Our popular contributor Kara-Leah writes about all kinds of things, from home practice and parenting to the etiquettes of yoga class and the ethics of yoga. In this article she writes about the deeper process necessary if we want to make lasting changes in our lives.
by Kara-Leah Grant
I always try and get up early on New Year’s Day. It’s one of my favourite ways to start the year.
Early morning, the world seems fresh and alive and ripe for new opportunities and new ways of being. The possibility of new choices and new ways of being seems stronger.
‘How will I live this day?’
‘How will I live this life?’
On January 1st, this sense of potential and possibility feels even stronger. New Year’s is a time for resolutions, as we make up our minds we’re going to live our lives differently this go around the sun.
Often though, those resolutions are only a surface desire. We haven’t done the hard work of digging into the psyche to find out why we’re making those old choices. By the end of the month, most people’s resolutions are long forgotten, until next New Year’s rolls around.
Resolving to live life a different way is hard work. It requires presence in each and every moment.
Every time we make a choice, we must make sure our choice supports the new way we want to live our lives. We must override the part of us that wants to live life the old way.
It can end up feeling like a battle within. Comfortable status quo versus challenging change.
But we’ll always be on the losing side of any internal battle. To really win the battle, we have to re-frame it. This is a deeper, more thorough process that looks hard at the reality of our life as it is, helping us understand why we’ve made the choices we have to date.
This understanding helps us set up our life in a different way so we can make new choices while honouring the part of us that wants to make those old choices.
This process therefore works to get all parts of us onside. It helps us understand our internal drivers, so there is no battle, just a deep desire to live a new way and a knowing of what’s required to make it happen.
It’s this process that underpins Forty Days of Yoga, a step-by-step exploration of the challenges and obstacles in our busy modern lives to maintaining a home yoga practice.
And it’s a process I’m intimately knowledgable about. In the last ten years or so I’ve systematically made changes over long periods of time to create the life I want to live.
That includes practicing yoga every day. It includes clean living. It includes living on purpose, and from my heart with passion. And it includes getting up early on New Year’s Day because I love the way the day feels.
For a long time, I was afraid of daring to live the life I wanted – a deep-seated, unconscious fear that unknowingly drove many of my choices as I left high school and entered the world.
It was only taking the final step of moving to the mountains that brought this fear into the light. That meant consciously feeling the fear in every cell of my body – a visceral experience of heart-thumping, stomach-dropping dread.
Long-buried surfacing fears are like monsters coming up from the deep.
Until we consciously feel them, we often don’t know they exist, let alone understand they are driving the unconscious choices we make day-to-day in our lives.
When they arise, as this one did for me the day after I took the ferry to the South Island, leaving my city life for the mountains, they can be terrifying. In this instance – almost two years ago now – I was almost incapacitated, shivering with terror, freaking out and for no discernible cause. My stomach had dropped out, my heart was pounding, and I felt awful.
Fortunately, all the work I’ve done in the last ten years or so with yoga had prepared me for this moment.
I could separate out the trigger for these emotions from the emotions themselves.
I knew the trigger had nothing to do with the fear, and was just an opportunity to release something I’d kept buried and hidden for decades. Instead of wasting time and energy trying to control the trigger and make it different so I wouldn’t feel the terror, I focused on staying with the sensations in my body.
The arising fear dissipated and left insight in it’s wake.
When we make new choices in our lives – like for New Year’s resolutions, or committing to Forty Days of Yoga – we’re unshackling these deep-seated fears that have been unconsciously running our lives. We’re creating space and opportunity for them to surface.
For many of us, this process is unfamiliar and terrifying. We don’t know it, but we’re not ready to deal with the depths of our feelings. A week into our new choices, we sabotage ourselves so we can drop back into the familiar and keep those fears safely locked away in the basement of our psyche.
Then we berate ourselves for our lack of discipline and willpower.
But making lasting changes in our lives is not about discipline and willpower.
It’s about understanding process, applying awareness, supporting ourselves, and having the courage to face the unknown. It’s about understanding how the old ways of being have served a need and kept us safe.
The reason I’ve been able to learn and work with this process is my commitment to daily yoga practice. It has been the cornerstone of consistent committed change in my life.
Practicing yoga daily gives us time and space to observe ourselves in action. Through observation of ourselves we can begin to see our patterns of behaviour. Seeing patterns of behaviour points helps us to identify underlying beliefs and fears – the beliefs and fears that sabotage our desires for a different life.
Daily yoga practice also teaches us to stay steady in the face of uncomfortable sensation. We learn that when we breathe into the discomfort it often melts away. We discover that sensations which we’ve always run from are bearable. That which becomes bearable is able to be felt. That which is felt is released. That which is released is healed.
Our unconscious fear which has kept us shackled in our old ways of being, has been felt, embraced, released and healed.
Now we’re able to make deep, long-lasting changes in the foundation of our being.
As a result, our lives change naturally.
This has been my experience over the last ten years or so, and this is what I share in Forty Days of Yoga. New Year’s may have been and gone, but time to make a new choice exists in every moment.
What will you choose to create this year? What new choices will you make?
Kara-Leah is a writer and yoga teacher who has always been infinitely curious about the make-up of the human psyche and body. Regular yoga helped her heal and recover from chronic back issues, including a spinal fusion at age 16, and two episodes of psychosis at age 29.
Her daily home yoga practice began in earnest when people kept asking her to teach them yoga. She’s since trained as a teacher with Shiva Rea, and immersed herself in practicing, teaching yoga and writing about yoga. Kara-Leah lives just outside of Queenstown, New Zealand with her son Samuel.
She’s the publisher of The Yoga Lunchbox and published her first book, Forty Days of Yoga – Breaking down the barriers to a home yoga practice in 2013. Her second book, The No-More-Excuses Guide to Yoga, has just been released. She’s also a regular contributor to the Elephant Journal.