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.

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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.

How to take your yoga camping.

  

This past weekend I went camping with a group of friends for four days in the mountains. And when I say mountains, I don’t mean some pretty numbered campsite that you drive your car to and that has outhouses and shower facilities around the corner; I’m talking drive a few hours through the mountains in a 4×4 vehicle to find a clearing by the ocean to park a tent or build a shelter out of nearby trees, if you wish (seriously, one friend did this). That kind of camping.

Knowing that I would be without the comforts of home but would have time aplenty (yeah, I just said aplenty), I was determined to bring my yoga camping with me, showers or no showers. So I did. And guess what? It’s surprisingly easy. Here’s how to make it work:

Step 1: Bring a yoga mat. Your cheapest, oldest, worn-out yoga mat. You know the one the dog tried to chew up? Yeah, bring that one. ‘Cause it’s going to get dirty while you are doing yoga outside, and so are you.

Step 2: Bring layers of wicking and quick-drying yoga clothes. You want to be as comfortable as possible but still be able to move. Again, these will probably get dirty, so be prepared. Layers will keep you both warm and cool, and the quick-drying abilities will ensure that if you get rained on or want to give them a rinse that you will still be able to wear them for tomorrow’s yoga. Because if you’re going to take your yoga camping you might as well make the most of it, right?

Step 3: Bring music. This can be a stereo, an ipod, or even the radio in your car if it comes right down to it. Yoga to the sounds of nature is great, but if you aren’t lucky enough to be camping on a warm sunny day, you might need some extra motivation to get moving, and dancing for 5 minutes to an upbeat song can help get you warm and ready for yoga.

Step 4: Find a flat surface. Or an inclined surface. Or just any surface, really. If you wind up with your mat on a funny angle, just think of it as an extra challenge in stabilization, and change around your position on the mat with every downward dog so that you can reach all angles. If there are no surfaces to place a mat on, then practice your standing poses. I’ll bet your Warrior III feels a bit stronger when you are trying not to fall off a rock.

Step 5: Experiment. This isn’t your typical at-home or in-studio practice, so why not take the opportunity to do something different? Instead of bringing a class with you, just practice what comes to you naturally. See some trees nearby? Practice tree pose. Missing some sunshine? See how many sun salutations it takes to bring the sun out. Was that an eagle that flew by? Eagle pose. Get it? Go with the flow.

And if all else fails, there’s always more to be learned in downward dog – a yogi’s best friend.

You can’t predict the future. So why be stressed about it?

I was reading a great post over at Spoiled Yogi today about stress, and it got me thinking about what it is that I stress about the most. Most of the time when I’m stressing, it’s about things that are coming up or about to happen in my future; events, people I’m going to see, and conversations that I need to have. And it occurred to me all of a sudden that I’m wasting a lot of time stressing about things that are in the future.

But here’s the funny thing about the future: it hasn’t happened yet.

In the yoga world, we often talk about living in the present, and immersing yourself fully in each present moment before it passes you by. We all know why it is pointless to live in the past: you can’t change it, you so have to accept it and move on. But what’s wrong with living in the future? Well, the future hasn’t happened yet. And because it hasn’t happened yet, you can’t predict what will happen. Which means that all that time we spend stressing about things in the future is wasted energy, because you have no idea what will happen anyway. Heck, you can’t even guarantee that the sun will rise tomorrow* so you might as well just wait and see for yourself. Maybe something that you thought might happen will happen; maybe it won’t. Maybe you’ll win the lottery; maybe you won’t.

So why waste time stressing about the future when you really won’t know what happens until you get there? From now on, when I’m worried about something upcoming and feeling stressed I will remember:

You can’t predict the future. So take a deep breath, let it go, and wait to see what happens. You never know, maybe something unexpected will happen.

*this is one of the great philosophical discussions I remember having back in University. See here.

A day of nothing reveals… well, a lot.

The other day I had nothing to do. No commitments, no classes to teach, no errands, no housework, and no people to see. I am currently away from home, staying in the city for a week taking a Kundalini Yoga training course, and I had a free day with nothing to do. I should have been elated. I should have been so excited for my free day – after all, who doesn’t like free?

But when I woke up that morning, I worried: what am I going to do today? Before I had even answered the question, I felt guilty. Guilty that I was here wondering how to fill my free time while my husband was back at home working. Guilty that I didn’t have more things that I had to do. And guilty at the thought that I could possibly, just maybe, actually spend the day doing whatever I wanted without having to achieve something.

This was followed by an immediately horrified reaction – a day without achieving something? Who would want that? So I ran through a mental list of things that I might possibly achieve today. Given that I really had nothing to do, this was a challenge, but then I remembered that I needed to go to the eye exam clinic and pick up another copy of my receipt while I was in town. Even better, I realized that it would mean I’d have to drive across the city and would probably take up the better part of my morning. Ooh, I could even squeeze in lunch and stretch it out a bit. Happy to have a purpose for my day, I set out. A few hours later, mission completed, I found myself back in my temporary home, faced with the same dilemma. Now what?

So naturally, I reverted back to my default state: finding a good book to read (Petite Anglaise, if anyone’s curious). And read. And read. And I probably would have kept reading late into the night if I hadn’t already decided to attend a couple of yoga classes that evening with some friends. So by the end of the evening, my day complete, I looked back on my free day – and it turns out you can learn a lot about yourself just by what you do with a free day:

Lesson #1: I put a lot of pressure on myself and because of that, carry a lot of guilt around with me. I’m not good at letting myself relax.

Lesson #2: I am an acheiver. I need to acheive. If I don’t acheive, I lose my sense of purpose completely, and I am lost.

Lesson #3: I am an escape artist. When bored, I look to escape. This takes different forms; most commonly both a literal escape (I just have go somewhere. Anywhere.) and a figurative escape through fiction books, which I devour like a hungry dinosaur on the throes of extinction.

Lesson #4: I need social contact, but am not good at initiating it. I don’t know how to just be social; I need a shared purpose, something that takes the pressure off myself. I think this goes back to my childhood insecurities and the day on the playground that I was told that, actually, this group of girls in my class had decided not to let me hang out with them.

So what does this all mean? Well I don’t know. How about you go have your own free day, and see what you learn, hmm?