An Cailín Rua
This time last year, who could have imagined where we’d be at today? Facing into another uncertain year, it can all feel a bit overwhelming, and perhaps the thought of making a heap of new year’s resolutions is a bit too much.
This new year is different to any other; our focus has shifted and our worlds have contracted. As well as simply trying stay healthy, most of us are trying to keep our minds safe too. As we face another sustained period of lockdown, the isolation, cabin fever, money worries, health concerns and all that come with it have the potential to make even the toughest among us struggle mentally.
Regular readers will know I don’t normally make new year’s resolutions. Preferring not to set myself up for certain failure, instead I try to set goals, break them down by month, and alongside that, slowly create new habits (better habits than the ones I’m trying to break). It’s less drastic than making a heap of changes all at once, and it took me a few years to realise this, but it works, so I’m sticking with it.
This year, off the back of a challenging, sad winter I’m just trying to look after my mind a bit more than I have done in recent years. So I’ve returned to an old friend, one I have leaned upon many a time to get me through rough times; but it’s an abusive friendship, as I only use it when I need it and then dump it to one side. (No, it’s not wine.) Yoga has its roots in spirituality, meditation, philosophy; some even suggest elements of the supernatural, and I cannot claim to fully understand the practice or its origins, but I do know that it represents for me the great gift of calmness of mind.
My present teacher of choice, due to lockdown, is Adriene Mishler. Mine, and 7 million others daily, going by her YouTube subscriptions. Adriene teaches from home in Austin, Texas, in front of her camera, accompanied by her dog, Benji, and somehow it still manages to feel like she’s speaking directly to you. Her classes – she has dozens online - are free. They are accessible, unpretentious, they don’t require equipment, and anyone can do them. She’s a bit of craic, and she assures viewers that if you put in the time, you’ll eventually be able to do the splits. If that’s not a worthwhile new year’s resolution, I don’t know what is.
Not so long ago, yoga might have been dismissed by athletes or sportspeople; now many of them practise regularly. I won’t hear tell of anyone say that it’s not a workout – I’ve broken more sweat on the mat this month than I have in my feeble attempts at resuming running (more on that struggle another time).
Not being an expert on yoga by any stretch (see what I did there?), my practice has been sporadic over the years. But I think the routine of a daily practice offers comfort. When everything is uncertain, having daily time set aside throws down an anchor. I am an amateur, soaking up buckets of calm, with burning upper arms and clumsy sun salutations. I sleep better, worry less and feel happier.
Pope Francis once famously said that practices like yoga are not capable of opening our hearts up to God. However, I can confirm that re-joining yoga practice has not just opened up my heart; it has opened my hip sockets, and my eyes, to just how spectacularly out of shape I am. Covid put the kibosh on any exercise for nearly ten weeks, so I have suddenly found myself with the rigid, inflexible body of someone apparently twice my age. I am especially grateful that no one can hear my creaks as I try to contort myself.
But that latter will change in time; yoga has taught me that you don’t necessarily need a new year to create new habits. Rather, every day presents a chance to start anew, and every new breath offers a fresh opportunity. And at in a time when we need optimism more than ever, I can’t think of a more hopeful aspiration. Apart from maybe doing the splits.
An Cailín Rua