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  • Writer's pictureErica Webb

Are You Creating Tension Through Habit? The Dark Side of the Yoga Mat.

We do yoga as a form of escape, yes?

Not necessarily a 'run away from the world' form of escape, though sometimes that can be true. But it's certainly true that, for most of us, we find our way to the mat in order to move beyond the everyday.

Moving and breathing and sensing gives us an opportunity to disconnect from our ordinary 'monkey mind' chatter for a while and leave the troubles of the day (or decade) behind.

That's one of the most powerful things about a mindful movement practice - it's mindful, and therefore transports us to the here and now, where nothing beyond the current breath and current sensation holds much power. The thing is, we might leave some stuff temporarily behind, but what about our habits? These habits that, unknown to us, jump on our back for a free ride, infiltrating every movement we make? Humans are creatures of habit. This is something that I think we can all agree on. If you're in the habit of brushing your teeth (everyone?) then chances are you very rarely forget to brush your teeth. If you're in the habit of grinding your teeth, you do it regularly. If you're in the habit of going to your weekly yoga class or eating cereal for breakfast or checking Facebook ... all of these things happen without a heck of a lot of thought. Habits help us get through our day without stalling as we figure out how to make every decision and perform every action (imagine how paralysing that would be). You know about habits - everyone gets this concept. We all have a few habits that we call 'bad' and, quite often a bunch that are 'good' (those teeth!). But have you ever considered how habit impacts your MOVEMENT? Here, I don't mean whether you're in the habit of walking instead of driving or going for a run each morning. I mean the actual mechanics of movement. Because, even here, habits rule.

Think about the way you stand when you're waiting in line at the grocery store or to pick up your kids at school. Habit. What about the way you pull on your socks? Habit.

The way you hold your arms while you text or type or talk on the phone? Habit.

The way we step, bed, reach - all habit.

Likewise, your Downward Dog, Warrior, Cat, Cow, Crow ... any position you can think of - all informed by habit.

'Yeah, so what?' you might be thinking. 'What does that matter? It helps me move without thinking and that's what I want - to switch off.' The thing is ... what if those habits are feeding the tension you so crave to reduce?

What if that sore back or aching hip or tight shoulder is, at least in part, a result of your MOVEMENT HABITS?

Well, if this is true, then even if you're doing yoga/pilates/whatever, there's a distinct possibility that your habits limit the results you can achieve.

Why? Because if your habit is to do a big back bend every time you extend the hip (i.e. every time one of your legs is 'back' as you walk) or to backbend every time you lift your arms overhead, then, guess what? You're going to do the exact same thing on your yoga mat, and that is feeding the habit rather than shifting it.

Here are a couple of photos to demonstrate what I mean:

In the first, I'm demonstrating the active range of my shoulders in ISOLATION from any additional range I can get from my spine. In the second, I'm showing the range of my hip in ISOLATION from the additional range I can get from my spine. Now, let me be clear: getting some additional range from the spine isn't in and of itself a problem. The problem creeps in when we don't even know that we're doing it. You might be wondering how it would be possible NOT to know ... but that's the nature of habits - they're unconscious and therefore insidious. So ... habit hunting on the yoga mat (and beyond) can help us shift out of tension in a way that movement for the sake of movement might miss. Thoughts? Questions? Email me or come find me over on Instagram or Facebook and let me know!

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