Usually, vows are associated with weddings and unions, as the partners commit to each other. A vow is just that: a promise. Oral or written, a vow is a promise you make to commit yourself to a specific role or course of action. We are constantly making promises and commitments to others, but when was the last time you made a vow to yourself?
Think about your yoga practice, how it has evolved over time, and how your relationship with your practice has evolved too. How do you perceive your relationship with your practice? How do you measure your growth on the yoga path?
When I initially did this mental exercise, I considered four elements of my practice: Asana, Pranayama, Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation). I realized that I had only focused on some aspects of yoga, and I vowed to explore other areas of my practice. And I encourage you to do the same.
What is a Yogic Vow?
Vrata is a Sanskrit word that comes from the Vedas and Upanishads and is translated as “vow, determination or devotion”. A vrata is a conscious and thoughtful commitment to personal action to increase the well-being of yourself or your loved ones. Setting and creating a vrata is a personal practice that can include prayer, chanting, reading spiritual texts, meditation, or yoga practices.
How to Make a Yoga Commitment
Make a vow to which you can (and will) commit
After identifying the areas that were missing from my progress report, I decided to first incorporate the ethical values of the Yamas (“not”) and Niyamas (“not”) into my practice. Trying not to be intimidated by all that ground (there’s always more to learn!), I started my search for growth with a niyama: santosha (contentment or acceptance).
My vow: I accept that I have a lot to learn and I swear to practice Santosha when I am faced with new lessons. Note: “Lessons” is my optimistic euphemism for “challenges”.
Find specific ways to practice your vow
In contrast to a goal that can be measured against a clear and definitive goal or control point, a vow is a little more abstract. So it’s important to find some practical ways to demonstrate your promise to yourself.
Take, for example, the marriage vow to love your partner unconditionally “in sickness and health”. One practical application could be bringing handkerchiefs and tea to your partner when they have a cold, rather than covering them with a blanket and running away.
In a yogic context, I can use my vow to practice santosha when struggling with a new asana by encouraging self-compassion with an encouraging word or phrase and / or smiling after each attempt.
7 ways to hold yourself accountable to your vow
- Make a daily commitment. Decide how you will incorporate your vow into your daily life and spend a few minutes on it each day.
- Connect with your heart. Think about your intentions and how practicing yoga can help you move forward in a good way.
- Write your vows. Put a piece of paper with the word or phrase near your mat or carry it in your pocket. Consider keeping a yoga journal.
- Recite your vows. Repeat this before, during and after your workout or at specific points during the day.
- Share your vow. Find a vow partner! It can be helpful to have someone check you in. Plus, you can even inspire them to do the same in their practice.
- Symbolize your vow. Wear something that will remind you of your commitment. I knew someone who had a red string tied around his wrist and every time he complained he had to switch wrists. After a day he was so upset about it, but it kept him alert to his habit!
- Teach your vow. When you teach yoga, you create a class based on your vows. For example, if you focus on aparigraha (liberation from excess), sequence your class with poses that open the chest and hips.
Reap the rewards
Having a personal pledge with a neat application adds an element of mindfulness not only to your yoga practice but also to your daily thoughts, actions, and interactions. I can use my vows to practice Santosha by expressing gratitude during challenging times, both on and off the mat.