January 18, 2011

Don’t Set Your Intentions While You’re High.

Photo Courtesy of Álvaro Canivell

Recuperate From Your Holiday Hangover First.

The Christmas decorations are safely packed away in the garage again for another 314 days or so. The ‘Seasons Greetings’ cards have been thoughtfully offered to recycling with one last glance in the envelopes for small bills from Grandma. The last of the festive treats has been consumed, turned hard and used as a doorstop or otherwise disposed of in a fit of New Year’s resolution. The next obligatory office Christmas party is at least 328 days away and the intern has finally stopped giving you curious looks after the last one you can‘t remember. And finally, mercifully, the days are getting longer. It’s time to take out those intentions you set for 2011, shake off the glitter, and take a long, hard look at them.

That’s right, Valentine’s Day candy is on the shelves and here I am talking about New Year’s resolutions. The way I see it, you’ve had a couple of weeks now to try and transform your life, body, mind or relationship, and chances are nothing has changed. Perhaps you’ve become disenchanted with your own lack of progress and quit, or maybe your self-will was no match for all that sugar in your bloodstream and you relapsed spectacularly into a family pack of peppermint Oreos (or post-work happy hour, or your ex-boyfriend…pick your poison and insert here). Quite possibly you just sobered up and forgot what it was that you wanted to achieve. So you’re two weeks into the year and you didn’t get it on the first go. Guess what? You have fifty weeks to change that. Now is the perfect time to reassess.

I recently read M.J. Ryan’s book This Year I Will, a self-help guide to succeeding in our goals. According to Ryan, the top two reasons we fail at sticking to our resolutions are that the goals we set are not powerful enough, and the reasons behind them are not meaningful enough to sustain our devotion or interest. I would add to that a third reason: we often set our intentions when we are high. That’s right, high. Buzzing on the sugar-frosted emotions of the holidays and the complications of family, depressed after too many toasts, not enough mistletoe or having had to work over the holidays. We overload our systems with additives, alcohol and late nights in the name of good cheer. And when we come down and look over those resolution lists, they seem unimportant, undesirable and often downright silly. It may have sounded good to the clicking of unlimited champagne flutes, but are you really going to dedicate a whole year to not losing your keys? Not stalking your ex on Facebook anymore is a sound decision, really, but worthy of your steadfast commitment above all else? To fall in love sounds powerful alright, but a tad lofty and vague, no?

So first things first, take that list of resolutions out from your guilty hiding spot and throw it away. Seriously, wad up the whole thing and toss it out with those really hard coconut covered thingies your neighbor gave you out of either love or hate, you’re not really sure which. Step two is to create a space in your day long enough to give yourself some undivided attention and wide enough in which to unroll your yoga mat. Step onto your mat, close your eyes and bow deeply into the space inside of yourself where your hopes and dreams take root. The space that yearns to be flooded with the sweet fulfillment of dedication towards your imaginative plans, where all intentions begin. Ryan would call it the Left Brain, the creative part of our neurological system that craves the excitement of new challenges. Yoga would call it the heart space. Emanating from somewhere deep in its folds is the rhythm of your unique desires and needs. Sometimes it’s hidden behind layers of tension and Snickers bars, suppressed by obligation and learned patterns, but it’s there waiting for you to flow in with any inhale. Go there.

And there you are. Without the costumes and the exhaustion, the lingering post-holiday sniffle. Just you and your breath. Admire what you see here, sweeping your gaze across the inner landscape of yourself, breathing in deeply as if you could absorb this scene rich with creativity. Feel with the fingertips of your body and mind where you’re tight and begin to lovingly massage. And listen. Is your body screaming? Listen deeper. Is your heart whispering? Your practice is a lot like the mirror Harry Potter finds in Dumbledore’s office in The Philosopher’s Stone; it shows you not just who you are, but what you most deeply desire. Whatever feels important to you on your mat probably is important to you. Start there and you‘re already half way home.

The final step is articulation. How we articulate ourselves matters a great deal in terms of whether we succeed. Have you ever gone to your mat with the explicit intention of burning off last night‘s excesses, and found your breath laboring, your tendons popping under a complete lack of mindfulness or muscular integration? When you practice with an intention that’s self-critical or judgmental, what you express on your mat is often harsh and punitive. If you had articulated your goal instead as nourishing your body, perhaps your practice would have manifested as grounding, empowered and compassionate. Likewise, if your New Year’s resolution had been to love yourself enough instead of getting skinny, what might be possible? Once you’ve figured out what it is you want to change, evolve or create this year (and I strongly recommend narrowing it down to just one thing), take the time to write it and rewrite until it feels powerful and authentic.

Any and every time you become disheartened or distant from your intention, come back to your mat, to your breath, and listen to the pulsation within, echoing your desire in waves through your being like a mantra. Powerful. Meaningful. Space. Articulate.

Feel it. Own it. It’s yours.

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