The Habit of Habit on the Yoga Mat.
Updated: Aug 31, 2019
You may have noticed that talking about habits is one of my favourite things.
Yep, strange but true.
Habits inform our life, right?
I can think of half a dozen habits I perform before I’m even fully awake in the morning: the way I roll out of bed; which arm of my dressing gown I pull on first; how I step into my slippers; the automatic way I check the time on my phone; which foot I lead with as I navigate the stairs; the order I set up the coffee pot to make my espresso. I could go on.
The short of it is that habits, in many ways, run our lives.
It’s for the best because, without habit – which is based on past experience and knowledge – we’d be stuck in neutral, needing to make fresh decisions about every tiny thing. It would take forever and leave us standing still. Not ideal. So, habits are useful and functional and generally exist to make our life easier.
The bigger picture, though, shows us that habits can run their course and are, sometimes, quite destructive. Some of those destructive habits are mental – the way we think; some are routine – the order in which we do things; and, some are physical – like the way we might ‘hang’ into our hip every time we take a step.
My teaching style uses the last of these – our physical habits – as a jumping-off point (spoiler alert - this often leads us onto the other elements of habit anyway).
The idea here is that, because we move in a habitual way, we can end up with habitual patterns of discomfort and ‘use’. Unless we uncover these patterns, we remain stuck in a cycle we a) can’t ‘see’ and therefore b) can’t change.
So, the second premise of my work is that we can all benefit from stepping outside of our habits and into some other possibilities.
One thing that’s certain is that it’s not about changing everything we do or even changing some of it ALL of the time. It’s not about ‘fixing’ or ‘correcting’ or declaring what is ‘wrong’, but rather about becoming aware of what we might not have noticed up to this point, and opening up some options for other possibilities, at least SOME of the time.
It’s expanding our movement and awareness toolbox.
There’s no ‘end game’ to this process. Rather, it's a continual exploration of what else is there. It’s about exploration, curiosity and a sense of expanded awareness.
Something really interesting happens when we open ourselves up to the possibility of noticing these physical habits: we start to notice that our thought patterns in relation to our movement and our ‘being’ is habitual as well.
This bit is important, so I'm going to make it BIG and BOLD and maybe repeat myself.
The way we look at ourselves, the things we say, the stuff we notice - all of that is habit too.
Essentially, we're noticing our physical habits through a lens of ‘awareness’ habit.
Say what?! Yes, indeed. We view our habits THROUGH habit, which is why we so often ‘miss’ stuff that isn’t really hidden … it's just shrouded under the dust of habit.
It’s always fascinating to notice when a habit that was once outside of your inner ‘vision’ suddenly becomes apparent. Once you’ve noticed it, it’s hard to un-notice. And that’s a powerful place.
I want to give you a little example here, to drive this idea home.
When it comes to the way we feel in our own body, we often have a way of looking at ourselves that takes a self-blame approach. Perhaps we’re dealing with chronic pain or discomfort and we believe if only we were BETTER- i.e. stronger, more disciplined, thinner, funnier, more agile, fitter etc etc (this list could go on ad nauseum), then this situation would be different and you would feel better. The underlying belief here is that you are not enough and therefore incapable of feeling or being any different.
Now, how does this self-flagellation move us forward?
The short answer is that it doesn’t.
There is very little personal power inherent in this way of viewing ourselves. It makes what we do and who we are a problem to be solved. But we’re not problems to be solved, we’re individuals to be explored through a loving, kind and compassionate lens.
When we scold ourselves every step of the way, we are blind to the fact that our bodies are always out to keep us safe. That back pain or shoulder ache is your body’s way of getting your attention or keeping an element of you safe.
Same thing when you’re trying to balance on one leg and get super wobbly. The habitual way of looking at this might be to say ‘I’m so bad at this! I wish I was better.’ The kinder, more powerful way to look at it is to say ‘Wow, isn’t it incredible the way my body is trying to maintain my balance. All those wobbles are the muscles and bones working to keep me upright.’
When we recognise that we have bodies that like to move in habitual ways AND we have minds that like to ‘see’ in habitual ways, we suddenly realise that in order to create change, we have to somehow move OUT of habit and into a place that allows a different experience.
And this is how kindness and compassion help us move forward.
Kindness and compassion do something super profound - they open up the possibility of responding to WHAT IS and give us the opportunity to create change from a place of gentle awareness rather than force or push or aggressive action.
When we use kindness and compassion as a lens through which to view our habits, we give ourselves a chance to see what we may not have seen before, and respond and move in a way that FITS what we need right now, not way back when that habit was first formed.
This is the place from which we can explore gentle change.
And kindness and compassion are the key.