The New Year has barely begun, and perhaps already you are wondering what happened to those well-intended resolutions for a healthy 2015. If you spent December soaking up the madness of the holiday season, you may have let out a great sigh of relief to enter this time after the parties and gatherings end. Perhaps, like me, you finally have a quiet moment to yourself. January is a wonderful and natural time to pause, to reexamine what you most need and want. At this time of the year I turn inward, focusing to my health, my close relationships and my practice, and I examine how I can begin to paint the portrait of myself for this coming year .

I am thinking of the way we often come to our new year’s resolutions as if we must have a painting completed at the start; as if January 1 we should wake up brand new with all of our healthy habits firmly in place. Or to bring it into yoga terms, it’s like expecting that on your first day in class that you’ll fly up into handstand, with no wall for support, and hold the pose for five minutes. This just isn’t what is typical or likely. What if instead we allow ourselves to see this period as a time of laying foundation; like a painter applying brushstrokes, we start with the first base coat so that we can refine and create the intricate details in the days to come.

Let’s consider this time of January as our “base coat” time. Spend these first few weeks ramping up for some change. Consider what drew you to this practice initially, or what is drawing you to begin the practice now. What if for just these next few weeks you focus more on your breath and lean into whatever arises when you consider this past year. What worked for you? What did not work? What left you feeling a little undone, unhealthy, undernourished? Where do you want to invest yourself in these coming days? Spend this time pausing a little rather than overexerting, warming up so then by February you’ll have enough of a base coat to start creating brush strokes, really deepening the effort. March may be a time to check in, to step back and visualize what you’ve made manifest so far. Like an oil painter, you can again examine what isn’t working and add or subtract as necessary. And then — get back to work.

There’s a couple of well-known myths about will power and creating habits that have recently been examined. The thought that willpower is limited somehow and that we run out of willpower has been studied by Stanford University. What they’ve found is that willpower is actually limitless and those who believe this perform better on tests of self-control than those who feel limited by their own weak willpower. Like so much else, willpower is controlled in part by our mind. What if then during this building time of January, you begin or rededicate yourself to a meditation practice? Perhaps this practice begins with just five short minutes in which you sit and watch yourself breathe, saying to yourself, “inhaling” as you watch your in-breath, “exhaling” as you watch your out-breath. If you already have a meditation practice, perhaps use this time to examine what comes up when you challenge yourself to sit a little longer. Where does your mind go? All of this time is well-used toward watching how our thoughts fluctuate, noting that they are no more fixed than the clouds in the sky, and that with observation we discover that we are not our thoughts. Our inner resolve then and our ability to mentally stay our course become stronger as we learn to watch and observe, rather than react to, our ever fluctuating and fleeting thoughts.

The second myth is the idea that it takes twenty-one days to make or break a habit. University of Southern California psychology professor Dr. Wendy Wood, found that “the length of time it takes to establish new habits depends on the person and the complexity of the behavior.” She found that the average time to affect lasting change was 66 days, and the range was anywhere from 18-254 days. So then what if by the end of January there is still work to do? What if in February and in March and in April and May, still there is work to do? Well, then, you’re not alone and no effort has been lost. Sometimes it takes a long time and a lot of brush strokes before we fully unveil something in us that will stand the test of time.

In my own practice, I’ve had to work hard to not be so attached to the results of my effort. This principle of non-attachment in the yoga practice reminds me that the effort is good even when the results aren’t exactly as I’d imagine. I’ve watched, too, as students begin the year with gusto, eager to “start yoga,” because they want to lose weight, gain strength or flexibility, want to learn to relax, or the myriad other reasons. Yet, if we remember what Patanjalis teaches in the Yoga Sutras, we will remember that the practice of yoga begins now, and that now happens every second of the day, each day, all year long. Begin your practice with the intention of watching it grow and of staying present for it and for yourself now, and let now happen over and again, with each new breath. Intend to layer your practice with brush strokes that refine and make you stronger , more nourished, and balanced year after year. Start slow, build a base of poses and understanding, learn about what works for you now, and continue to ask yourself that question day after day. And remember that the loveliest works of art take time.