Month: January 2024

This year, I’m keeping it real

New Year’s resolutions aren’t always my thing. I prefer embracing new opportunities when the time feels right, over big goal-setting strategies that often fail leaving an unwelcome sense of guilt and powerlessness. So, this post won’t be about how to transform your life through dramatic new yoga goal-setting in 2024.

Rather I prefer gently working towards establishing habits, behaviours and practices that are sustainable in the long run. The key is to be ‘real’.  While sometimes a fantasy escape is necessary to get us going, often a re-framing of what we can realistically (and yes, sustainably) achieve through small but significant changes, brings a greater sense of accomplishment and long-term benefits.

When I set my mind on something new, I like to start by asking myself whether this new thing will work for me in my actual life or just in my fantasy life? You know, that amazing, imaginary place where I’m never tired, I always feel great, I have an unlimited amount of time, read worthy books, make home cooked meals every day, oh, and get to the gym five times a week. We all live such a life in our mind, right?! Ha ha ; )

When it comes to yoga, we may be tempted to stretch ourselves (physically and metaphorically) to meet the expectations of that highflyer inner voice, you know, the one telling you to levitate! All too often when we imagine something based on our fantasy life, failure is hiding around the corner. On the other hand, when we build a practice that works in our real life we acquire an incredible tool to support us over the years.

A real practice is not about checking off boxes but making us feel better, empowered and healthy. Our needs, commitment and obligations change over time, we all have superhero days and duvet days. So, a real practice is one flexible enough to meet the demands of our changing schedules, our changing moods, and sometimes even our changing bodies. Ultimately, a sustainable yoga practice should be about listening, providing an opportunity to be curious, to grow stronger and more resilient physically and mentally. It is a place to practice kindness, compassion, love, and showing up for us, not anyone else.

One way yoga could encourage slow but steady transformation is by helping to shift patterns that make us unhappy. With time your developing practice will shape your body and your mind. To understand whether a yoga routine (or any other new habit we set our mind to) will really work for us, we could ask ourselves if its really best for us or if its best left to our fantasy.

As we enter the new year I, for one, will try not to be carried away by my fantasies. I invite you to join me instead in setting our mind and our intentions on becoming the joyful and free versions of ourselves we strive to be.

Monday Blues

Every year, the third Monday of January is dubbed “Blue Monday”.

The theory goes that this is the time of year when we’re all cold, broke and riddled with guilt that our new year’s resolutions to get fit, drink less alcohol, and be a better human being have fallen by the wayside.

But is today really the most depressing day of the year, as it’s often called, or is the label just a misguided PR stunt?

The concept was originally coined in 2004 by psychologist Cliff Arnall. Arnall has since confessed that the formula is essentially pseudoscience and has urged Brits to “refute the whole notion” of Blue Monday.

“I was originally asked to come up with what I thought was the best day to book a summer holiday but when I started thinking about the motives for booking a holiday, reflecting on what thousands had told me during stress management or happiness workshops, there were these factors that pointed to the third Monday in January as being particularly depressing,” he told The Daily Telegraph in 2013.

“But it is not particularly helpful to put that out there and say ‘there you are’,” he added, describing Blue Monday as a self-fulfilling prophecy.

That hasn’t stopped PRs and marketing firms from manipulating the concept and using it as a golden sales opportunity, enabling them to capitalise on the assumption that everyone is miserable on this particluar day and therefore vulnerable to advertising.

This year alone, deals are being advertised for sushi, burgers, aromatherapy products, “uplifting” beauty treatments and diet plans. Spending our money, these brands say, can help cure us of this annual bout of depressive symptoms.

But playing it so fast and loose with mental health terminology can have some insidious effects.

Chartered psychologist Dr Joan Harvey describes the concept as “completely meaningless”, particularly with regards to claims that poor weather is one of the main reasons why Blue Monday is so blue.

“If it’s really bright and sunny, you might even find yourself feeling cheerful on the day,” she said.

While Harvey points out that seasonal affective disorder (SAD) can leave people feeling depressed during the winter months, she stresses that pegging depression to one day in particular is “sensationalist nonsense”.

Stephen Buckley, head of information at mental health charity Mind, adds that Blue Monday campaigns often trivialise what can be a serious, debilitating and potentially life-threatening condition.

“One in six of us will experience depression at some time in our lives, and it can have devastating effects on every part of our lives,” he tells The Independent.“It can leave people unable to sleep, feeling disconnected from others and experiencing suicidal thoughts.” Buckley adds that although January can be difficult due to financial strains and failing new year’s resolutions, these things should not be conflated with clinical depression.

“By suggesting anyone and everyone can feel depressed in a single day, we risk belittling the experiences of those living with a serious illness.”

That being said, one positive element of Blue Monday is that it represents a chance to tackle some of the stigma surrounding depression and raise awareness of its symptoms, says Isabella Goldie, Director at the Mental Health Foundation.

“What we can take from Blue Monday is that we all have mental health and that there are steps we can take all year round to protect it,” she tells The Independent.

“This is an ongoing challenge, as it’s important that we all do more to self-care for our mental health in the way we look after our physical health, without stressing about it.”

So, here are some tips from someone who has devoted their life in the pursuit of happiness (no, not Will Smith!) Mo Gowdat.