Valerie Knopik, Yoga Medicine® Instructor, discusses the “Depth Year” and how you can use these concepts to re-invest in your yoga practice.
“In the depth of winter, I finally learned that there was, in me, an invincible summer.” – Albert Camus
With the holidays behind us and winter weather in full swing, many of us experience feelings of being let down during the months of January and February. Do any of these thoughts and ideas sound familiar?
• Now what?
• Is it time to do a New Year’s Detox?
• New Year’s resolutions?
• I’m going to get back into my normal workout routine.
• What can I buy with these gift cards?
• This year will be the year I do weekly meal prep every Sunday!
• I commit to moving for 30 minutes every day this year.
How can we fill the dark days of winter and still fulfill some of those normal desires to do something new?
Recently, I read an article by author, David Cain, about something called a “Depth Year.” Back at the end of 2017, this author had suggested the Depth Year with the original intent of taking a year where we don’t acquire any new possessions or start any new hobbies. The idea caught on, with many people deciding to try this idea of ‘going deeper instead of going wider’. The author decided that, since he had suggested it, he should actually do it too. Instead of doing what he himself had suggested – i.e., one full year not acquiring anything new or starting any new pursuits – the author decided to keep depth at the forefront of mind whenever he made any decisions. His follow-up article discusses how his Depth Year changed his life – offering him more creativity, more opportunity for mindfulness, in fact, he stated that depth was a “new lens for looking at the tools and opportunities that were already there.”
I look at this concept of the Depth Year as an extension of some of the rituals and traditions tied to Winter Solstice – the shortest (and darkest) day of the year in the Northern Hemisphere, which took place on December 21, 2018. The time surrounding Winter Solstice asks us to reflect on our whole selves, including those parts we hide from others. We might then go further to ask ourselves what we can leave behind (symbolically) ‘in the dark’. This self-reflection can be done, at least in part, through journaling, meditation, and introspective yoga practices. The Depth Year concept asks us to consider, among other things, why we’ve let certain projects go unfinished, why we’ve given up on certain pursuits, why we’ve not invested in certain relationships, and why we constantly need more. Both approaches invite us, in simple terms, to go deeper…to check in with ourselves, with our blockages, with our fears, with our fall back habits of procrastination or lack of motivation. And, then each approach asks us to confront (and actually sit with) the reasons why.
I feel inspired by the idea of a Depth Year, but to be honest, it also feels a bit daunting. If you aren’t ready to jump into the Depth Year in all aspects of your life, one idea is to start small and apply these Depth Year concepts to re-invest in your yoga practice, even if you have been practicing forever. I am a believer that how we treat ourselves on the mat is reflective of how we treat ourselves (and others) off of the mat. If you feel as inspired about this Depth Year approach as I do, here are some simple ways to start to play with this concept in your yoga practice:
• Go back to the basics. Spend quality time with the foundational poses of your yoga practice. Revel in the principles of alignment. Be fascinated with thoughts about what muscles are working and which muscles are lengthening. Use these investigations as a way to stay focused and present on your mat.
• Approach decisions about your practice with depth in mind. This might involve decisions about what kinds of classes to take or what options you choose during class. For example, if you always take the ‘up-level’ or more challenging option, consider dialing back and just sitting in the depth of the base option/pose.
• Bring breath to the forefront. I wrote a piece for Yoga Digest last year about going back to the breath and well, it’s hard, but it just might be a game changer for your practice. Approach your practice as if your breath is the peak pose. Instead of thinking about what you look like in each shape, focus on your breath instead. Notice how a shift in mental focus might stir things up.
• Bring mindfulness and meditation into your daily practice. Starting with just 3 minutes a day and building to 10 minutes over time can add a layer of depth to your day that is virtually indescribable. Before I started meditating regularly – primarily because I was convinced I didn’t have the time (insert eyeroll here) – my teacher would tell me that meditating would actually give me more time. She was right. I don’t know how to explain it, but meditation can leave you feeling as if you have more time in your day.
• Journal about new breakthroughs in your yoga practice as you practice these ideas of going deeper instead of going wider. What did you feel after focusing on nothing but your breath? How does it feel to sit in the depth of foundational poses and sequences (such as sun salutations)? What did you learn about yourself? About your habits? About your thought patterns? About anything? Write it down so that you can look back and recall how this Depth Year approach has changed you and your practice.
“There are vast amounts of untapped value in what you already have. We just need to cultivate it.” – David Cain
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Valerie Knopik is a Senior Research Scientist, Professor of Psychiatry and Human Behavior, and E-RYT in Providence, Rhode Island. Formally trained in classical ballet, as well as a former runner, Valerie has always been a believer in staying active but yoga is the perfect marriage of her work in mental health & her love of movement & anatomy.