“Inhale the future. Exhale the past.”
I chose a night filled with yoga and meditation rather than partying — and I didn’t regret it.
New Year’s Eve has a reputation for being the biggest night of the year. It’s an evening when we feel obligated to show the world what we’re made of by making it to the best party or showing off our best dress. And while I’m not against celebrating, I am against setting insane expectations for ourselves and feeling let down when we return year after year to the same old habits that leave us everything but satisfied.
This time around, I decided to try spending my night doing something that didn’t involve staying home or hitting the town. I wanted my new year to be something more transformative. Not perfect, but a year I could approach things with more peace and acceptance than the year I was leaving behind. I decided to spend my evening doing yoga, meditating, and welcoming this new chapter with a clear head.
Wildlight Yoga is a studio located near the Old Irving Park neighborhood in Chicago. My first impression of the place (as I had never been there before) was this: A cozy space with soft lights gleaming through steamy windows; a woven lamp hangs from the ceiling and soft rugs greet me on my first step through the door; a quiet place, welcoming atmosphere, and (to my surprise) people sitting on yoga mats from wall to wall.
Our teacher for the evening, Cassie Zehren, guided us through 108 sun salutations, meditation, and an energy cleansing using Reiki. Our yoga practice was divided into four rounds of 27 sun salutations, each round dedicated to setting an intention for a special aspect of the new year: the first to ourselves, the second to our family, the third to the world, and the final to our higher selves. With each round, I tried my best to focus on each dedication and how I wanted to transform them in the new year ahead. The first two rounds felt somewhat demanding in terms of my attention and physical endurance. Those 27 repetitions felt like they dragged on and there were moments when I unwillingly wondered when it would end — all negative thoughts I tried my best to ease out of mind (or as I like to imagine while meditating, “push out of my ear”). But by the third round, I was almost lulled into hypnosis. I had never before felt this way in yoga. Completely in sync with all 25 people in the room, audibly inhaling and exhaling at the same pace in a methodical manner. My chest felt full of energy and my lungs incredibly powerful. Every inhale felt like it was bringing new life to me and every exhale felt like the most relaxing sigh of relief. I realized just how soothing it was when our teacher announced that that round of 27 repetitions was almost over and I hadn’t even felt like any time had passed us by.
The curious, analytical side of me always wonders if we’re doing this yoga thing right in the United States. I imagine it’s like trying to cook a dish from another country based on an online recipe, knowing it will never have the same taste as it’s country of origin. So I often enter yoga classes with a reluctant pang of skepticism, knowing that my apprehension will keep me far from any truth I’m searching for. But yoga is interesting in that way (whatever form or function we may use of it here in the U.S.). Whenever I find myself in class with a teacher who’s in sync with the class, I somehow find myself in a deep state of relaxation, unable to describe how or why I got there. I love that yoga has the ability to soothe you without you even knowing. It melts away your stress regardless of the thoughts that float through your mind or the level of correctness in your poses. Before I even have the chance to notice, it sweeps all the dust off my mind until I’m lulled into a thought-free space. And when I wake up? I feel like an entirely new person.
At the end of the salutations, Cassie had us set a Sankalpa for ourselves, or what you might consider a New Year’s Resolution of sorts — though not at all what we use here in the U.S. Whatever intention or mantra we chose to set, we were taught not to strive for it, but to live it in the new year. In other words, our Sankalpa is not something we would be, but something that we are. I reflected on what I wanted mine to be and repeated it to myself:
“I am an instrument of light.” I will share the light within me that seeks to love, share, and inspire light within others. I will express my deepest compassion and emotion without feeling weak. I will feel without worrying about judgment.
After repeating our Sankalpa three times to ourselves, Cassie then guided us through a body scan meditation before sending us off into our own quiet meditative state. I remained still with my thoughts and movements, mentally repeating my mantra to myself over and over again, reminding myself why this mantra is important and visualizing how I wanted it to manifest in my day-to-day life. I hoped that somewhere in my brain it would stick like glue. I wanted my mantra to remain with me through the year, showing up in the days ahead that I would inevitably struggle. Through the stroke of midnight, I could hear fireworks thundering from the city. I had never felt so free and light in my life. Something about a new year and a fresh start feels so liberating. I felt so ethereal that I was sure I would lift off the ground.
Throughout our meditation, Cassie (also a Reiki practitioner) shared her positive energy. Reiki is said to help cleanse us physically, mentally, and emotionally. It’s an energy healing that feeds into your own good energy, allowing what is already in us to manifest into all that we wish to be. Having never participated in a session before, I can say that it was one of the most powerful experiences I’ve ever had. I felt so moved by the end of the evening that I couldn’t keep a smile off my face.
In a life full of busy schedules and FOMO, dedicating time to ourselves and our wellness can feel time-consuming and tedious. And while it’s easy to fall into a trap of excuses and reasons why we can “worry about it later,” taking that first step is the most important part. If you feel like something is “off” or you’re just not that satisfied with your life, why not do something about it? Switch things up. Do something you wouldn’t normally do. You’ll be glad you did!