2014 is just around the corner. Besides cozying up with our loved ones and celebrating this special period, most of us also take time to reflect. Looking back on the year that is passing and pondering how to make the one that’s coming the best ever.
Step in the (in)famous New Year’s resolutions! OK, before I let you in on the yogic twist on the subject, let’s take a quick trip back to where it all started.
A tradition dating back to B.C.
As it turns out, the first New Year’s resolutions date as far back as the Babylonian times (from 1894 BC on). Then promises were mostly made in order to earn the favor of the gods. The actual tradition of making New Year’s resolutions began much later though, during the reign of Caesar, after 46 BC. The month of January in fact gets its name from Janus, the two-faced Roman god of beginnings and transitions. Janus is depicted looking backwards into the old year and forwards into the new one. Resolutions made at the time were of a moral nature, such as being kind and virtuous to others.
Nowadays the tradition is still very much alive. Apparently about 45% of Americans usually make New Year’s resolutions, 17% make them infrequently, and the U.S. Government’s official website even gives you suggestions on what your resolutions could be.
Low success rate
If so many people set themselves goals as the year ends, why is it then, that just a few actually manage to achieve them (as few as 8% as reported by statisticbrain.com)?
According to scientists one of the reasons for that is, that New Year’s resolutions are psychologically daunting. And combined with all other tasks and priorities we have in our life, the amount of willpower that they would require, is just too much for our brain to handle. So we eventually drop them.
The yogic way
In yoga we strive to observe ourselves without judgement, act according to our inner guidance, let go of what is not needed and welcome what’s coming. Paraphrasing Gandhi, we try to “shake our world in a gentle way”.
These 5 simple tweaks should get you surprising and immediate results.
1. Smile your way to happy
By smiling, when we are actually not feeling happy, we “trick” our brain into believing that we are. It goes like this: when contracting our “smiling muscles”, a signal that we are experiencing joy, is sent to the brain. In return, the brain, now “knowing” we are happy, sends a signal right back to the muscles, to smile some more. The loop goes on and we actually start experiencing joy.
Why is smiling so powerful? Because it stimulates our brain’s reward mechanisms. British researchers found that one smile can provide the same level of brain stimulation as up to 2,000 chocolate bars and it can be as stimulating as receiving up to 16,000 £ in cash!
>>> What to do: Just smile! With your eyes too. 🙂
2. Look up for confidence
This is one of the best tips I ever got. It comes from Dr. Sai Prakash, an Ayurvedic doctor in a small village in India. He told me: when you walk around, always gaze slightly up, not straight ahead, never down.
Looking up (towards the sky, the higher power, God or however else you prefer to call it) changes our brain chemistry making us feel more confident, positive and assertive. Whereas looking down towards the ground promotes feelings of sadness and hopelessness.
And that’s not all, the fact that body posture affects our emotions and even our hormones is backed by science. Check out this amazing Amy Cuddy TED Talk and this Scientific American article for more info.
>>> What to do: First look straight ahead and then direct your gaze slightly up. Keep it that way all day.
3. Drink water, feel good
We need water to function optimally. Why? Up to 80% of the human body is water – the brain is 75% water, the lungs approximately 80% water, lean muscle tissue about 75% water (by weight), bone 22% water, blood about 83% water, even body fat has 10% water.
Water helps carry nutrients to the cells in your body, washes away waste products and helps biochemical reactions such as digesting food, producing energy, and building tissue. It sends electrical messages between cells so that your muscles can move, your eyes can see, your brain can think. It helps regulate body temperature, and lubricates your joints. It affects our mood – when dehydrated we feel lethargic, irritable and tired.
>>> What to do: Drink up. The suggested amount is about 2-3 liters (9-13 cups) of water throughout the whole day.
4. Sleep for productivity
A good sleep allows us to function to the best of our abilities, remain happy, positive and healthy.
Sleep is essential for our health, because it lets our bodies recover and repair themselves after the day we had. It also gives our brain time to process short and long-term memories. During the phase of deep sleep the mind is completely still so we can reconnect with the original spirit or consciousness.
>>> How much sleep do we actually need? There are different estimates to be found around the web, usually suggesting 6-8 hours. I personally try to follow the Ayurvedic recommendations – different times for different body-mind types (doshas > find out yours here): Vata 8 hours (10pm-6am), Pitta 6.30-7.30 hours (10/11pm-5.30) and Kapha 4.30-5.30 hours (11pm/12am-4.30am).
5. Think positive.
Our mind is powerful enough to bring things into existence, and the ancient sages knew it thousands of years ago already. As one of the most famous Buddha’s quotes goes:
“We are shaped by our thoughts; we become what we think. When the mind is pure, joy follows like a shadow that never leaves.”
When we feel happy and positive our energy vibrates on a higher frequency, and that’s the kind of energy we attract into our life as well.
Throughout the years we can take on negative affirmations, subconsciously telling ourselves, that we are unworthy, incapable or un-something else. The trick is to replace them with positive and uplifting ones. Ever heard of “Fake it till you make it.”? Something like that… in a good way.
>>> What to do: Here a few affirmations you can try. You can adjust them or come up with your own ones. Then repeat them to yourself throughout the day.
“I am safe, I am loved, all is well.”
“I love myself deeply and completely. I forgive myself deeply and completely. I accept myself deeply and completely. I am enough.”
“I am in the right place, at the right time, doing the right thing.”
“I will not be distracted by noise, chatter, or setbacks. Patience, commitment, grace, and purpose will guide me.”
It’s all about being mindful
As you see, ultimately these 5 life-tweaks are simple habit changes, that will nourish your body and steer your mind into a calmer and happier existence.
They are all exercises in mindful living, staying present in the moment and giving it your undivided attention. Because that’s where life unfolds.
What about your New Year’s resolutions? I would love to hear what you think! 🙂
P.S.: I’d love to meet you on Twitter: here.
And if you enjoyed this post please consider sharing it on Facebook or Twitter below.