Monthly goal setting and the importance of mindfulness

This year, I decided to set monthly goals rather than the typical New Year's resolutions.  I diligently wrote out 6 months worth of goals in January, which I re-visit at the beginning of each month to make adjustments and add to, given on how well I accomplished the previous month's goals and to account for the unpredictability of life.  Included are personal and business goals, and it has proven to be an extremely effective way for me to stay on track, personally and professionally.  As March ended, I dutifully pulled it off the refrigerator, revealing a sheet with my plan for my April.  I took it down and began reading through when my eyes came to rest on something that was a bit of a surprise: "Practice second series for 8 weeks."

I was a bit taken aback.  Maintaining a high level of physical activity is not something I struggle with, and while I had placed a handful of physical goals on my monthly goal sheets (I completed a half marathon in March, for instance), I hadn't given much thought to my yoga practice, probably since I had written the goal way back in January.  "Huh," I thought to myself.  "I guess it's time to step up my yoga."

Here is the funny thing about writing a goal down like that.  You feel compelled to do it.  Or, more accurately, you feel compelled to do it if you're me.  I could easily have crossed it off, or placed it somewhere else.  But that would have been failing.  Who, you might ask?  Well, me I guess. I would have known I hadn't done this thing that in January seemed like a good idea.  And it would eat at me, because that is how I am.

So, in the middle of my last quarter of graduate school, buying my first house with my husband, fulfilling my Maid of Honor duties for my sister, and running my business, I began adding second series postures into my three day a week practice.  It's worthwhile to note that while I have been practicing Ashtanga yoga for years, I rarely have the opportunity to practice with a teacher.  In addition, I have been stuck in primary series purgatory (psp) for a very long time.  I go through periods where I begin second series, but then something unforeseen happens, such as riding my bike into a moving car (it was the garbage truck's fault), which makes me step back and return to psp.  In all fairness, I am unable to do some of the key postures that indicate one is ready for second series, such as supta kurmasana; however, the redundancy of the primary series has led to things like handstands after navasana and tripod headstand after bakasana after utkatasana.  As a result, it would seem second series would be a welcome opportunity to mix things up.

A month into it, I can genuinely say it has been a welcome distraction from real life.  It gives me an opportunity to focus and challenge myself in ways I had been avoiding.  It can be difficult to push beyond one's comfort level.  My handwritten goal on the refrigerator has forced me to step out of the familiar and into slightly hard, which can be a little bit scary.  I have 4 weeks left, and am happily practicing pincha mayurasana in the middle of the room.  Who knows what the next four weeks will bring?

Something that has been brought to my attention lately is the importance of performing complex movement patterns.  This benefits not just the body, but the brain as well, leading to increased attention, higher levels of learning, and perhaps even a less anxious state.  This is different than simply plodding away on a treadmill or exercise bike, although I would argue that I am mindful while running and cycling outside, constantly making minor adjustments to improve efficiency.  Yoga certainly falls into this category, as does dance, tennis, and anything else that requires focus.  Dr. Ratey's book "Spark" does an excellent job delving into the psychological benefits of movement.  One of the critical ways to accomplish a higher level of mindfulness during movement is to turn off screens, focus on what you are doing and how you are feeling, and get outside.  The fresh air can be a wonderful way to be more present in the moment and identify how your body feels.

Yours in health and wellness,
Jenn