The mental and physical health benefits of yoga are wide-ranging. They include increased flexibility, strength, balance, and even stress reduction. It’s no wonder that for those who haven’t yet begun a practice, yoga is often on many lists of New Year’s resolutions. One of the hardest parts of getting started is just that; showing up willing to try something new. Though it may seem intimidating to step on the mat, or into a silk for aerial yoga, for the first time, there are countless reasons to add yoga to your 2020 goals and then stick with it for more than 30 days. To help, we’ve compiled some tips to ease any worries about getting started and keep your practice going throughout the year ahead.
New Year, New You
A lot of people choose the new year as a time to make changes and start new habits. Not only does it feel like a clean slate, but it’s a marker for reflecting on the previous year and taking note of where to seek improvement. Health and wellness are a common theme for New Year’s resolutions with many resolving to eat better, exercise more and stress less. Fortunately, yoga can help with all of these!
The most important thing to note when working towards any new goal is to make them manageable. Too extreme and you’re likely to fall prey to failure and quit. One way to start off on the right foot is to try a 30 day new student special. After the stress of the holidays, and all of the resolutions, yoga can be a great antidote to the chaos, reminding you to breathe and take time out for yourself. If you start your practice slowly, by the time Spring arrives, you’re already in a routine that you can actually stick to. Don’t stop in January, keep going through February and spend the month determining what your true goals with yoga are, whether they be spiritual, physical or emotional.
What To Know Before You Start
The first step to starting a yoga practice is to set intentions that are about feeling good rather than trying to change something that’s wrong with you. Too often people make resolutions that reinforce a negative perception such as the need to lose weight or stop eating unhealthy foods. Instead, choose goals that support a positive outcome such as gaining more energy, receiving clarity or making time for self-care.
Next, you’ll want to decide what kind of yoga is the best fit for your goals. There are a wide variety of yoga disciplines, but the most common are:
1. Hatha - this is a generic term for yoga that teaches postures. Classes indicated as Hatha are great or beginners and focus on basic postures.
2. Yin - this is a more restorative form of yoga and is great for relaxation and flexibility.
3. Vinyasa - this is often referred to as “power” or “flow” yoga because of the transitions between sequences. It is more fast-paced and focuses on linking breath to movement.
4. Ashtanga - this practice is similar to Vinyasa in that it is more fast-paced sequencing but it uses the same set of postures each class.
Most practices will use many of the same postures, so you may want to familiarize yourself with them before you start. There are countless videos available online that go through various sequences, including Sun Salutations which are core to most practices. Keep in mind that online videos are no substitution for hands-on, in-person classes where you can learn the right form and avoid injuries. Experienced yoga teachers make everyone feel welcome and support all levels with modifications, encouragement and necessary adjustments.
The biggest lesson to learn before starting a yoga practice is that yoga is not a competitive practice. Don’t focus on the person next to you whose Fallen Angel is flawless, instead remember that your pace and practice are truly your own.
How To Create a Habit
One of the reasons resolutions get derailed is because we crave instant gratification, Remember most habits on average take 66 days to stick. The good news is there are probably others who are in the same boat and looking for ways to stay on track, whether they are your friends, colleagues or those who share your studio space. Seek these people out to create a community; not only can you lean on them for support and encouragement, but they can also keep you accountable. You may find yourself showing up to class just because you committed to someone else that you’d join them.
The Benefits Of A Regular Yoga Practice
At heart, yoga is about meditation, time focused on breathing forcing you to focus and clear your mind. Not only that, the movement cultivates a sense of gratitude for our bodies, encouraging us to take heed of how we feel more than how we look (why else do you think most yoga studios don’t have mirrors?). What’s more, mindfulness gleaned from yoga extends to other parts of our lives such as how we eat, choosing to nourish with whole foods rather than satisfy an artificial craving. The physical aspect of yoga also builds strength and endurance which can help manage weight and its cardiovascular benefits can also help lower blood pressure.
Now that you know the benefits of yoga and how to start your practice, you can continue from the New Year, and through Winter, with a commitment to go with the flow and a goal to bring health and happiness to your life for years to come.
Lana Layton is a recovering lawyer and judge who decided it was time to make a change. She began practicing yoga and meditation, which led to her actually waking up, stop miserably going through the motions of life, and move into a career that matches her personality and skill set. Meditation profoundly and positively changed her life, and it can change yours too. Lana is available for corporate and private meditation trainings, coaching and more. You can also catch one of her meditation info sessions and classes at Firefly Yoga Center. Email us for more information or to set up a training or sample coaching session.
For the past few years I have picked a word for the year to symbolize my intention. One word can be easier for me than a long sentence or paragraph. The one word can encompass what I want to bring into my life, or let go of. Past words have been to bring in more passion, purpose and joy. This year’s word is Simplify. For me, I want to de-clutter and downsize to remove distractions and reduce financial stress on me and my family. I spent many years on the hamster wheel of working and acquiring possessions. I didn’t realize at the time, but I spent my 30s trying to keep up with the Joneses. I found yoga at 40 and realized slowly, over time, that my possessions were an attempt to fill a void in my life. A void that is now filled by family, friends, yoga, meditation, dance and being outdoors. Now I look around at a house full of excess stuff, and see it as leftovers from a bygone era in my life when I thought acquiring things equaled happiness. Today, when I go to the studio, it’s free of clutter. I want the same for my home. So this year I’m tackling my whole house, drawer by drawer, closet by closet, to reduce my stuff down to what I truly love or routinely use.
So what is an intention? Until I took a yoga class, I’d never heard anyone talk about setting an intention. As a lawyer, I was familiar with goal setting, and being intentional with my time. But I didn’t understand what an intention was, or how it would lead to living intently, instead of just reacting to the curveballs thrown by life. In English, the word “intention” is defined as “a course of action that one intends to follow, an aim that guides action, an objective.” It’s a word from the Latin intendere meaning to direct attention or to stretch toward something.
In Sanskrit, the word for intention is Sankalpa and it’s a representation of a desire or positive thought that you want to manifest in the world, a promise you make to yourself. Often teachers set an intention at the start of each class. The intention for that day’s class might be developing confidence, or nurturing faith, or discovering strength. It might be cultivating kindness or gratitude or mindfulness.
If setting an intention is about reaching toward something—and that something is almost wordless, residing in the deepest part of your heart—then part of setting an intention involves listening carefully to learn what your heart wants, what you desire deeply. I often find this word is formed first on my mat, and then through journaling. I started journaling in 2017, and find it to really provide clarity for me. What I notice is that a theme usually develops in my journaling. The theme I noticed in my journaling between September and December was a desire to let go of excess stuff that is weighing me down. A desire to slow down, simplify, get rid of excess stuff, so I can focus on what brings me joy.
Setting an intention involves identifying a quality or desire and bringing that thought or desire, that positive value, into your life through actions. So, on some level, our intentions already exist as part of us, and it’s our work on the mat and through journaling, to get in touch with them. Our poses help us feel the first stirrings, and those stirrings evolve from wordlessness into thought, the thoughts are written down, solidifying our hearts desire, which in turn compel us to act.
Setting our intention is, in this way, an evolutionary act in our understanding of ourselves, and evolves over time as we learn to recognize what our heart is asking for. We then can bring that intention into the world and evolve into our fullest sense of ourselves. So, setting your intention is like drawing an arrow from the quiver of your heart. You aim the arrow at a distant target, a reflection of your heart’s desire, and with care and mindfulness release the bowstring. And as the arrow flies toward the target, it draws your heart toward its destiny.
So once you set an intention, how do you sustain throughout the week, month or year? What do you need to do to maintain your intention? And how do you know when it no longer serves you and it’s time to set a new intention? Consider these questions before, during or after your asana practice, then open your journal and write about the intention(s) that you hope to set in the new year. Whilst an intention is different to a resolution, this doesn’t mean it won’t be broken, we’re all human after all….. To strengthen your intention and make it a part of your life, try the following five steps to enhance your intention this year.
When the mind visualises something, this elicits a powerful response in the brain. Simply picturing doing an action can actually trigger these areas of the brain to light up, meaning these neural pathways become stronger even if we’re not actually physically taking part in anything. In the same way, you can enhance your chances of maintaining your intention by visualising yourself acting in alignment with it. Want to be calmer? Visualise yourself calmly going about your daily routine in a peaceful manner. Want to be more powerful and decisive? Visualise yourself making decisions and being confident in them, achieving something you’ve been working towards and feeling proud of yourself.
Change Your Habits
Our habits shape who we are. The pattern of action, reaction and response that courses through the body and mind every time we fall into a habit creates a cycle. If your intention includes changing something or altering a big part of your life, practice observing your actions and keeping a journal. Notice what triggers an unhelpful habit, and why you act upon it. Find a way of creating a gap between the trigger and the response by heading in a different direction entirely. To put it simply, if you find yourself repeating the same unhelpful habits over and over again, do something completely different and disrupt the habitual cycle. This gives you time to realise what you’re doing, and make a conscious choice to change.
Intentions start from the inside out, and even if you’ve managed to change your habits and are practicing your visualisation, the little voice in the mind can still interfere. One reason many of us may find it difficult to maintain an intention is because we simply don’t actually believe we can. Self-doubt is rife throughout most of us, but that doesn’t mean it’s right at all. Living in a way you truly want to and fully owning it is a scary thing. You’re being brave, honest and open, and that’s a vulnerable thing to be. As Brene Brown said in her now famous Ted Talk however, bravery is classified as having four elements, the first being vulnerability. To be who you really are is to peer through the mask of who you feel you ‘should’ be, to turn down the voice that says you ‘can’t’, and step into the courageous light of truly being you.
Tell A Friend
Whether you’re heading to your yoga class, sleeping earlier or eating healthily, it can all be a little easier when you’re made accountable for it. In the very same way, maintaining your intention can be enhanced when you tell someone you’re doing it. This way, if your intention is to be kind to yourself and your friend or loved one notices you’re still working after 9pm and you haven’t had time for yourself, they’ll be able to remind you and keep you on track.
Keep It Simple
If after a week you realise your intention was a little over-enthusiastically made, strip things back and simplify it. Look at what you can bring into each moment, rather than what you’ll achieve at the end of the year, make your intention something you feel you can realistically maintain, and consider an intention that helps you become the true, real and wonderful version of you.
Want some help setting intentions for the New Year? Join Lana for an Intention Setting and Vision Boarding workshop on Friday January 31st from 6-9 pm. We will stretch, meditate and dive into our intentions through guided exercises and then create a vision board as a visual representation of what you want to cultivate more of in your life in 2020.
Workshop cost is $30