Getting the Mind to Listen to Resolutions

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Yoga and meditation can help make your New Year's pledges stick

Staying healthy requires more than an impulsive New Year's resolution and a spanking new gym membership. To nix bad habits for good and maintain positive changes to your body in 2012, fitness experts argue that the first and biggest change starts with the mind.

The philosophies behind yoga, Pilates and meditation share the idea of a mind-body connection. These exercises require a certain awareness of the body that differs from running on the treadmill or breaking a sweat in Zumba class. Instead of counting the calories burned, practitioners believe a mental shift and commitment to change yield the best results.

"We live in a fast-paced, results-oriented society," said Allan Lokos, founder of the Upper West Side's Community Meditation Center. "If you stick with certain exercises long enough, you realize one day that you can now handle difficult situations with greater ease than you could have before."

According to Lokos, 71, newcomers flock to classes as holiday bells start ringing. He says the human body doesn't know how to differentiate between negative stress and the good stress brought on by the holidays, like shopping, overeating and traveling. People turn to meditation for the pleasant feeling of calm and quiet, but Lokos insists the sessions can be far from carefree.

"When you're left alone with your body and your mind, all kinds of stuff comes up-and some might not be pleasant," said Lokos, a two-time author on the topic. "Do I really want to lose weight? Do I really want to quit smoking? You get that clarity and it creates motivation."

Meditation can help spur positive change-whether it's dropping a few pounds or throwing out the cigarettes for good-if people have genuine concern for their well-being and the desire to change for themselves, not just because the doctor said so.

Unfortunately, the weight won't slip off just by sitting in lotus position with your legs crossed a few times a week. To reap the most benefit from meditation, proper activity should be incorporated between the hours spent in the office cubicle. Lokos agrees that exercises like yoga and Pilates maintain a similar philosophy-being attuned to your body, making long-term changes and clearing your mind.

"It's about sculpting yourself from the inside out, changing your mind's perspective so your body will fall into place," said Marissa Antebi, who has been a yoga instructor in Midtown for 11 years. "With any body issues, it's about how you're seeing something. You need to become aware of the bad patterns and grow from there."

For Antebi, 40, January is the busiest time of year. Despite the holiday rush, not all newcomers tap into the endurance needed to stick it out and see results. Antebi suggests starting with something as minor as a walk in the park once a week and building from there.

Attending group sessions provides the support system of fellow classmates, further encouragement to stick with it. Soon enough, you'll learn how to maintain your health and weight instead of experiencing the fluctuations of fad diets and cleanses.

Pilates instructor Donna Singer, of the Upper East Side's Center for Movement, said that's the common ground between yoga and Pilates-it becomes a way of life, not just a method of exercise.

"You become aware of your posture and alignment and understand that you don't need intense exercise to feel limber, supple and stronger," said Singer, 42, who opened her first studio with cousin Elle Jardim in 1998. "We don't play music-we want you to keep your mind on what you're doing. It encourages you to make positive steps to a healthy lifestyle and continue on that journey outside of the class."

Pilates helps create strength without the bulk that comes along with weight training. Sessions at Center for Movement, on the Upper East Side and in Scarsdale, focus on flexibility and elongating the body though breathing. The goal is to do the movements correctly, increasing efficiency so fewer repetitions are required.

"As opposed to a spinning class, where you feel sore or you sweat, we teach a method," said Singer. "After six sessions, you start to see subtle differences, like a flatter stomach and more flexibility. We want to help people meet their resolutions."

Antebi agrees that sticking to your New Year's resolution through mid-February can be long enough to earn a pat on the back.

"People get caught up in their goals for the year," said Antebi. "If you put it on the back burner and just commit to becoming aware of your mind and body, positive changes will come from that."

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