With the new year comes the promise of new beginnings and the potential for change. Being a yoga teacher, it is easy to become jaded to the cult of self improvement that becomes the rage for just a month or so each year. Accommodating so many beginners who often come to classes that they aren’t ready for can be exhausting and takes away from the experience of those students who are there through thick and thin. Yet, there is a small portion of those people who start in January and actually develop life long habits. So I treat each new student as a potentially life-long student. We all deserve the benefit of the doubt. But what makes the people who stick with their new habits different from the ones who start strong and appear so passionate, only to drop off within a few weeks or months? I don’t beleive it is a lack of discipline or defect of any kind. I say this because I have managed to develop quite a lot of healthy lifestyle habits and I don’t beleive that I am particularly disciplined. Upon reflection, I have come up with two ingredients that I believe are essential for lasting change.

1. You have to be truly convinced of the benefit of your new habit. Changing for someone else never works because you will always rebel consciously or unconsciously. The change has to be for yourself and it has to have results you desire strongly. Sometimes this desire takes time to develop. Just because you tried to quit smoking three years in a row doesn’t mean that you won’t finally do it the fourth time.

2. Allow for imperfection. Perfectionism is the enemy of change. How often have You thought that you’d love to do something, but stopped yourself because you “wouldn’t be good enough”? Who ever got good at something without doing it? Think about how many times you fell down before learning to walk. This brings me back to those students who come to classes that are outside of their ability level and then get discouraged and never come back. It makes me so sad to see this. Not every class is made for every person, and even a class labeled as “all levels” requires a certain amount of agility (getting up and down from the ground with ease is a good gauge). This applies to every kind of habit that you might try to build.

Be realistic. Take baby steps. Allow yourself to goof and keep going.

Even after all these years, I get caught up in the energy of the new year. I have hope that each new person who comes into my class will find the practice they are looking for. And I take the time to evaluate my own life and where I can make changes. Life is a practice of constant refinement. We never reach the goal and in fact the goal changes and shifts with time. As one goal is accomplished, another appears. This is not a problem, it is the gift. The striving, the work, the journey… that is the real goal.