Many people set New Year’s Resolutions with optimism and a good plan in place. Some of the most common are to lose weight, quit smoking or drinking alcohol, or even to improve one’s relationships with loved ones and/or friends. Unfortunately, however, come February, several of these individuals find themselves struggling to keep with their resolutions – and their best intentions are left behind, to return to business as usual, not long after.
Yoga has demonstrated its ability to lead individuals towards positive change, including in behavioral changes for wellness-impacting habits. We focus on making more significant positive change resolutions with the coming of each new year out of cultural tradition; but any time of the year is a good one to call upon yoga to support one’s self in moving towards and maintaining such beneficial habitual adjustments.
Yoga instructors can guide individuals to be more successful in keeping with their resolutions through specific practice designs, such as with postures that strengthen the Manipura (Solar Plexus) Chakra, the third of the seven. It is “responsible for the structure of
On emotional, mental, and behavioral levels, this third chakra “handles the energy of your personal power, self-esteem and personality. Your third chakra is the place where you learn to create boundaries for yourself. Issues such as trust, fear of rejection, self image are all part of this chakra. This is the center for action, energy and power,” Stewart further explains. One can logically understand how all of those traits apply to setting and maintaining New Year’s Resolutions. For instance, self-esteem aids one in accomplishing goals because – arguably – we as people are often more likely to succeed when we believe that we can.
On another level, knowing how to set boundaries can help us to set realistic goals – rather than setting ourselves up for failure by setting unattainable ones. Physically exerting postures and sequences, such as Warrior Postures and quick Sun Salutation flows, can help us to recognize such limits of our bodies – if we respectfully and mindfully step back when certain practice elements become too exerting. Such mindfulness and self-respect can certainly, and beneficially, translate to one’s thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
In larger yoga disciplines, Anusara Yoga is a form that can also be advantageous in accomplishing those goals, through its special focus to empower one’s heart and spirit, and thus gain extra motivation to stay with resolutions. Anusara centers on finding positive mind-body connections through yoga as a “celebration of life”, explains FitDay.com. “Many medical experts and others would agree that a positive mind-body connection can accomplish a range of physical improvements in many individuals,” yet – further – such positivity is part of Anusara’s goals of increased “self esteem [and] self-empowerment” (same source).
To support such an approach, FitDay further describes that Anusura instructors are trained to refrain from “fixing” students in postures – instead allowing them to use their own physical and mental resources to make advantageous adjustments for themselves. That is exactly the skill that we need to succeed in making positive habitual changes in our lives through concrete resolutions.
Yin Yoga can be similarly powerful towards that goal, through leading practitioners to greater comfort with staying with thoughts and sensations that may be temporarily distressing – yet will lead to significant positive growth in the long run. In Yin Yoga 101: What You Need to Know, certified instructor Hope Zvara explains how “it is a more meditative approach with a physical focus much deeper than Yang [more physically exerting, such as Vinyasa and Ashtanga] like practices. Here, the practitioner is trying to access the deeper tissues, such as the connective tissue and fascia and many of the postures.”
She further explains how one powerfully beneficial result is most often practitioners’ significantly increased flexibility. As we understand gains in physical yoga practice most often translate to benefits for practitioners’ mind and hearts, we can surmise that such greater flexibility in the body could lead one to feeling more open and flexible towards new ways of thinking and acting. Such adaptability is essential for succeeding in making and maintaining large-scale resolutions. Yin Yoga has the potential to access such deeper parts of ourselves, with its offering – yet growth-spurring challenge, for many students – “to get intimate with the self, with feelings, sensations, and emotions” (Zvara) through its slower-paced and meditative nature.
In such deep work with one’s self, beyond the body, yoga philosophy (apart from physical asana practice) has a specific and potentially powerful approach to setting and succeeding at achieving goals. In Yoga Journal’s “Resolve to Evolve,” Catherine Guthrie clarifies how yoga philosophy can help one to succeed at New Year’s Resolutions through its concept of sankalpa. It is “a Sanskrit word, [which] means ‘will, purpose, or determination.’ To make a sankalpa is to set an intention,” Guthrie explains. She challenges readers to celebrate this new year by trading in “[their] tired (and probably familiar) resolutions for a sankalpa instead.”
The difference between a sankalpa and how many in our culture often enact resolutions is a positive, self-caring attitude – focusing on what we manage to achieve rather than where we fall short. This approach is often more effective than berating ourselves for perceived failures – because it increases our beliefs in ourselves to succeed, as well as helping us to keep open minds (both of which, as previously described, are crucial for succeeding at sustaining resolutions).
As direct physical practices to support this mental tactic, Anusara practice can further promote that positivity. A Yin practice can more profoundly connect us with our inner sensations, to, in turn, make us more available to recognize and carry out beneficial alternatives. All in all, yoga is a tool for helping those many people in our society who might struggle with keeping with their well-intentioned New Years’ Resolutions – or those made and attempted at any time of the year. Yoga instructors can be powerful facilitators in those processes through knowledgeable instruction appropriately tailored to each individual student’s needs and abilities.
© Copyright – Kathryn Boland / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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