As each year closes, we face the urge to toss out undesired habits, start fresh and to move in new directions. Maybe you look forward to this “turning point” or maybe you are a bit hesitant after many years of watching January’s enthusiasm fizzle out as you fall back into the trenches of old habits by February. In fact, research has shown that about fifty percent of us make resolutions, however fewer than 10% of these keep them for more a few months. Whether you call it “resolution”, a “goal” or the more yogic term of “intention”, the process of follow-through and sustained change is very difficult for all. Scientific research suggests that one tool, Visualization, may provide the key to success.
Psychological research teaches us that in order for a resolution to be successful, it must be specific, measureable and attainable. Add the elements of relevance and time and you have created a SMART goal. But, as you may have experienced, even these well-crafted goals fail. One of the reasons for this is that our goals are often related to changes in lifestyle and personality which are entrenched in what yoga calls “samskaras“. In Indian and Yogic philosophy, “samskaras are the mental impressions left by all thoughts, actions and intents that an individual has ever experienced”(yogapedia). Do you ever have circular thoughts or an old story that is preventing you from realizing your dream? This is samskara in action. Meditation and other yogic tools work because they seek to dip beneath the conscious mind and get us in touch with our hidden expectations and unconscious ideas.
Meditation, especially practices such as Yoga Nidra, rely on the individuals ability to focus on and cultivate body sensations rather than thoughts. One is asked to focus on how the body feels when our goals, or sankalpa, are fully manifested. These techniques seek to convert the brain waves into a more relaxed and suggestible state similar to that of hypnosis. Visualization techniques go a few steps further. Several studies have shown that the brain does not differentiate between a real and an visualized memory. We can, therefore, lesson the anxiety of a new challenge by creating a memory of that experience through visualization. In addition, research shows that visualizing a physical activity stimulates the brain in much the same way as actually performing the activity. This may be especially true if the activity is an unfamiliar or if fear and anxiety are associated with it.
Proponents of Visualization put much faith in the concept of the philosophical Law of Attraction. Many have questioned this principle which states that by focusing on positive or negative thoughts, people can bring positive or negative experiences into their life (wikipedia). However, knowledge of how the brain processes visual information may provide some scientific evidence to support how visualization helps one to attract what they want into their life. Our brain relies on a network of neurons called the reticular activating system (RAS) to filter out what IS, and IS NOT important visually. Since 90% of the information processed by the brain is visual, the RAS is critical. Without it, we could become desensitized and confused by the vast amount of information we receive every day. Visualization techniques help “program” the RAS much the way Facebook feeds us information based on our search history and demonstrated interests. Visualization is the lens through which we begin to see and describe our world.
With 2019 on the horizon, can you really SEE yourself acting in a way which cultivates the changes you wish to manifest in your life? Close your eyes, relax and try to see and imagine how it looks and feels for you to live the life that you long for. The more often you repeat this process, the stronger the path you are forging. Good luck and I hope to see you on the mat in the coming year!
Need a little guidance? Join us January 13th 2-5 for Creating a Vision for 2019: Vision Board and Yoga Workshop with Melissa & Jules from Julesguide.