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“Start wherever you are and start small.” ~~ Rita Baily

“The heaviness of being successful was replaced by the lightness of being a beginner again, less sure about everything. It freed me to enter one of the most creative periods of my life.” ~~ Steve Jobs

“Do not wait until the conditions are perfect to begin. Beginning makes the conditions perfect.” ~~ Alan Cohen

Here we are at the beginning of a new year. 2017…wow! Where did 2016 go? It seems like just yesterday was the beginning of 2016, and it feels like this entire past year went by in such a blur for me in so many ways.

So many big things happened for me this past year. I completed several of my Toastmasters goals, I completed my RYT-500 (finally!!!), I started a new job, I became certified as an integrative health and wellness coach. I lost my dog Ripley to cancer and a week later, we rescued a 1-year old lab/pointer mix who we named Panda…Panda has been a constant companion to our other dog, Lexie, and because he is so social, we are now members of an amazing dog park in our town…this has been great for ME, because I’ve made some new friends there, and I am able to get a lot of trail hiking in at this place, which is a form of not only exercise, but meditation for me. I bit the bullet and hired a personal trainer, and with the help of his team and my medical team, I am finally starting to see some changes after so long feeling like a failure.

So what does all this mean for me in this new year? How do I want to approach 2017 and make it a great year for me? Making New Year’s resolutions have not typically gone well for me in the past. When I look back over the years, I haven’t done a very good job about making and sticking to my resolutions. And let’s face it, this happens to most of us, and then what happens? We feel like failures, right?

Luckily, I’ve learned about SMART goal setting recently. Well, to be fair, I learned about SMART goal setting a long time ago, but I just didn’t pay attention…I guess I just wasn’t quite ready to get serious before, if I’m being completely honest. But now…well, let’s just say I am ready. I feel like I’ve finally found my groove, and I’ve got some amazing people who are willing to help hold me accountable, so I am much more confident about finding success this time around.

2017 provides me with the invitation for fresh thinking. It’s my time to ignite, and I want to invite you to join me. Let’s consider this a time of new beginnings.

Yoga can offer a compassionate approach to making changes. If you’re a yogi like me, one thing you can do to help you along the way is to use your body in tandem with your breath so that you can mindfully mark the transitions you’re making.

Once you’ve set your goals, actively work toward each one without judging yourself when the process takes longer or is less flawless than you’d like. If you do slip into an old habit, don’t beat yourself up…simply decide to start again. As a matter of fact, with SMART goal setting, it’s imperative that you check in with your goals regularly and reevaluate them, making adjustments as needed. It takes strength and trust in oneself to be willing to begin again; starting new is no easy task, especially if you feel like you’ve failed over and over again. If you have any self-awareness at all, then you probably know which behaviors are no longer serving you, and you sincerely want to overcome them. Be brave and let those old stories melt away. Use the breath to move into a conscious state of presence. Each exhale is a letting go. Each inhale is an opening. Breathe with intent when approaching your goals.

One of my overarching goals in yoga is to improve my shoulder mobility. Just four years ago, I could interlace my fingers behind my back with my arms straight, I could do Gomukhasana arms with no props, I could take a bind in Extended Side Angle, and I could do several advanced poses like Handstand and Bird of Paradise. But treatment for Chronic Neurological Lyme Disease has increased the inflammation in my body to a point that my entire body has paid the price, and my shoulders and legs seem to have it the worst. I would love to be able to get my body back to a point where I can do the arm binds I once used to, but I don’t want to frustrate myself, so I am setting a SMART goal of the following:

I will perform shoulder mobility exercises daily for at least 5 minutes and will reevaluate after three weeks. I’m starting small, because I think that starting big might overwhelm me; some of the exercises I will be using during this time are:

  • Gomukhasana arms with a strap…I’ll monitor my ability to get closer to not needing that strap.
  • Use a strap to interlace my fingers behind my back with straight arms and then folding into a Wide Legged Forward Fold. My goal will be to get my fingers closer together while keeping my arms straight.
  • Shoulder warm-up movements that take my shoulders through all the ranges of motion.
  • Neck warm-ups that help relieve neck tension, as that is contributing to my shoulder tightness.

After the three weeks are up, I’ll see where I’m at. If I am seeing improvements, I will add on some more challenging movements so that I can keep improving. If I’m not seeing improvements, I will work on finding the movements that will help me reach my goal. But the one thing I will NOT do is give up. Achieving this goal is important to me, not because I want to be able to do the crazy binds like I used to, but because this inflammation in my shoulders is negatively affecting my life in so many ways. Everyday functional movements, like putting things away in the top shelf of my closet, are no longer easy for me and they SHOULD be. So I am not looking for the vanity aspect…I just want to be able to do the things I need to do with ease and comfort. If I should eventually get back the ability to bind, then that is something I’ll consider an added bonus, but it’s not my goal.

And to make this easier for me to achieve, my wonderful husband has built me a yoga room of my very own! My 45th birthday is this week (on January 5th), and my husband knows how difficult it is for me to find yoga classes at studios to attend. The ones offered at times I can make it are not the style I’m looking for…my body just can’t do hot yoga or power yoga right now, and that seems to be the majority of what my area offers during times I could go. So for my birthday, my husband turned our youngest daughter’s old room into my very own space where I can practice whatever style I want, whenever I want.

me_yogaroom(Here I am, setting up for my first meditation time)

It’s also serving as my office, so that I have a more comfortable place than my dining room to work when I work from home. And a more comfortable place to compose my blogs!

me_yogaoffice(My husband captured me as I was setting up to write this post!)

So what are your goals? Are they actionable? Have you broken them down into achievable chunks? If you need some guidance, reach out to me and I’m glad to offer any advice I can. More than anything, hold yourself accountable and enlist others to help hold you accountable. If your goals truly mean that much to you, then plan out the RIGHT way to achieve them. Set those SMART goals for yourself. And let yoga help you with achieving the mindset to make them happen.

Namaste,

Melanie

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For the month of January, I’ve been working with my yoga classes on the concept of sankalpa. This translates to intention, resolve, determination. Many people confuse this with setting resolutions (as in New Year’s resolutions). However, sankalpa is much more than the typical superficial resolutions most people set. When you create a true sankalpa, it is much deeper. Here’s how I’ve been explaining it to my classes:

A typical New Year’s resolution might be something like, “I will lose 10 lbs.”, or “I will pay off my debt.” Heck, we may even get a lil’ deeper than that and say something like, “I will change my career to be something more meaningful.” Sound familiar?

I’ve set resolutions like this myself almost every single year. Do I ever achieve any of them? Sometimes. But I notice that when I do, I never really feel the sense of accomplishment I hoped I would. Do you ever feel like that when you reach some goal you’ve set for yourself? I mean, it’s great to lose some weight or pay off debt, but it’s all about ME when I set these sorts of resolutions or goals.

When you set a sankalpa, it’s meant to be something that not only affects YOU, but also those around you. At least that’s how I like to look at it. Let me “break it down like a fraction” as my husband likes to say, and give you my personal example.

If you’ve been reading my blog for any length of time, you’ve probably noticed that my posts have become more philosophical, especially over the last year. For quite some time now, I’ve been trying to figure out my purpose in life, as I really wasn’t feeling like I was fully doing what I was meant to be doing. As I was working on my first Toastmaster’s speech in November, it all came together and hit me like a ton of bricks. All the soul-searching I’d been doing finally opened my eyes and helped me discover what I truly feel is my purpose in life…to be a Happiness Advocate, as I like to affectionately refer to myself now. I performed the speech in early December and posted it here on this site, as I felt it was relevant to the material on this blog.

Well, between then and now, it feels like my life is on warp speed…in a great way! So many opportunities are coming my way and I wondered, “Why? Why am I so lucky all of a sudden? What did I do to deserve this?”

I’ll tell you what I think happened. As I wrote that speech – as I figured out my life’s purpose during that process – I also set my sankalpa, my intention. Without even realizing it. My intention is to find happiness and infect everyone around me with it.

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(See? Even my Raspberry Leaf Yogi Tea fortune agrees with me.)

First I had to start with myself, because I can’t expect to make anyone else happy if I’m not happy with my own life. And Gosh Darnit, I’ve been working at this for a REALLY long time and I finally AM happy. I know what makes me tick and what brings me joy. I learned that to truly be happy, I have to find the good in EVERY situation I am faced with. Every situation, no matter how bad it may seem, is presented to us for a reason. There is always a lesson to learn, and it’s from those lessons that we grow into the people we are meant to be. Most importantly, I learned that be happy, I need to love myself…and I do…I definitely, FINALLY, love myself. Now that I look at life through that lens, how can I NOT be happy?

Now I’m not saying that I am always rosy and cheery and all that. We all have bad days, after all. Days when I think, “Why isn’t this happening FAST enough?”, “Why can’t I do THIS yet?” But I quickly change my thought process to, “What is the positive in this? What can I learn from this?” When I do that, I find that smile and that sense of peace.

Magically, it seems like people are starting to notice.

  1. My yoga classes are getting bigger and my students are TRULY leaving with smiles on their faces. Is it because I’m this uber-amazing yoga teacher who has the most awesome sequences EVER? No…if you have been to one of my classes, my sequences are nothing crazy or special. Is it because I’m so graceful on my mat when I teach? HECK NO! Again, if you’ve been to my classes, you know that I rarely do the poses with you, and when I do, it is obvious just how UNgraceful I am in most every pose I do. I think people are coming back because they can see I’m happy. Authentically happy. I wear my heart on my sleeve (or tank, if it’s warm in the room), and I think people appreciate that I am real. Real clumsy, real nerdy, real goofy…real HUMAN.
  2. I’ve been given some new yoga opportunities, most notably, helping to lead a retreat in Aruba in November 2015. Click here for more info on that…I’d love for you to join me if you can!
  3. I’ve already talked in past posts about my full-time job and all the cool things that have been happening on that front.
  4. I’ve been nominated for something at work that is wellness related, and it’s all around this journey I’ve been on. I don’t know if I’ll win, but just being nominated is…well, WOW!
  5. I’ve been asked to share my story at a gathering coming up for people who suffer from chronic illness, to show that you CAN come out on the other side. I was told I was asked because I have a “happy energy”. I’ll take that!

Here’s perhaps the coolest thing of all…at least to me. This past weekend, I went to an energy session with a couple other ladies at this really beautiful space in Monroe, NC called The Inn and Rosehill. It was a gift from my parents for Christmas and my birthday. It was five glorious hours of dabbling in Reiki, numerology, and intuitive healing. WELL…during the numerology session, it came out that my soul’s urge is to…WAIT FOR IT… Make. People. HAPPY! Seriously, I can’t make this stuff up. See the pic for yourself. Can you say V-A-L-I-D-A-T-I-O-N?

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(Here’s the write-up from the Numerology results…cool, huh? In the middle box, zoom in and you’ll see it says “Joy Soul’s Urge”.)

Seriously, all this hard work I’ve been doing the past couple of years, trying to make sense of so many things thrown at me…it’s paying off. And something tells me more is to come. I’m only just beginning, I can feel it!

Yoga has been crucial in all of this. It allowed me to cultivate patience when I struggled to understand something that was happening to me. It allowed me to appreciate my breath and how healing it can be. It allowed me to develop my meditation practice. It allowed me to realize that I am beautiful, no matter how clumsily I move or how much my body changes due to medications. It allowed me to figure out what my sankalpa is…not just for 2015 but for the rest of my life. Most importantly, it allowed me to find happiness. Won’t you join me and let it help you find YOURS?

Namaste,

Melanie

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