How one yoga class taught me that we are all creatures of habit.
I teach a yoga class to MS (Multiple sclerosis) patients, some of whom are confined to a wheelchair. This is my favorite class to teach. I leave feeling calm and full of gratitude, knowing that my efforts are well spent.
In this class especially, we explore physical modifications, which translates to self-acceptance and patience.
These students have limitations that are no secret, so I use them to my advantage. The shaking arm is a perfect opportunity to bring movement to a static pose. Difficulty balancing invites discussion on the need for focus both visually and in the greater picture of our lives. I remind my students to find a drishti, or focused gaze, because just like life outside of the yoga studio, it is far easier to find balance when one has focus.
Most of us will fall sooner, rather than later, if we travel through our poses, or our lives with our eyes closed.
There are days when I find it difficult to put my body into any kind of yoga pose; I drag myself to the mat only to lie there wishing I were somewhere else.
These are the moments that my mind goes to this class and these students.
Despite the difficulty some of my students have with even simple movement, they arrive. They leave the comfort of their homes and travel through the rain, the snow or the heat to arrive at their place of practice. What a display of devotion and self-love that is. If they can do it, certainly I can find something within myself to do it as well. They are magnificent motivators, these yogis.
Many of my students have been attending this same Monday morning class for 10 or more years, far longer than I have been teaching. They know each other well, they carpool and are friends outside of the yoga room.
They are also creatures of habit.
The chairs are set in a circle and each week as students arrive they find “their” seat. The same seat every week. When a newcomer arrives in class they squeeze in but the core group of 10 or so student have “their” spots. They may have sat in the very same place for a decade or more.
This week, the student who is usually across from me came in late. She sat in the only space available, directly to my right. Another student in class introduced himself to her saying “Who is this new young lady”? Indeed she did appear younger in this new location and I found it fascinating that they had practiced together for many years, yet he didn’t recognize her outside of her habitual place. He associated her only with her location in space.
I am finding myself revisiting the question of my own habits. What are they and what excuses have I made for them?
In my Nia classes, I have for at least eight years danced on the right side of the room in one of the front two rows. As a student in a full yoga class, I am nearly always in the middle. When I put earrings on I put the right one on first, every time. I order the same drink and prefer to sit in the same seat at my favorite bar and one I find most perplexing: I can physically only do cartwheels to the right. (We laughed as Derek Zoolander struggled with this but it is a real affliction—one that deserves examination.)
Holding to tightly to habits and patterns is limiting.
Sure, some habits enhance our lives and the lives of those around us, brushing our teeth and putting the milk away as soon as we are done using it are fine examples but wouldn’t it be wonderfully freeing to shed the shackles of our unwanted and often unknown patterns?
Already, in an attempt to remain flexible and to not settle to deeply into teaching patterns I suggest my students shift the natural cross of their legs in easy seat and the inner lacing of their fingers when clasping their hands. It is remarkable how many of us find this uncomfortable.
Today, I positioned my mat differently when I taught my morning class. It felt strange at first but soon I was appreciating the whole new view out of the studio window. Next week I will suggest in my MS yoga class that we change seats.
We will be like strangers, meeting for the first time.
I challenge all of us to practice self-awareness and every day to alter something—anything.
To break or change or at the very least, acknowledge a habit, a behavior or an outdated pattern. To ask those closest to us what they recognize as our habits. The good the bad and the annoying. To try something new or to change something even ever-so slightly.
Sleep on the other side of the bed.
Drink your coffee out of a different cup.
Breathe when you want a cigarette.
Hold someones hand in your non-habitual way (yes, we have habitual hand holding patterns.)
Try a new beer.
Explore the world around you.
Unless of course, being a creature of habit is good enough.
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Editor: Bryonie Wise
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