omnipresence of Lowes and Home Depot in strip malls all across our great nation. We hire experts to fix our dogs, our tennis strokes and even our kids. As a nation, we have spent billions and trillions in the last decade to “fix” other countries.

All this fixing is not limited to others. In 2005 the American self-help industry was estimated at $9.6 billion. We are passionate about fixing ourselves inside and out. We buy self-help books and subscribe to self-help magazines. We hire life coaches. We buy into weight loss programs. We watch self-help television. We want to be better parents, better professionals, better people. And we want to look and feel better while we do it.

In fact, many people first turn to yoga as another way to “fix” themselves. Some come to yoga classes to slim down or tone up. Others have heard that yoga can give them more flexibility which will help their running stride, their soccer skills or even their hockey game. Some come to yoga searching for inner “fixes.” These folks might be hoping to cool hot tempers, center spinning minds, brighten dim outlooks or sooth fluctuating moods. The list goes on and on – and can read a lot like a list of New Year’s resolutions.

And, here’s the thing. These people will not be disappointed. Yoga will yield all these changes and more. Yoga is a powerfully, often incredibly, transformative practice. But in no way, shape or form is yoga designed to “fix” us. For something (or someone) to require fixing implies that there is something wrong with it to start with. And that runs directly counter to the acceptance, honor and respect that yoga teaches us is fundamental to every healthy relationship – even our relationship with ourselves.

Rather than to fix, we learn on our yoga mats to lovingly accept ourselves. Whether we show up on our mats with tight hamstrings, weak arms, soft bellies or cushy bottoms, yoga helps us learn to appreciate our bodies for all they can do. Like the “women from Venus” in Gray’s book, we honestly acknowledge ourselves. We acknowledge our weaknesses or our “problems.” And we also acknowledge our strengths. We learn to see ourselves as we truly are. Unlike the “men from Mars,” however, we step away from the tool bench. We trust the yoga to do the fixing. Our job is to get out of the way and just practice.

As we navigate posture after posture over and over again, we surprise ourselves. We find that while there are things we can’t do (there is always going to be further we can go and more we can learn), there is an awful lot that we can do. We notice the powerful results of simply showing up and practicing. Even as we’re embracing ourselves as we are, we are changing. Our hamstrings are opening, our arms are getting stronger, our muscles becoming more defined.

Because of our approach of loving-acceptance, these changes tend to be more lasting than our relatively fleeting New Year’s resolutions. Because we’re focused on knowing and appreciating ourselves as we are rather than on all the ways we’d like to be different, each change that occurs feels like a new part of ourselves that we never noticed before. We’re not trying to become a new or different person. We’re unfolding into the person we’ve always been meant to be.

Now that I think of it, with this as the intention of my yoga practice, it doesn’t look like I need a New Year’s resolution this year!

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