As we approach the New Year, there's a lot of talk about New Year's Resolutions. As with setting intentions for a yoga practice, these resolutions are a way of bringing awareness to our behaviors and sensibilities. The trouble is that way too often there is too fine a line between a resolution and a disappointment. We can so easily set ourselves up for failure by making a resolution or intention that is about an end result without reflecting our actual condition. Setting a goal, like losing 10 pounds, is a neat and tidy package, but is not about changing the habits of mind and body that added that weight, nor does it establish a pattern to keep those 10 pounds off, once lost.
I like the idea of setting intentions and making resolutions starting without the idea that it's broken (set condition) and this time I'm fixing it (set goal). My intentions rest on possibilities through noticing options, and encourage an awareness process rather than a goal or outcome. Try these on and see how they reorganize your thoughts and feelings:
In this New Year of 2010...
"I will release the tension in my shoulders."
"I will live without tension in my shoulders."
"I will stop holding tension in my shoulders."
"I will do yoga every day and eliminate tension in my shoulders."
"I will get help when I feel overwhelmed to reduce the tension in my life."
"I will release any tension I notice when I exhale."
"I will take time to label those situations that make me tense, when I recognize them."
"I will treat tension in my body with compassion, whenever I notice it."
Obviously, the first three resolutions are unreasonable, and in the end even the fourth is unattainable. If I do yoga every day, that might help me cope with tension but it will not eliminate tension in my shoulders. Getting help when overwhelmed is a good idea but doesn't address the way I let myself get overwhelmed, and making the effort to notice tension and use the breath as a mechanism to release it are both possible, manageable and probably will help reduce tension in general by drawing my awareness to my breath. Labeling situations that create tension is a long term strategy to bring awareness to the causes of my suffering, and by recognizing the causes it becomes ever more possible for me to end my suffering. The last one, approaching oneself with compassion, is a big step towards healing the causes of suffering, and underlies the release of tension with breath, with help, with awareness. It's okay to take the time to evolve this kind of list until you get to the true resolution, finding the mechanism through which you can set an intention.
The 10 extra pounds are not the problem, neither are the overuse of the cell phone or the inability to clear your desk, or difficulties enjoying time with family or staying in your budget, or getting enough rest. Those behavioral flaws you may see in others are not problems to be fixed. Resolutions are not sales quotas to meet in order to get the rent paid, unless that is a specific situation that you must actually accomplish in order to pay the rent! Underlying all these "problems" is your level of awareness, the degree to which you judge and blame, the depth to which you grasp at control in order to feel secure, or operate through denial of causes and their effects. The tension held in the body is the result of a series of conditions, and becoming aware of those conditions is the path to seeing our pattern of responses. Changing that pattern is only possible if we acknowledge it. And whether we see it or not, it is already there, impacting upon us.
Setting intentions are a way of bringing mindfulness into your way of being. They draw your attention to how things work with you, to the causes and effects that influence your choices, and to the possibilities. Perhaps this New Year can begin with a pledge to approach awareness rather than set a goal: identifying a process that opens up possibilities and allows you to feel and act more in consonance with your ideals. Ideals in and of themselves are useful. I think of them like intentions; heightening awareness and developing a willingness to see possibilities and believe we have choices.
As for those 10 pounds, starting with an inquiry into the question of appetite and satiation and the patterns of pressure and release that sometimes hijack appetite will have a longer and deeper effect on your weight, even though a rigid routine of giving up desserts or second helpings might lose the pounds in the short term.