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It’s a slow rebuilding week for many people; work schedules are lighter and the Holiday frenzy is waning. Countless “best of” and “year in review” listicles are popping up in this slow news week.

While you don’t need a new calendar to reflect on your life or seek improvement/change, the end of the year and a stretch of cold dark months ahead does lend itself well to using this week to put 2011 to rest and prepare for 2012.

I found this Reflection Worksheet a nice way to think about everything I acchompished and everything that challenged me in 2011. Here are the questions:

2011 Reflection

  1. What do you want to acknowledge yourself for in 2011?

What did you create?
What challenges did you face with courage and strength?
What promises did you keep?
What brave choices did you make?
What are you proud of?

2. What is there to grieve about 2011?
What was disappointing?
What was scary?
What was hard?
What can you forgive yourself for?

3. What else do you need to say about the year to declare it complete?
The next step is to say out loud, “I declare 2011 complete!”
How do you feel? If you don’t feel quite right, there might be one more thing to say…

4. The final step is to consider your primary focus for the year to come. What is your primary intention or theme for 2012?
Is it the year of joy?
The year of self-care?
The year of kicking ass?
The year of ease?
“2012 is my year of ________”

That last question leads nicely into planning for 2012. While many people make New Years Resolutions (about 45% of Americans), but more than half of them don’t keep them. There is, it seems, something so innate in us that simultaneously  wants to improve ourselves while setting giving ourselves permission to stay exactly the same.

I really like the idea of having one primary focus for the year, rather than a laundry list of unrelated ideas. I’ve done this for the past couple of years: my only resolution for 2010 was “be happier” and my only resolution for 2011 was to be better about staying in touch with my family and friends. Did I falter on these? For sure.  But I think I understand now what could make me more successful on my 2012 goal (2012 is my year of trying my best): defining what my goal means, how I’ll measure/define being successful at it and what concrete things I’ll do.

A great example of this method is The Happiness Project. The author, Gretchen Rubin, has even made a downloadable version of her resolutions chart . Her overarching theme for the year was to “be happier” and from there she figured out things that would improve her happiness (getting rid of clutter, quit nagging, etc) and then devoted one month to actions that accomplished that, while keeping her overall goal in mind.

My 2012 goal of “trying my best” has a lot of meanings: not letting myself get distracted when I’m working, learning new things, being proactive, letting go of jealousy,  being a kinder, more patient person, letting myself off the hook when things go wrong, and more.  I plan to write my 2012 goal and post it on my bulletin board at my desk, so I will be reminded of it everyday.

Another great approach to New Years Resolutions is a list like this one: 30 Things to Stop Doing to Yourself. Sometimes the best approach to what you want to do is a focus on what you don’t want to do anymore. Maybe a theme for 2012 could be “the year of letting go” and you could devote each month to something you need to let go of.

If, like many people, you have resolutions of “being healthier,” or “losing weight,” think about how you can approach it (taking out meat or soda from your diet a few days a week, signing up for a beginner’s yoga workshop!, going to bed a half hour earlier each night). If health and yoga are part of your 2012 plans, of course I’d love to help (contact me and we’ll work on a resolution plan!) And if you need further inspiration, check out this awesome 91 year old yoga teacher.

It’s the week of Thanksgiving, a holiday that gets pushed aside in the name of shopping for Christmas (even Halloween seems to get a bit squeezed out in the name of buy buy buying). But if you think about it, Thanksgiving is kind of a perfect holiday; for many people (who don’t work in retail at least), it’s a 4-day holiday of eating, relaxing and spending time with family, it’s all-inclusive because there’s no religious connotations, no consumerist obligations. And, the part that makes Thanksgiving one of the most meaningful holidays of the year–the whole purpose of the holiday is to pause and be thankful for your life.

Some families go around the table and ask everyone what they are thankful for, I’ve seen friends post one thing they are thankful  for everyday as their status on Facebook,  being a chronic list-maker, I’ve been in the habit of listing what I’m thankful for from the past year. Some people keep a gratitude journal, forcing themselves to record things they are thankful for even on days when they wished they never got out of bed. You could send a thank you card or email to someone you are particularly grateful for, or in the tradition of the holiday, bake a yummy treat for someone. Or, simply say thank you more often. Often those that you are most grateful for in your life (family, significant others) are the people who you overlook the most.  It’s surprising how great a “thank you for doing the dishes, I really appreciate it”  feels.

So this week, while you have the time away from work, I urge you to stave off switching to Christmas prep mode and think about all the things big and small you have to be grateful for.

And in the name of Thanksgiving, I’m going to share one of my favorite Thanksgiving comfort food recipes. Being a vegetarian means that often Thanksgiving dinner is all about the side dishes, and I’ve been obsessed with finding the best mac and cheese for over a year. I made this recipe last year for Thanksgiving ( I think it might be a Martha Stewart one), it’s really good–see if you think it lives up to the title of “Perfect Mac and Cheese” (click to view larger)

I’ve been superstitious many times in my life–we all have in someway: avoiding cracks in the sidewalk to spare your mom, being afraid of innocuous everyday items like ladders and black cats, making a wish when you blow out your birthday candles, knocking on wood, throwing a coin in a fountain or salt over your shoulder, crossing your fingers, saying “bless you” when someone sneezes. In some small way everyone suspends disbelief every once in a while to believe in luck and magic.

When things go wrong it’s easy to feel unlucky, or that the universe is against you,  it’s harder to remember to feel thankful and lucky for all that’s good in your life.

Thousands of couples are getting married today, believing that the repetition of the numbers in the date (which won’t occur again for 100 years) makes today an especially lucky day to get hitched. Are those unions more likely more last than marriages that take place tomorrow or next year? Of course not. Unless, maybe they believe that they’ll last longer.

Luck isn’t a concrete concept, you can’t prove luck, you can’t wish for it, you can’t buy it. Luck, is like faith, it’s a matter of belief. Believe you’re lucky or unlucky and you can find examples everywhere to prove you right.

“Luck is believing you’re lucky.”

— Tennessee Williams

I’m not sure where I stand on my personal belief on luck, I know that wishes and superstitions aren’t logical, I know in some ways I’m very fortunate and in others I’ve had quite a difficult time.  I agree with Bette Davis on this one:

“I’ve been lucky. I’ll be lucky again.”

Regardless on how much you subscribe to the belief that today is lucky because of the date, 11/11/11, Veteran’s Day, on the month of Thanksgiving, seems like as good a time as any to be grateful for all in your life that you are grateful for, and to believe that a little luck might be coming your way.

My fiance and I went to his home state of PA over the long weekend. At one of the small town stores specializing in what I refer to as ‘items of whimsy’ there was a bunch of signs with the quote “Life is About How You Handle Plan B.”

I didn’t think much of it at the time, but the words popped back in my head when we were returning from our weekend away and things started going wrong. Things, that in the grander scheme are petty inconveniences and minor injustices, but that  in the moment felt like one crushing disappointment after another. If the true test of my character is how I handled these situations, than I wasn’t getting very high marks.

The picture of a yoga teacher is typically that of some evolved and enlighted guru. And I’m not, not by a long shot. To quote one of my favorite cheesy movies: ” I wish I could live off creeds and mottoes and all that, but I’m in the real world here, OK?”*

I’m in the real world, and a “yoga mindset” is as much of a practice as the asanas are ( and truthfully a much more difficult one). Through my yoga training and practice I’m starting to become more aware of my reactions and both my ability and inability to choose how to react in any given situation.

One thing that I’ve noticed is how who I’m with can influence how I deal with problems. I’ve noticed that I’m my best self when in the presence of kids, whether it’s my 6-year-old nephew or my 16-year-old Little Sister. I put a positive spin on negative situations, I try to make boring things into fun games, I’m patient and gentle, fair and giving. On the other hand, when I’m with those who love me the most — my future husband, my mom– and something goes wrong, I let myself be upset and complain.

There could be several theories on why this is, and I doubt I’m the only one who has these varied reactions. Do you find yourself reacting differently when you’re alone? With certain people?

The point isn’t becoming perfect, or chastising yourself when you react in a less than ideal way, it’s awareness. Change comes slowly, and in small ways like deciding to use the two hour wait at the bus station to catch up on your reading instead of getting frustrated.

Sometimes though, you just need to scream into a pillow. We are living in the real world after all, and sometimes even adults need to throw a little tantrum.

*extra credit if you guessed the movie (1994’s Reality Bites)

So the much-hyped, much prepared for hurricane Irene was downgraded to a tropical storm by the time it visited NYC early Sunday morning. And while many trees were knocked down, and power did go out for some, by and large the storm just wasn’t what everyone was fearing it would be. Some people are complaining it was a lot of build up for nothing, or expressing disappointment that it wasn’t more exciting. It seems morbid to lament the lack of destruction, but what I think people are really expressing is the anticipation of something out of the ordinary.

Surviving in an actual crisis is anything but fun, but the idea of being removed from your daily routine can be really exciting and refreshing. At first it was annoying that all of my weekend plans were cancelled, but then the forced new approach–we couldn’t take the subway, the two times we left the apartment we walked through our neighborhood more slowly, noticing and observing  more. Saturday preparing for the storm was most an excuse to be lazy.

But Sunday, after the storm had passed,  while I was glad there was no damage, I was, like many not ready to let go of the publicly sanctioned break from reality. So I told my fiance that I wanted to pretend that the power was out (to my surprise he played along all day until we “used the generator” to watch a movie at 10pm). (Of course, we benefited from the power actually working keeping everything in the refrigerator cold.)

It was so peaceful to slow down like that, no music, no internet, no TV. So much of everything I do has some sort of background noise. But yesterday we could literally sit a talk, watching the wind outside the window. Mark read aloud as I made dinner by candle-light. I turned the clocks off, and we didn’t feel artificially rushed to do anything.

In the preparation for the worst a lot of people were reminiscing about past storms and the fun they had huddled in the basement playing board games, spending that oft talked about “quality time.”  If there had been no storm, Mark would have had his birthday party, we would have gone to a baseball game, I would have gone to my weekend yoga classes, we would have set the alarm, and kept to our weekend schedule, we would have had a nice weekend. As it was though, I enjoyed our break from reality.

I even suggested that we try to instate a “hurricane day” once a month or so. A day when the “power goes out” and you don’t know what time it is, when you have to slow down, really listen, really see. When you notice that everything looks more beautiful in candle-light.

Some days it can be quite a challenge to be positive, to keep trying–the universe seems to be against you. The list of what’s wrong with life is easily rattled off. Complaints flow out like carbon dixodie with every breath. Yesterday was one of those days for me. Everything went wrong, and no matter how hard I tried things kept getting worse. I cried, I complained. I took for granted that all that I did have, and focused miserably on all the things I lack. Then this afternoon in my inbox, was a quote:

“We seldom think of what we have but always of what we lack.”
 Arthur Schopenhauer

It doesn’t fix things, and I still don’t feel great, but it helps to stop in the middle of a good pity party and remember what you have.

It may seem like a counter-intuitive thing for a yoga teacher to say, but I’m a cynic and a pessimist by nature. I come from a long line of worriers and can usually find the worst case scenario in most situations. But I think that’s part of what makes me a good yoga teacher– I’m striving to not take things so seriously, I’m working on just being me in the moment, I’m no guru, I’m a real person (a jaded New Yorker with a friendly Midwestern core).

They say when the student is ready the teacher appears. Well, one particularly gloomy late winter day this year, I was walking home from a yoga class feeling pretty sorry for myself and all that was wrong in my life, when I saw this book propped up on the steps of a brownstone.

I’ve been reading The Happiness Project on and off before bed for the past few months, and I just finished it last night. It wasn’t life changing (well at least yet), but it did get me thinking, and I really appreciate her approach of research, theory, and practical  implication.

There’s a lot in the book (and the ongoing project on the blog) that have relevancy to the mindfulness of yoga and the goal of taking your practice off the mat, so I’ll no doubt come back to it in future posts. For now though, one of the main thoughts I’m left with is one that’s mentioned throughout the book:

“It’s easy to be heavy, it’s hard to be light.” 

People (to a certain extent myself included for a long time) think that being happy shows a lack of depth, an innocence or naivety, while unhappiness or dissatisfaction is “cooler”, and smarter. But in reality, it’s so much easier to complain than to be satisfied, to be discontented or ironic than to be enthusiastic and smile.

Especially when life is handing you lemons, making lemonade is not effortless. Being lighthearted is sometimes a difficult pursuit, but maybe that’s what the real idea of the pursuit of happiness should be–not that we should strive for some home and car ownership dream of  happiness, but that we should endeavor to be more appreciative beings, easier to please, and quicker to forgive.

“Hope that rises from the ashes of despair.”

This isn’t what I planned to write my second post on (I was thinking about explaining why I love pigeon pose). But that is a lesson in teaching yoga, and living life: make a plan, and being willing to change it.

I was do that thing we all do everyday: scrolling through Facebook, wasting time before getting to work, when I saw the face of a musician and poet that I had gotten to know many years ago when I was interning at an alternative weekly newspaper in Detroit. He had died unexpectedly in the heatwave a week ago, and the paper was doing a cover story about his life. A line that was written about his work has been qouted in many of the memorials: “his work focused on the hope that rises from the ashes of despair.”

So much of yoga is about feeling good, challenging yourself, and being present, but it can be too (both in the practice and in teaching) about finding hope when living in despair.  And before the hope comes, when there is just despair, yoga can be about sitting with that pain, breathing into it, knowing that it will pass, and that when it does it leaves the potential for something beautiful to be born.

There’s so much to life. So many directions to go in. So many thoughts to think.

Which is something I love about yoga, not only is it a way to connect my mind, breath, and awareness to the movement of my body, but when I’m really in it, when I’m just doing yoga, it’s practice for for life–it’s practice for being only where you are, doing only what you are doing. Then my mind wanders again. But in there are these perfect peaceful moments where I’m not reliving something that’s in the past, or worrying or anticipating what’s in the future.

Which is a good place to start this blog. I’ve just finished my Yoga Teacher Training at Joschi Yoga Institute, I feel so inspired to start a million things, I have so many ideas, so much anticpation, and yes, some worries. But I keep coming back to a quote I read just before I started my training:  “A relaxed mind, is a creative mind.”  You can’t create until you quiet and clear everything you don’t need at that moment. You can only think one thought at a time. You can only preform one action before you move on to the next. Your body is always in the present moment, join it.