9/9/19 On habits that serve us and those that don’t

By Lena Pfitzner, Yoga, Pilates, and Barre teacher at 3118 Yoga

Habits — those small habitual actions that we hardly notice anymore. They are all those moments in which we make choices we don’t even think about, because it feels like second nature: staying up late even though we are tired; drinking yet another cup of coffee to get us through the afternoon; checking email first thing in the morning; shrugging our shoulders when being asked to make a decision, etc. 

Habits come and go. Once a behaviour or a choice becomes a habit, it is hard to change it, don’t you find? It’s particularly true for actions that we know aren’t really good for us, such as, for example, staying up late again even though we’ve been tired all week. Yet, we keep thinking there is just so much to do and we feel like we can’t leave it for another day. As a consequence, we wake up feeling more tired and probably get even less done the following day.

It sounds simple, but for many of us, changing ‘bad’ habits can be an enormous challenge. We might tell ourselves that tomorrow or next time we will do things differently, but taking action is often more challenging that it might seem at first. 

Why does it appear to be hard to break those habits and do more of the good stuff?

Habits don’t require much effort and we are comfortable doing familiar things. Changing those behaviours would take a bit of effort; being human, we often prefer to walk the easier path. 

The example of staying up too late is something I know too well myself. My previous year was very busy and my days soon filled up with more and more tasks, which I felt had to be dealt with all at once. I would work on my computer until late and keep thinking about my ‘to do’ list in bed. As a result, my sleep was terrible, and the few hours of sleep I did get were not enough. I knew I had to change something; however, I also felt the need to keep working and get things done. Nothing changed until I consciously made the decision to stop everything by 9 p.m. and allow myself some downtime before going to bed. And you know what? It was one of the best decisions I’ve made in a long time. 

Yes, I felt guilty, especially in the first few days. My mind kept drifting off to what I could still be doing and working on. Yet, with each day passing it got easier and I started feeling better and more rested. It is a small change when I look at it now, but it felt like a huge challenge when starting out.

Interestingly, those habits creep up on us during Yoga. I often catch myself and a lot of my students in the habitual scenarios. Let me ask you some questions: Do you always transition into downward dog the same way? Do you keep stretching until you feel something? Do you sit on the mat with a stiff back rather than using props to adapt? Do you keep falling out of balance poses rather than using a block or modification to support yourself? Do you always face the same direction on your mat?

There are many little things we do in our practice, simply because that’s how we have always done things. We might step forward or back using our stronger side instead of trying to transition another way; we might keep the same pace rather than taking an extra breath, even though it would feel good to stay a little longer; we might go for the full variation rather than modifying, even though we might feel fatigued. 

Whatever it might be, ask yourself, Is this the best choice I can make about this step, this move, this breath right now?

How great would it feel to stay curious, to change things up and try something different, to really tune into your own body and use your Yoga practice to create new, good habits that serve you in the most beautiful way; to step out of your comfort zone and explore different, better, more nurturing ways of moving your body. And if you are not a big fan of yoga poses (asana), you might find those little moments in your meditation (dhyana) or breathing (pranayama) practice that allow you to pick up on your habits and any opportunities to make changes.

Once you allow yourself to break and make new habits in your Yoga practice, you will be surprised how this might translate into your everyday life, because “The way we do one thing is the way we do everything.” (Iyanla Vanzant)

If you would like to start breaking and creating habits for yourself, I invite you to start with two simple questions:

  1. What is one thing you would like to stop doing or do less of?

  2. What is one thing you would like to start doing or do more of?

Enjoy your practice!

Lena and the team at 3118 Yoga

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