Go With the Flow – New Year’s Eve in a Yoga Class

A short intro to this post:

It’s been two weeks since we all counted down to midnight, and since then I’ve had some time to reflect on a really special experience I had on December 31. I wanted to share since it has a lot to do with this blog and my recent and ongoing endeavors – I hope it means something for the rest of you.

Over the past few years, I’ve become a “not really a holiday kind of person,” but I still have a soft spot for New Year’s Eve. It might seem like a random holiday to identify with, but I’ve always been a fan of it because I love the idea of self-improvement, whether it’s in the area of fitness, finance or behavior. I love the idea of challenging myself to be better and I get excited when others want to do the same (hence my passion for health and fitness). Some argue that a flip of a calendar has nothing to do with being a better person, but I think if you want to change, there’s nothing like a symbol of change and rebirth to get you started.

But despite my soft spot for NYE, like any other holiday, it has a tendency to be a bit frustrating. There seem to be two ways to go about the evening: watch the ball drop from the comfort of your couch with some lo mein, or party like an animal. I’ve never been satisfied with staying in, so there are challenges: you want to celebrate with all your friends, but no one can agree on a way to celebrate – nevermind where and when. Bar covers are pricey, the drinks are watered down, and no one wants to stick in one place. People bail, make other plans, and before you know it you are planning logistics to party-hop to three or four locations, still be able to have a few drinks, and be settled at midnight to ring in the New Year happy, maybe with a midnight kiss. And of course, living in Boston, it always seems to the coldest night of the year. For some reason, the night never measures up to expectation.

As the days moved closer to Dec. 31, I wanted to avoid the chaos. And once I looked inward, I realized what would really make me happy would be to start the New Year the way I feel after a good workout – energized, positive and most like myself. Suddenly, I no longer cared what I was “supposed” to do. When I realized what I wanted, I no longer cared about the status quo of what a 20-something single gal SHOULD be doing on New Year’s Eve.

So I went to a yoga class.

After some Google search work, I found there was a class offered at North End Yoga in Boston from 10 p.m. to 12:15 p.m., with a guided meditation just before midnight. The description promised a relaxing flow to start the year in a clear, centered, place for the cool price of $30. I purchased. Friends and clients who asked my NYE plans thought I was crazy.

At 8:30 p.m. on Dec. 31, instead of a sparkly dress and heels, I slid on some yoga pants and a sports bra (plus many more layers) and put my yoga mat in my bag. I made the trek alone to the studio that night, smiling at groups of young guys in suits and the girls with opaque legs elegantly crossed, with plastic “Happy New Year” tiaras shining from their curled hair.

Hanover Street, the center of action in Boston’s Little Italy, was brightly lit, with every restaurant busy. There was music pouring out of the cars and the doors of each establishment. People were shouting “Happy New Year!” and moving quickly down the sidewalk. Hordes of people waited in line at pastry shops or outside their favorite restaurant.

I saw happy families, groups of girls laughing and couples holding hands walking in and out of restaurants, and I wondered what their plans were for the night. I couldn’t help but wonder, was I missing out on some New Year’s secret? Was I checking out by opting out of the party? Should I have tried harder to enjoy the champagne toasts, the last-chance splurging? Should I skip the class and go dance on a table, or search for a midnight kiss? Who else would be at this class?

When I arrived at the studio, the bustle ended as the door closed behind me. A staircase took me to a quiet hallway where strangers removed their shoes and hung their jackets in silence, the most audible sound being the rustle of down coats against each other, the ding of a coat hanger on a metal rod and the occasional hushed “excuse me” and “sorry” as attendees moved in and out of the hallway.

Through the door – a wave of warmth on my face and the boards under my feet, mellow lighting, and the smell of sandalwood and patchouli. The room was packed mat to mat, and the noise returned as 50 or more friendly yogis greeted each other. A quick look around the room showed me both ages, both genders. Some in the latest Lululemon, others in simple shorts and tees. Before i could feel alone, I saw that despite the chatter, some were already lying on their back, breathing deeply with their eyes closed. I recalled the words of one of my favorite yoga instructors: Stillness in the midst of chaos.

I grabbed my props, laid back on my mat, and felt a feeling of relief, of happiness wash over me – I was in the right place.

The room fell hushed as Ame, the instructor took her place at the top of the room. She began, “I do this every year because that” – jutting her thumb to the window at the revelry on the street – “can get pretty lame.”

We were encouraged to take two index cards and a pen from the top of the room. To open the practice, Ame instructed us to write a word that reflected something we wanted to leave behind in the old year. I thought of the thoughts I had just before arriving.

Doubt, I wrote. Self-doubt, I thought, raising my hand to edit the card – but then, no. All doubt. Any doubt that made me judge others for their actions. Doubt that good things would come with hard work and patience.

“Place that card under your mat, away from you,” said Ame.

Fifty strangers or more, and suddenly we were united as we breathed in unison. Each person moved through the postures in their own style, some regulars to the studio and others like me, lone yogis looking for a safe haven. Accustomed to a solo practice, I thought I would feel bothered by the many bodies around me. But no, I was comforted that surrounded by moving arms and legs, I cared only for my own body, my own breath. The action on my own mat. Actually, I barely thought at all. I moved fluidly. My body and energy flowed.

After an hour, my hamstrings, hips, shoulders and chest were loose and open. Ame dimmed the lights further, and we all sat cross-legged on our mats. Ame told us to take the second card and write a second word, one that reflected what we wanted in the new year. I thought of the way I listened to my intuition and was lead to where I was truly happy, seated on my mat in the last few minutes of 2014. How I entertained doubt and second thoughts, but moved toward what I wanted. I thought of how many times in the year I had struggled, but had always persevered when I aimed for what I knew I wanted in my heart. When several times throughout the year, I had asked myself what felt right, and I had barely needed to think at all. When I listened to myself, I moved fluidly.

I picked up the pen, and wrote, Flow.

As we sat quietly, the people on the street below erupted into a countdown. The clock turned to 12 a.m., and fireworks lit up the room. The booms, shouts of “Happy New Year!” and the noise of kazoos and cowbells from outside echoed around the studio, but we sat concentrating on each slow inhale and exhale, with a final “ohm” to end the practice.

I, along with the other yogis, who though nameless will forever have a bond of sharing that night with me, left the class quietly, tossing that first card with the old year’s word into the trash. I turned to a few near me and said “Happy New Year, everyone. Namaste,” and then returned my well wishes. We smiled. I left.

Funny how later, out of curiosity I Googled “flow,” and found that psychologists have used the word to describe concentration on the present moment, awareness and personal control over an action. It perfectly describes how the word feels to me – when I follow my intuition, things happen naturally.

I didn’t know that definition when I was leaving the studio, but I remember at the moment how the air felt less cold. I thought about my intentions for the year. I thought about how I want so much from my life, and how I have planned more for 2015 than I have in other years. Many things others would not dare to do, others may be a difficult undertaking for me. But each thing, big or small, is something I truly want. And though courage may sometimes seem out of reach, I know that when I take a breath and listen to myself, I’ll move fluidly.

Because doubt is just a word I left behind in a trash can last year.

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