Clear Your Mind and Set Intentions for the New Year

The Beginning of a 6 Month Cycle

The Winter Solstice is the longest night of the year, ending a 6 month cycle that began at Summer Solstice. Now, feminine, yin, receptive and maternal qualties are at their greatest strength. Starting December 22nd, a new 6 month cycle begins. The light of the Sun increases until the longest day of the year, the Summer Solstice, repeating the cycle.  

It is only natural that milions of people think about their future and set new year resolutions at this time. Working in health and fitness for the past 15 years, I’ve seen gyms, yoga studios and wellness centers fill up each January. Unfortunately, most people’s resolutions fizzle out by February, and the studios returns to business as usual. Have you ever experienced this?

Is it because you’re doing something wrong? Do just need a better system? Goal setting, prioritization, vision boards and getting coached can all be incredible resources. From a yogic perspective, though, the reason resolutions fizzle out is not external, but internal.

“Make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is error, truth;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, grant that I may not so much seek
To be consoled as to console;
To be understood as to understand;
To be loved as to love. 
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
It is in self-forgetting that we find;
And it is in dying to ourselves that we are born to eternal life.”

-St Francis of Assisi 

Intrinsic vs Extrinsic Motivation

When I think of intrinsic motivation, I think of this poem by St Francis of Assisi. If you’re like me, you probably read this and feel a sense of inner peace and contentment. To know that being loving, understanding and open to life is it’s own reward.

Go to any major news site or turn on a tv and you’ll see a very different message. A message that I personally have done a lot of work to root out and replace with more empowering beliefs. After practicing these concepts in earnest for a few years, I put pen to paper and wrote down what this poem might look like in action. Who would I be? Where would I go? What would I do?

18 months later I found that piece of paper and realized all of the things I had written had come to pass: move to Austin, build community, eat local, seasonal, organic food, find a mentor, be a mentor to at risk boys, find a beautiful new home and find new work I love. I was amazed to realize my life now reflected what I wrote down. This is not always the case, though.

Intrinsic vs Ego Motivation

How can you tell if something is intrinsically motivated and not just your ego?

I’ve written other lists. Lists of wants and goals in hope of repeating these results. Rather than allowing what wanted to come through me I was striving. I had a sense of discontent, urgency and not-enoughness — and the results of I got amplified these feelings.

Sometimes, the only way to really know is to try something and see what happens. Try taking actions from a place of discontent or urgency and see what your results are. Try making decisions when you’re more clear minded, such as after a yoga or meditation practice and compare the results. Ego motivations will likely feel more tense and have continued negative results. Intrinsic motivations will not necessarily mean easier, but meeting whatever does arise with an internal ease and openness.

A Practice to Clear Your Mind and Set Intentions for the New Year

Any sort of receptive practice is beneficial around the Winter Solstice: taking baths, long walks, having a lighter schedule, getting extra rest, restorative yoga, yoga nidra, yin yoga, langana pranayama (calming breathwork).

A great practice for all of this is Nadi Shodana (channel cleansing breath). This creates a clear state of mind to reflect, journal and set intentions for this time of year, or anytime you need perspective. Everyone’s process will be different, but if you feel inspired to write or take action after this practice, trust that inspiration. If you have any questions or want to share your experience, leave a comment below. 

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Nadi Shodana (Channel Cleansing Breath)

  1. Sit comfortably in a meditative posture

  2. Seal your right nostril with your right hand thumb

  3. Inhale through your left nostril

  4. Seal your left nostril with your right hand ring and little fingers

  5. Exhale through your right nostril 

  6. Inhale through your right nostril

  7. Seal your right nostril with your right hand thumb

  8. Exhale through your left nostril

  9. Repeat steps 3-8 for 3 minutes

  10. Stay seated and return to normal breathing for a few breaths