Tip Tuesday: Breaking Habits

Tip Tuesday is a weekly feature where I offer a few yoga tips that have worked for me in the hopes that they can help you too.

The process of changing habits sucks. Just ask anyone who’s quit smoking. Although the end result is positive, it’s an uncomfortable re-patterning curve to get there. It never fails to amaze me how much our habits on the yoga mat often reflect our habits off the mat. For example, if you slump in front of the computer, you’ll frequently find yourself unconsciously slumping in poses.

When you’re faced with the often daunting task of breaking a habit, the mat can be a good place to start. You can consciously make small changes that are easier and not as emotionally hard to do. By practicing less dramatic changes, it gets you in the “habit”, if you will, of riding through the discomfort of change to prepare you for the next leap off the mat.

A few ways you can do so:

Clasp your hands in your non-habitual way Interlace your fingers, then move your fingers over one. It will feel weird because you’re in the habit of doing the other way. But like breaking other habits, it’s going to feel weird for awhile as you start a new behavior.

Mix up what foot you start on If you usually start off on the right on one-sided poses, do your left side first or vice versa. If you are doing sun salutations, switch off what foot you begin with. Kicking up to handstand or forearm balance? Make sure you also do it with your non-dominant leg.

Take the down-level That goes for advanced students too. Purposely do the more basic version of the pose. Re-connect to the basic mechanics of the pose. Observe if your mind goes crazy because you’re “not doing it hard enough.”

Change your focus For example, in triangle pose, instead of aiming to get your fingers to the floor, prioritize getting length in both sides of the waist. Or pick an area of your body to work with and find how you can connect with your chosen spot through every pose.

Know that it will feel awkward and wrong and you won’t want to do it. But if you can break a habit successfully on the mat, you know you can take a small step towards busting those larger bad habits.

Tip Tuesday: Don’t Be a Yoga Robot

Image credit: Watercolor painting by RandomHappenstance on etsy

Tip Tuesday is a weekly feature where I offer a few yoga tips that have worked for me in the hopes that they can help you too.

You might be a yoga robot if…

…Your body is on the mat, but your mind is floating elsewhere
…You aren’t at all aware of your breath during the practice
…You don’t ever consider taking a variation, modification, or deviation of any pose
…You do the poses just to do them without looking at how they feel in your body.
…Yoga is an item you cross off on your to-do list

Robots are not all bad. They are usually good at doing what they are told and getting automated tasks done. But a robot can’t go beyond their programmed behavior. Yoga robots will get their practice done, but miss out on the chance to experiment, fall, challenge, and sometimes having that juicy breakthrough on the mat.

Ways to de-program your robot:

Breathe. When you find your mind wandering, focus your breath into where you feel the pose in your body. If it’s a hip-opener pose, direct your breath into your hip. Feel for how much space you can create with your breath.

Find your feet. Press into the balls of your feet and lift and spread your toes. This little action will help ground you and re-focus your attention back to your body.

Take a variation. If you’re in downward dog, try a 1-legged dog, shift your hips, pedal the feet, send the leg out to the side. Play with different movement and see what it feels like. Don’t worry if it’s not the traditional “right” pose. You could stumble upon a creative new variation you’ll want to repeat.

Try a mantra. A short chant or phrase can help keep your mind focused and calm. It can be as simple as “inhale” and “exhale”. Even humming along to music during your practice can have have a centering effect as you experience the vibrational effect of the notes. Who knows, it could even be this song: