I used to set New Year’s resolutions like a lot of people. Like a lot of people, I failed at them, or forgot about them by the end of January. This year I got intrigued by the idea of picking a word for the year. Inadvertently, I’ve been doing this before now. When I got my nose pierced, it was to use the word resilience as an intention to help me manage my health. I’ve worn an anklet, turned in, for the last year that says worthy. It’s extremely difficult to take off to emphasize the point. This year I went about the process much more intentionally and thought about something I could implement from the beginning of the year. The word that kept speaking to me was courage.
I’ve never thought of myself as lacking in bravery. After all, I’ve done crazy stuff with horses for years, traveled overseas alone, eaten live mealworms, not everyday kind of things. However, courage goes beyond bravery. Bravery is not being afraid because you don’t know to be afraid. You might be trying something new and crazy but you’re not afraid because you haven’t faced the consequences of what happens you fail yet.
Courage is showing up despite being afraid. When you know it will be tough, ugly, and difficult and you try anyway. There is potentially a high probability of failure. That is much, much harder.
The vagus nerve has been looming large in my professional and personal life lately, and this increasing focus is partly what led to my word choice. If you’re blinking and wondering what the vagus nerve is, or what it has to do with anything, here’s an accessible recap of why you should care about yours.
Increasing vagal tone is one of the ways yoga and meditation actually works to improve your life. Increasingly, my perspective on yoga, and how I teach is informed by this idea. In yoga, all we’re really doing is learning how to regulate our nervous system.
Because of my history, I have some very maladaptive vagal responses. My off the charts stress response probably played a part in my development of autoimmune diseases (read The Deepest Well if you want to know more on that subject).
So choosing courage as my word of the year actually circles me back around to resilience, one of those past words of the year. But resilience with a different definition than I’ve used in the past. I’ve thought of resilience as something like Rocky Balboa, you keep standing no matter how many times you get hit. I’m actually pretty good at that. However, vagal resilience is the capacity to shift from reactivity to receptivity and come back to balance. Something I’m really not good at it. I stay on guard forever.
For me, 2019 is about courage in the face of my reptilian brain. When all your little neurons are screaming don’t do it and you do it anyway, that’s courage. That’s what I’ll be trying to work on this year. Finding the courage to face my own stress responses. I have to tone down my ability to stay in the ring no matter what and improve my yoga. Yoga in the spirit of lots of flexibility. Vagal flexibility, flexibility to stressors, flexibility in responses, you name it, more flexible.
If we only play to our strengths, we’ll never go beyond them.
If you’re interested in using one word to help shape your practice for this year, but need some help on choosing, Susan Conway has a free 5-day course that will help you get started.
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