Setting Goals-A Yogic View
As the New Year approaches, many of us decide that setting goals that will help us achieve something, or just become a better person. Often times, these goals fade away in a few months for various reasons. In Yoga philosophy, Samskaras are thought to be an inheritance of mental, physical and emotional patterns or behaviors that can keep us from reaching our goals.
Some samskaras can be positive, but even repeating and creating deep grooves for positive samskara can turn negative. For example, as a yoga teacher who has taught in a gym setting, I find in interesting how many students have amazing intensity, dedication, and strength, but constantly push their bodies to the absolute limit, rarely satisfied with the flexibility, or size of the body they have currently. I see students pushing past pain signals in an effort to achieve advanced yoga postures, then afterwards have sore backs, or injury. While intensity and dedication can be great qualities, sometimes, they can be to our detriment when we don’t listen to what our bodies are trying to teach us in our yoga practice. In our Western culture, it seems almost shameful to some to listen to the body’s cue—“slow down, and treat me more gently”.
Through the practice of yoga, we can create new, healthier Samskaras for ourselves. As we create new patterns of behavior, setting goals becomes more attainable because our behavior has changed on a deeper level. The yogic principles I have found to be most helpful in creating new patterns are Sankalpa (intention), Bhavana (visualization), Shani (Slowing), Vidya (Awareness), Abhaya (Fearlessness), Asana (poses), Abhyasa (Practice).
Sankalpa is the “desire of your heart”. It takes shani and pranayama to be able to fully listen to this desire. The pranayama that I have found most useful in finding sankalpa are breath of joy, brahmari, bellows breath, pulling prana. After each practice, it is useful to stop and sense into the body, and notice the changes that the pranayam has affected. Listening intensely to these changes helps the busy thinking mind to quiet, and give the ability to more fully listen to true, untainted desires of the heart. As we listen more closely to the desire of our heart, setting goals becomes a little more clear.
Bhavana is visualization. It is helpful to visualize a place/person that brings peace and joy to your soul. Compassion Focused Therapy calls this “compassionate image”. Often times these places/people posses the qualities that we desire, and allowing them to be a part of our minds journey during the day can be very helpful to affect the change that is desired, making setting goals even easier.
Vidya, or awareness means to find the patterns that may lead you to acting out the old samskaras. It is becoming intensely aware of signals, behaviors, situations that contribute to the samskara.
Abhaya, or fearlessness is necessary for change. Sometimes, it is hard to see your way forward and out of negative behavior patterns. We even tend to cling tightly to “who we are” or who we think we are. The thought might occur, “If I stop doing this, then I won’t be me anymore! This is part of who I am.” Stepping forward into the new life with fearlessness and faith is necessary. This is also where visualization is immensely helpful. What would life look like, what would each situation I encounter look like with the new samskara?
Asana is absolutely necessary in making changes. It is my experience that as the body opens, and strengthens through asana, much is learned on a mental, physical, emotional, and intellectual level that can solidify sankalpa. We can place the principles of the goals we have set into our physical body through the practice of yoga poses. For example, do you desire more resolve in your life? Try Mountain Pose–and experience resolve on a physical level!
And finally Abhyasa and Tapas, or practice and discipline. Changing ways of being becomes more and more difficult as we get older. A person will not be able to find change without these two very important things. It might be a great idea to find an accountability partner, and figure out rewards and consequences for yourself. Setting small goals may be a good idea as well.
For example, Perhaps your could set a small goal to avoid complaining about things to your spouse after the kids go to bed. Ask your spouse to say “remember your goal” when you start your cycle of complaint. You might notice you go to bed happier, and not so angry. This is a difficult practice, but bringing awareness of falling into this pattern, you’ll stay true to good intentions and meet those goals you set!