The S.M.A.R.T Guide to a Happy New Yoga Year

A Happy New Year – Here’s to Yoga Resolutions and the SMART way to make and keep them!

Here we are heading in to 2020 and as usual we’ve all got our New Year plans and resolutions. I’m hoping that some of yours, like mine, involve setting time aside for Yoga practice.

However, for many of us our grand ideas end up like New Year’s Eve fireworks – they start with a bang and an enthusiastic display but by the end of January they’ve fizzled away to nothing or at best the equivalent of the last damp rocket left standing in the milk bottle!

What goes wrong in just one short month? Generally, it’s down to something really simple – in the enthusiasm of the moment we don’t have a definite plan and we don’t set proper goals. Now that all sounds quite a formal process but anyone who has any sort of Management training will know that the best way to succeed is effective planning and that includes the setting of firm objectives. One of the most popular ways to do that is to use the SMART technique. What are SMART objectives and how can they be applied to your Yoga practice?

SMART is an acronym for

Specific

Measurable

Achievable

Realistic/Relevant

Time bound

So, if your resolution is to “do more Yoga in 2020” that can become much more achievable and likely to actually happen by fitting it in to the framework and making it “SMART.”

Specific – “I want to do more Yoga” needs to be much more clearly defined. How much yoga? For how long? When? How about changing that to something much more precise like “I want to do 2 sessions of Yoga every week. One 90-minute class and one 30-minute personal practice and the best days are Monday and Wednesday.”

Measurable – how are you going to measure that? What about adding it to a calendar and marking off the sessions? I find if something is formally scheduled into my day, I’m much more likely to do it than if I just have it as an idea in the back of my mind. It’s also easy to let other things take priority if it’s not planned it. That particularly applies to partners, children and animals who will all hog your time without a second thought! Having said that don’t expect to have 100% success so you might decide that managing to fit in 8 out of 10 sessions is enough. Do give yourself a bit of scinch and I find the 80% rule works for me.

Achievable – Make sure you pick days and times that are suitable. If you get over enthusiastic and schedule in 2 classes a week and a personal practice every day, you’ll never fit them all in. Equally if you choose days when you’re already struggling to keep your head above water you’ll not stick to the plan. Either way you’ll end up feeling like a failure so start small! You can always add extra in later if you feel you genuinely have the time.

Realistic/Relevant – why do you want to do more Yoga? Is it to improve your health or fitness? Be more relaxed or handle stress better? All of those are great. They are realistic and relevant expectations. However, if it’s because you want to have a super model figure or because everyone else is doing it or your mother/boss/partner/dog thinks it’s a good idea then is it really the right objective for you? Think carefully about what you want, what you can expect to achieve and be sensible!

Time-bound – how long are you going to try this for? I use 3 months as an initial target. 3 months lets you settle in and establish a routine. You can tweak in that time if need be and then at the end of the period you reassess and reset your goals.

So, I hope you can see that although at first glance a personal Yoga practice and a Business Management technique seem to be poles apart the two can actually work together and help you keep on track with your New Year resolutions! So, here’s wishing you All the Best for 2020, Good Luck and Happy Planning!

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Tight Hamstrings and a Fear of Lycra

Tight Hamstrings and a Fear of Lycra

It was spring 1994 when I first decided to try Yoga. I had just turned 30 and in my head that was the first step on the downward spiral to old age and looming infirmity. I might even have discovered my first grey hair!

I found a class in my local Leisure Centre in Consett on a Sunday evening which fitted well with my full time job and busy schedule so I went along to give it a try.

I remember putting on jogging bottoms and a t shirt and hoping that no one would be wearing Lycra or leg warmers. After all Jane Fonda was still selling out in the exercise video department and Mr Motivator was strutting his stuff on breakfast TV in flamboyant figure hugging outfits that came dangerously close to a mankini. Turns out I was pretty safe on that one. There were only three of us in the class including the teacher and we were all dressed like we’d come to fix the boiler. On the down side there was definitely no hiding at the back!

It was all very different from anything I’d done before – the Sanskrit names were a mystery but I could see the rationale in the English translations. Cat posture and down faced dog made sense. I was able to follow along reasonably well so I was feeling pretty pleased with myself.

Right up to the point when we did Paschimottanasana or seated forward fold (see picture) and my chronically tight hamstrings kicked in. Years of cycling and walking made sure that I could barely move more than a couple of inches and I was devastated. I sneaked a glance at the lady next to me and she virtually had her chin on her ankles! Despite being told that Yoga was non-competitive I couldn’t help but feel frustrated and a bit embarrassed. What I didn’t realise at the time was that I was encountering something that would come to define practice for me:

I needed to learn how to explore my limitations without pushing into physical discomfort or mental pain. To stop beating myself up for not being “good enough” and to stop comparing myself to other people. In Yoga terms these relate to the ethics of non harming (Ahimsa) and truthfulness (Satya) which deal with how we treat both other people and ourselves. The idea of being comfortable with myself as I was at any given moment applied not just to my time on a yoga mat but to everyday life as well. That took a long time to sink in – and I’m still not sure I’ve totally mastered it yet – but the seeds were sown at that very first session.

The practice finished with breathing and relaxation and by the end of it I was hooked. I went to classes and practised at home. It was another ten years before I even considered teacher training. I’ve been teaching now since 2008 which sounds like a very long time but ultimately I’m still a student. There is always something new to learn – whether that’s from current research into movement techniques, new ideas about philosophical issues or , as is more often the case, improving my teaching by working with the people who come to my classes. Over the years I’ve definitely changed from the person who turned up for that first class. I have a good few extra grey hairs now and I’m certainly not as slim as I used to be. My Paschimottanasana is still a poor imitation of the one you’ll see in yoga books, magazines or the photo I’ve used for this post but it has improved as far as my body will allow. More importantly I like to think that Yoga has made me a largely calmer, kinder and more compassionate human being and ultimately for me that’s what counts. For the record I do have grumpy days and times when I argue with my husband or end up in loud confrontations with my son. Yoga may well have improved my understanding and awareness but it has yet to make me a saint! And you still won’t find me in Lycra.

Glossary of terms:

Jane Fonda – actress and exercise instructor whose aerobic routines had participants close to heart failure while she didn’t even break sweat.

Mr Motivator – TV exercise guru who choreographed routines for breakfast TV in a bid to improve the fitness of the nation. Viewers responded by watching him from the safety of the sofa while finishing their tea and toast.

Video – an ancient recording/playback system with tape wound between spools and requiring a VCR (Video Cassette Recorder ) to play back via the TV. Obsolete in most houses except ours!