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OTTAWA — New Year’s resolutions always start off with promise, but tends to fizzle as we get busy following the holiday season.

A few Ottawa yoga teachers suggest trying something different this year: choose a mantra.

“In many respects, a New Year’s Resolution is a kind of mantra. But, like mantras, resolutions must be practiced daily if you’re serious about them becoming your way of living,” says Devinder Kaur, director of PranaShanti yoga centre in Hintonburg.

What is a mantra? Kaur says it’s a tool that allows us to train the mind through repetition. It’s made up of the two words in the classical Indian language, Sanskrit: man or “mind” and tra meaning “instrument.”

Unlike a resolution, which is stated once at the beginning of the year, a mantra is repeated every day as a way to reinforce and reflect on your intention.

“Living here in Canada, the easiest thing for us to do is create our own mantra in English. Something that feels important to us,” Kaur says.

She keeps sticky notes on her computer. Each one has a different mantra-like affirmation on it to remind her to reflect every day. One of them reads: “I am grateful to have the right job at the right time, so happy that it has materialized so rapidly and so properly.”

Anyone who’s taken a yoga class will have chanted “Om” at the beginning or end of the session. This is an ancient mantra based on sound and vibration, but it may not resonate with some people.

“You can repeat Om, but for some people it doesn’t have a lot of context. I think that’s why it’s more powerful to set an intention,” says Cat Edward, who teaches yoga at studios across the city and on Parliament Hill in the summer.

She encourages people to set an intention instead of a traditional mantra. She suggests taking five or 10 minutes every day to meditate or even just be quiet and think about what positive things you want to bring into your life.

The best time of day to set your intention is the morning, she says.

“That way you can revisit it throughout the day, especially if you find yourself feeling stressed, or if you’re really busy, you can always go back to your intention and feel a little more grounded,” Edward says.

For example, a positive intention might be to remind yourself to “love your body.”

“I don’t think setting a New Year’s resolution to lose weight is effective, but setting an intention to maybe have more fun with fitness or loving your body is more effective and longer-lasting,” Edward suggests.

Repeating an intention or mantra doesn’t have to be done during a formal meditation session. It can be done at any point in the day, whether you’re washing the dishes or standing in line at a store.

For Jennifer Stow, who has taught yoga for 11 years, a mantra can be as simple as repeating “let go” to yourself.

She also thinks January is the wrong time for most people to make a change.

“It’s in the middle of winter, everything is frozen. From a yoga perspective, it’s not the time to make massive changes. We do that in the spring and the fall because those are transition seasons,” Stow says.

Instead, Stow tries to set goals or intentions in January that she will bring to fruition in the spring.

For those interested in trying a mantra and wondering how to start, Devinder Kaur recommends a few for beginners:

• I will practice forgiveness, beginning with myself.

• I will be more present in my actions and thoughts.

• I will be grateful for something every day.

This article was originally published on Jan. 1/2015 in the Ottawa Citizen

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