This blog has been written by Desiree Wood Des is a Nurse Practitioner in Critical Care at the VA, Anatomy specialist for Spira Power Yoga Teacher Training, An Avid Yoga Practitioner at Spira Power Yoga and just an all around really good person….
Resolution Revolution; A mindful new year for all
After a busy holiday season and hectic work schedule, I rang in 2016 sound asleep by 10 pm, only to be briefly awoken at midnight by the distant sounds of fireworks in my neighborhood. I quickly fell back into a deep slumber as the rest of the world partied the night away. My dreams that night were restless with images of Times Square, Casey Kasem counting down the ball drop in slow motion and large ominous Salvador Dali clocks dripping over the New York City skyline. A pretty vivid dream, right?
I woke up in the morning with a flood of New Year’s memories as a kid, most of which involved my attempts to stay up past midnight. This is a goal I still have yet to accomplish. I remember being awoke by my dad, rubbing sleep out of my eyes as we counted down the new year together, singing old timey songs and sharing a sweet treat before he would ask me what my New Year’s resolution was.
I don’t really remember my resolutions as a child but I would guess that they involved something about not talking back, attending Sunday mass without complaining or cheating on my math homework. I am pretty sure these resolutions only stuck around for a day or two but I know I never cheated at math again!
The Mindful Spira Gang…
What struck me then and now is this idea of resolution, renewal and the symbolism that the new year represents. The New Year’s tradition dates back 4,000 years ago to ancient Babylon with the Romans solidifying the tradition by giving citizens an opportunity to reflect on the past and look to the new year ahead. Of course the Romans are not the only culture to adopt the idea of a fresh start. The Chinese New Year; the Jewish New Year, Rosh Hashanah; the Islamic New Year, Muharram and the Christian celebration of Lent all share a similar concept involving personal introspection, spiritual growth and renewal.
Each January about one-in-three Americans resolve to better themselves in some way. Resolutions remain a very common and powerful tradition in many cultures, providing time to reflect on the changes we want or need to make. Yet, resolutions can be very difficult keep and despite our best intentions, only a fraction of us keep our resolutions (just around 8%). This really got me thinking about the modern dilemma surrounding resolutions, human motivation and yoga.
Why do resolutions fail?
I think the concept of resolutions is well intentioned. Who does not want to live a healthier lifestyle, take more time for family, be more generous, quit that bad habit or lose the extra ten pounds? These resolutions are all examples involving motivations for change but often set us for failure right from the start.
Human behavior is a complex concept that is influenced by an array of mental, physical, emotional and social actions. Our brains are wired for habitual behavior, every single human action is tied to a specific neuropeptide that is released by the brain and sent through the bloodstream in response to an experience. Neuropeptides are linked to human memory and learning and have been shown to have a profound impact on behavior. From an evolutionary standpoint, habitual behavior is a necessary component especially in terms of survival. For example, fear inspired the fight-or-flight response and helped to keep us safe from predators and propagated our species. So while our behavior adapts to the changing times and environment, our evolutionary roots remains. The behavioral patterns we repeat are imprinted in our neural pathways, hence why it may be so difficult to break old habits and form new ones.
The key to behavior change may lie in our ability to “rewire” our brains, creating new neuronal pathways and new ways of thinking about a life-style change. This does not come easily or overnight; in fact it may take an entire lifetime. Most evidence suggests that it takes our cells 45-56 days to de-emphasize a particular neuropeptide requirement and may be accompanied by an unpleasant “withdrawal phase” during the first 7-14 days of a behavior change project.
How do we overcome this resistance to change?
First, there must always be an internal desire TO change. Without desire there is no motivation. Wanting to change on your own in the absence of external influence is a vitally important step in successful resolution. No one or thing can make us change. Yes, external forces can help motivate us to change, but the real power comes from within.
This is where the use of mindfulness comes into play. Focusing on the present, becoming physically, emotionally, and mentally AWARE of ourselves and our surroundings is the foundation of building a successful resolution. It may seem simple, but paying attention to sounds or being conscious of how we eat, talk, and think is a mindfulness exercise in and of itself and actually helps to challenge our habitual mind and the neuropeptide cascade.
Our habitual minds love to sort things into pleasant and unpleasant, good and bad, for us or against us. It can be rare to meet an experience without judging it. Mindfulness training is about being fully present in the moment – the here and now. It is not about quieting the mind or trying to stop thought; the mind is made to think. What mindfulness does is bring the thoughts into focus through cultivating presence and turning off the “autopilot/habitual mind”.
Mindfulness takes practice; I am still a beginner, especially when it comes to meditation. I know the background behind the scientific benefits but have yet to master it. I am reminded of what mindfulness teaches: it is not about being a master; it is about the journey. It is not about escaping reality or achieving a goal, it is to be fully presence in this moment, in this life.
Sometimes I find myself spending almost an entire yoga class “future planning”, completely disconnected from the present and my practice. Yet there are these moments during yoga where I am able to cultivate the qualities of presence and non-judgment creating a new pathway for resolution.
Do I have a New Year’s resolution this year? The answer is “YES”: to be more mindful and especially mindful of what “MORE” means.
Spira is here to help you cultivate mindfulness.
Check out 40 Days of Introspection (sorry we only have 2 more spots open in the January 2016 session…)
Imagine what 8 months long mindfulness could do for your life! 200 Hour Self Enrichment or Teacher Training is a unique 8 months long venture created for busy adults. We meet only once a month and you read about a book a month in between session.