Breaking Good Habits

Image source: cogdogblog via Flickr

We often talk about learning how to break bad habits and forming new, healthy habits, and the topic seems to become especially relevant during the new year, when many of us are working hard to make new resolutions and make the next year better than the last. But I don’t want to talk about that. I want to talk about breaking habits both bad and good.

Why would you break good habits? Seems silly – if a habit is healthy or beneficial to you in some way, why would you want to break it? Simply put, a habit is something that you are automatically inclined to do. Rather than making a conscious decision, you are on autopilot mode. Your brain has already decided that what you’re doing is what you need to be doing right now, without you stopping to evaluate whether this is in fact the case — the very opposite of conscious living.

I don’t know about you, but I don’t want to go through life on autopilot. Now don’t get me wrong here, I’m not suggesting that you give up the good habit of brushing your teeth, but maybe it is time for a re-evaluation of the habits in your life and what they’re doing for you. It has definitely come to that point for me. You see, as I sit here I have a full-sized baby kicking at my insides waiting to come out any day now. More accurately, I am the one who is waiting. At nine months pregnant, my life is significantly changed; my yoga teaching is on hold, my yoga practice is significantly modified, my weekly runs are cancelled, and my to-d0 lists and objectives often go uncompleted because I am just too tired. I have lots of free time, but with most of my hobbies and regular activities currently unavailable to me, I have found myself feeling uninspired and left out lately, waiting to return to my regular life. There are only so many walks around the neighbourhood I can take.

After sitting around feeling bad about it for a few days, I’ve finally realized what the problem is: my good habits. Most of my regular good habits, like yoga and running, have become suddenly unavailable to me and I am thrown. My autopilot wants me to do things I can’t do at the moment, and because I’ve spent so much time listening to it instead of deciding how I want to live my life each day, I feel lost.

So it’s time to get creative. Time to put aside my habits and the life I’ve been living automatically, and decide each day what I want to do, where I want to go, and who I want to be.

Goodbye habits, hello conscious living. 

Now if you’ll excuse me, I think I’m going to go make a pillow fort in my living room.

We can’t survive on candy: some good yoga advice.

Image via Flickr: Juushika Redgrave

I’ve been listening to this great song lately from Gavin DeGraw‘s new album. Not only is it catchy, but there is one line in particular that sticks in my mind. “We can’t survive on candy”, sings Gavin. How appropriate a reminder for this time of year, with Halloween candy at what seems like every corner.  It may seem like common sense, but you had to learn it from somewhere. I bet your parents spent some time when you were little trying to explain that candy isn’t good for you, and that you shouldn’t eat it all the time. I know mine did. In fact, maybe you’ve spent some time recently trying to explain it to your own kids. Why? Because it doesn’t provide the nutrients that a body needs to survive and be healthy. As an adult I’m sure you know this. But do you really listen to your own advice?

I’m going to guess that you probably don’t eat candy for breakfast, or most other meals. Good for you. Candy isn’t nourishing for your body, so it should remain an occasional treat. But what do you eat for breakfast? Something from the earth, or something from a factory? How far is what you’re eating really removed from candy? It’s not really about chocolate bars and gummi bears here; the point is that we can’t survive on what doesn’t nourish us. This includes not only what we eat, but how we live our lives. Are you surviving on stress? On television? On the promise of more money, or things? Are you choosing your yoga practice based on what will nourish you, or what will make you look good?

We can’t survive on what doesn’t nourish us. Your body needs rest and rejuvenation and a break from stressful ways, just as it needs vitamins and nutrients from food to not only survive, but thrive. Your mind needs time to rest and clear away the to-do lists and worries each day. And your heart needs time to connect with others who are important to you. So take a moment and examine your life; are you making time for nourishment? Or are you trying to survive on candy?

Did you assume this was the back of the class?

Sometimes when I’m teaching a yoga class, I like to turn the class around. And then I walk to the back of the room, and say to the class, who are all now facing in my direction, “I bet you all thought this was the back of the class didn’t you?” The point of this is not be different, or to confuse people. It’s to point out an assumption – the assumption that the class would take place facing the front of the room – and to ask students to let go of this assumption.

Did you assume this photo would be related? It isn't. (Image via Flickr: Zanthia)

In addition, it’s also important to let go about any assumptions surrounding your body while practicing yoga. Don’t assume that you need to dress a certain way, or look a certain way to practice yoga. Don’t assume that you will like or dislike a pose or practice that you haven’t tried. And most importantly when it comes to your body, don’t assume that you can or can’t do something without asking and listening to your body first. Making assumptions about your body can easily lead you on the path to injury, because what worked for you yesterday may not work for you today.

In the same way your assumptions can also hold you back; if you always assume that you can’t do something, then you’ll never do it. Give yourself permission to let go of the assumptions surrounding not only your practice and your body, but yourself as well. If always paint yourself with the same brush, assuming that you are a certain way (someone who can’t stand silence, or a fidgety person, or a person who needs a very active practice, for example) then you may never get to experience those things that don’t fit into the picture that you have of yourself. Maybe you needed a vigorous yoga practice 5 days out of 6 last week, but could have used a restorative practice that one other day. If you assume that you’re a vigorous yogi, you may never try that restorative practice. So let go of your assumptions about you as well.

Take a deep breath every morning, ask yourself who you want to be today, and then give yourself permission to explore. To let go. To discover. And to put your assumptions aside, just for today.

It’s autumn — what are you harvesting in your life?

Image source: Chascar (Flickr)

With thanksgiving just around the corner and the leaves changing colors all around, it’s hard to forget that autumn is traditionally harvest time. In my neighbourhood apples are being plucked fresh from the trees, the last few blackberries are being hunted and picked, and squash are starting to appear once more. When I see all this bounty being reaped from the land, I can’t help but examine what kind of bounty I’m reaping in other areas of my life as well. What am I harvesting in my personal and professional lives? Success? Kindness? Love? Or Anger? Hurt? Disappointment?

It brings to mind that classic saying: you reap what you sow.

Come harvest time, farmers don’t wander out in the fields wondering what they will find. Will it be pumpkins or corn this year, I wonder? No, they know what type of bounty they’ll be bringing in, because they know what they planted. It seems pretty straightforward, doesn’t it? So naturally, it makes sense to look at the rest of our lives in the same manner. What you are harvesting in your life is directly related to what you are sowing. If you’re surprised by your harvest, by what you are bringing into your life this fall, then it could be time to examine what you’re putting out there.

Are you sowing kindness? gratitude? compassion and love? If you want to reap success and happiness in your life, then plant the seeds for it. If you are surprised by your harvest, then maybe it’s time to take a closer look at what you planted.

So this fall, at the very least, plant a smile. Whether it’s on you, or someone else, you’ll harvest the benefits immediately, and sometimes, that’s just the difference that can change your day around.

Does your yoga teach you how to FALL?

image source: Lululemon

In honor of the coming fall weather, my favourite season of the year, I thought I’d write a little something about falling.

You see, in most of my classes, when it comes time for some balancing poses, I see a lot of students concentrating on trying not to fall. Particularly in Tree Pose, (or Vrksasana if you want to get technical), because it demands that we stand on one leg, instead of the two we are used to. For many of us, something that looks so simple can actually be quite challenging, especially if you have not had occasion to stand on one leg a lot lately. And so I watch students of all ages set their faces with a determination not to fall; they will balance on one leg even if it means holding their breath and waving their arms to keep themselves steady.

So I ask you: what’s wrong with falling?

Falling equals failure, in many yoga students’ minds. But the reality is that this is where the true yoga happens. Do you curse and mentally beat yourself up when you fall out of a yoga pose? Or do you approach it as part of the learning process, a way to deeper understanding and the realization that oh, that’s where my limit is?

Practice is the effort to secure steadiness, says Patanjali in 1.13 of the Yoga Sutras. This is true both in the physical sense, and in the mind. When I teach tree pose, I walk students through the initial alignment, and then I focus on teaching them how to fall. If you practice tree pose regularly, you will eventually become steadier on your legs. I don’t need to teach this — it will happen naturally over time. What is harder is learning to cultivate steadiness of spirit. Fall with a smile. Fall with a laugh. Fall with acceptance. Fall with curiosity.

Because everyone falls at some point in life. How do you choose to fall?

Return of the Yogi

I have returned to my mat.

Well actually, I never left my mat. I’ve been on it, I just haven’t been present. But yoga takes place not only in our bodies but in our minds too, and mine hasn’t been on the mat much lately. This past month or two, I’ve been thinking mostly about how to keep my food down, as I experience intense morning sickness and the tiredness that comes along with the first trimester of pregnancy. An important distraction, indeed.

Yoga, of course, doesn’t care if you are pregnant or feel as though an evil elf has taken over your insides. It’s there for you, no matter what you’re going through. And so I say thank you my dear mat. Thank you for being there for me even when my mind has been elsewhere. Thank you for allowing me to feel normal again, even just for 15 minutes at a time. And thank you for not judging my inability to get through a vinyasa without child’s pose lately.

I have returned to my mat. And really, no matter what else is going on around me and inside of me, or what my practice looks like now, isn’t that the most important part? I think so.

How many students does a yoga class make?

Photo: lululemon

It was 7:43 am and I was standing alone in the studio staring at the clock. Should I take away the sign in sheet? I wondered. I shuffled some papers around the front desk and then looked up at the clock again: 7:44 am. My morning class was supposed to start in one minute and no one was here. I would not be disappointed by this, I reminded myself. This is how it works in a very small town. Though I had been teaching at this studio for a few months now and my other classes were starting to fill up, this early morning class had been a ‘test’ class on the new schedule, to see if anyone was interested in yoga before weekday working hours.

Apparently, they weren’t.

At 7:45 am I started a mental list of things that I could accomplish in my newly vacant hour. I reached over to put away the blank sign-in sheet, but just as I did so I heard a car door close outside. I glanced out the window to see my single dedicated early morning student rushing toward the studio. She was running late. I smiled and left the sign-in sheet on the front desk. After a quick mental calculation my brain reminded me that I could make more money not teaching this class than I would by teaching. I pushed the thought aside; it didn’t matter right now. This would be my last early morning class (unfortunately I do still have bills to pay), and I’d give this one student the yoga experience that she came for.

I experienced a moment of internal embarrassment in the opening moments of the class. Could I really call it a class with only one student? How many students does a yoga class make? The benefits for the student were clear: personalized attention and a chance to have the practice tailored for her, all for the cost of a regular yoga class. The benefits for me? Well, they certainly weren’t financial. But in a one-on-one setting, this student was more likely to ask questions and provide direct feedback; a valuable learning experience as a teacher.

In the final moments of the class, after the closing om and namaste, I glanced up at my single dedicated student and thanked her genuinely for coming to the class.

After all, a class of one is better than a class of none.