Ah, the new year.  A time when yoga classes are packed mat-to-mat — for about a month. Yep, come February all those folks trying yoga for the first time, or coming back to practice as part of a New Year’s resolution, seem to disappear.

It reminds me of an article shared by my teacher when I first began my yoga teacher training. Taken from Swami Sivananda’s Sadhana: A Textbook of the Psychology & Practice of the Techniques to Spiritual Perfection called “The Mind of the Aspirant: A Psychological Study”. While focused more on the pursuit of a spiritual path, we can also deconstruct his teaching to reflect up on our experience in asana class.

Sivananda purports that when we enter into a spiritual pursuit [and let us not confuse asana with a gym membership; ready or not yoga works on a deeper spiritual level as well], we do so with our own set of expectations; and should our endeavor not meet them, our ego pulls us back to our old ways. Rather, the course of success is to let go of our preconceptions — to offer up our practice and surrender in the moment.

“Approach things spiritual with a sincere receptive attitude, with the idea to learn. Be prepared to sanely adapt yourself to them, instead of foolishly wishing them to adjust themselves to suite your own mental pattern.”

To move forward we must relinquish our expectations and be open to things that challenge our current point of view. By letting go of our ego attachment to how we think things should be, we are opened up and allow for true transformation to begin to take place.

In a yoga class, that might mean embracing that which tests our comfort zones. For those new to yoga this might mean just the willingness to surrender to the instructor’s teachings, leaving all our mental mind chatter at the door of the studio, joining in during chanting, or trying unfamiliar pranayama exercises. For those with a regular practice, it’s remembering to be open to poses that aren’t our favorites, or a new way to get into a familiar pose — trying a subtle variation that may be different than “how we were taught.”

Also entwined with this is the reinforcement of patience. In most cases yoga will work on you gradually, slowly changing you but at such a pace you might not directly notice it, or only becoming evident when you stop your regular practice and suddenly discover that little things are harder to deal with. We may notice it becomes more difficult to bounce back from life’s daily complexities and maintain our peace and equilibrium.

“And in the beginning, the neophyte is quite unused to this struggle, effort, and strain. Such concerted onrush of troubles and difficulties confuses and unnerves him for a time. This is but natural. Do not be perturbed. Bear up with fortitude. These initial difficulties will soon vanish. You will gain strength day by day.”

So if you’re trying yoga for the first time this year, let go of any expectation of what you think a yoga class should be. As nice as they are, you don’t need to have a pair of Lululemon yoga pants, or even bring your own mat — just bring yourself and an open mind.