7 resolutions that yoga can help you keep past January

Story highlights

  • Yoga is a useful tool to help keep New Year's resolutions
  • It can offer a way to stay in shape, make new friends, sleep better and travel more

Dana Santas is the creator of Radius Yoga Conditioning, a yoga style designed to help athletes move, breathe and focus better. She's the yoga trainer for the Atlanta Braves, the Philadelphia Phillies, Pittsburgh Pirates, Tampa Bay Lightning, Orlando Magic and dozens of pros in the NFL, NHL, NBA and MLB.

(CNN)Making New Year's resolutions is easy. Keeping them past January is not.

Why? Because simply resolving to do something isn't enough. You need the means to start on the right path and stay the course. Too many of us set large-scale intentions but fall short on a follow-through strategy. That's where yoga comes in: the ancient practice can provide the resources and support for a multitude of modern-day lifestyle changes.
If you've set any of the top resolutions -- like being happier, getting healthier or sleeping better -- yoga offers ways to transform your resolutions into lasting reality. And it doesn't matter if you're a seasoned yogi or never stepped onto a mat, you can leverage yoga to realize your most ambitious lifestyle goals.
    Here are seven popular resolutions and how you can fulfill them with yoga:
    1. Be happier
    If you want to be happier, your wandering mind is likely your biggest obstacle. According to a 2010 Harvard study, people spend 47% of their time thinking about things that aren't happening. Understandably, spending half your life lost in thought is considered a major cause of unhappiness.
    Yoga is a practice based on mindfulness and awareness that emphasizes using your breath to consistently connect to the present moment. It also teaches you how to breathe deeper and use meditative techniques to tap into your parasympathetic nervous system to reduce stress and increase happy hormones.
    2. Get healthier
    Whether you're looking to lower your blood pressure, reduce stress or lose weight, studies abound showing the benefits of yoga for these issues. Weight loss is probably the most popular resolution made and broken. Yoga's overall focus on body awareness and the present moment can help practitioners enhance self control and avoid mindless eating, which are important for long-term success with weight loss. And, although yoga isn't the ideal cardiovascular exercise, certain styles, like Power Yoga and Ashtanga, can increase muscle mass, which burns more calories.
    3. Sleep better
    Yoga is very helpful in facilitating sleep! I've created numerous yoga-based sleep programs for my professional athletes and celebrity clients, whose demanding schedules make sleeping difficult. Using yoga stretches to release tension and enhance blood flow in the abdomen, combined with meditative techniques and diaphragmatic breathing focused on exhaling produces a natural sedative effect in the body.
    4. Make friends
    If you're looking to forge friendships, look no further than your local yoga studio! Studios build their businesses around a sense of community. Most hold events in and out of the studio -- from book clubs to cocktail parties -- to foster relationships among students.
    Christina Lowden, co-owner of Trinity Yoga in New Port Richey, Florida, says, "yoga tends to attract like-minded people, so relationships blossom easily while chatting after class or at special events."
    5. Volunteer more
    Volunteering is an admirable resolution but it can be surprisingly daunting to find the right organization to donate your time. Let your yoga studio take the guesswork out of volunteering and make getting involved an easier process. Most yoga studios are affiliated with a charity, and often donate time to schools, prisons or shelters. For example, Lowden says her studio recently helped start a facility for homeless and struggling veterans.
    6. Travel
    If traveling more is one of your goals, yoga can provide the impetus. Yoga retreats take place all over the world, ranging from weekend workshops to month-long immersions. Whether you're into modest camping trips or five-star luxury hotels in exotic locations, you can find a retreat that's perfect for you. Check out www.bookyogaretreats.com, which claims to be "the world's largest yoga travel site."
    7. Learn something new
    Maybe the practice of yoga is new to you. If that's the case, there's your resolution! But if you've been practicing a while, there are opportunities to expand your knowledge into related subjects. You can explore energy chakras, learn new forms of meditation or even become a yoga teacher. A quick online search will reveal boundless books, courses and certification programs on any yoga-related topic that interests you. And, chances are a studio near you will have a related workshop on their schedule.
    "Every January, our studio holds workshops on the yoga philosophy of the Yamas and Niyamas," says Lowden. "Being kind, truthful and balanced in life may not be new thoughts, but the reminder of these qualities as the backdrop of a yoga practice can inspire new resolutions."
    Regardless of your resolution, if you need inspiration and support to get over the January hump and achieve lasting change, try spending some time on your yoga mat.