We all become creatures of habit since familiar actions and experiences can provide us with a certain amount of comfort and security.
Many of these habits can be positive and serve us well; however, we often develop negative patterns that may be hard for us to even notice unless we create space in our life to cultivate more self-awareness. The more we repeat the pattern the deeper groove we create and the more challenging it can be to alter the habit.
We need to polish our gems in order for our true brilliance to shine forth.
We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act, but a habit.
The good news is that it is completely possible to reshape the groove into a healthier habit. Yoga, including meditation and breathing exercises, can provide us a safe space to slow down, turn our attention inward and observe ourselves as we truly are with less judgement.
In our physical yoga practice our samskaras may play out as a tendency to push too far in the poses or maybe even give up on poses too soon. Maybe we have a tendency to ignore our bodies and act in a way that society has made us feel we ‘should’. For example, I ‘should’ be able to chatturanga (yoga push up) with my knees off the mat.
The ‘should’ trap is often an unhealthy mental samskara and with regular mindful yoga practice we can develop greater wisdom and trust in ourselves so we begin to listen to the ‘true’ self and not the ‘ego’ self that may tell us we aren’t good enough or if we just work a little harder we’ll be happy, etc. Let’s just let ourselves be happy now!
So, how exactly do we cultivate new healthier habits?
Some samskaras may hide deep in our subconscious and our entire life may be an ongoing process of polishing them so our inner light can shine through. For others we may be able to purify them within a few weeks or months of practice.
Let’s say for example you have a habit of overeating when you feel stressed (like I do). Here are some steps you can take to begin breaking that cycle. Please remember, though, the beauty of the yogic path is that it involves our own personal investigation. Use yoga as your own personal laboratory to experiment with what works for you.
Here is a good starting point:
1. Cultivate Vidya (Awareness)
Carve out time each day for a practice of being present and looking inward. It could be yoga, meditation, breathing, walking, journaling, being in nature…anything that connects mind, body, and spirit. Listen to the thoughts and the tone of the thoughts that arise in the mind; create a healthy distance between you and your thoughts so you are less likely to judge or critique what shows up. Self-deprecating thoughts, blame and guilt are very counterproductive to establishing healthier habits.
2. Create a Sankalpa (Intention)
Create a potent ‘I AM’ intention by first considering exactly what it is that is hindering you from achieving your goal and purifying the samskara. For example, if I tend to overeat when stressed, I must have forgotten that I am already full and complete. I don’t need anything external to soothe me. I have simply lost touch with my inner state of satisfaction and wholeness. My sankalpa could be ‘I AM WHOLE’ or ‘I AM COMPLETE’.
3. Set Micro Goals
The Zeigarnik Effect, shows that we have the tendency to want to accomplish and complete things we have set out to do. If we don’t finish them we are left dissatisfied and unmotivated to continue. Set small accomplishable goals that build naturally to larger goals. For example, if I’m not able to completely avoid eating when stressed, perhaps I begin by allowing my self just 2 bites and I commit to eating them mindfully and joyfully. Eventually I move on to one bite and so on. If I can accomplish these small goals and win small victories, I’m more likely to continue on my path and not give up.
Give it a try and let me know what you discover!