All of us have habits that we would like to break. There are many things that we know we shouldn’t do but we still do them anyway such as eating poorly, not getting enough sleep, not getting regular exercise routine or habitual negative thinking. We know that these things are not good for us, yet we continue to do them anyway. It’s not easy to make lasting changes and when we do make changes it’s often difficult to stick with those changes. Usually the difficulty is not in knowing what to do but in actually doing it.
Changing our habits is often a matter of changing our minds. Yoga and meditation can help us gain control of our minds. By gaining control of our minds we can overcome habits and replace old habits with new, more positive ones.
According to neuroscience, when you perform actions, brain cells called neurons form connections. Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to adapt and change.
Yoga explains these neural pathways in our brains in terms of samskaras. Repetitive actions create grooves called samskaras and once these grooves are created, it is much easier to follow the pre-existing path thus the samskara is further strengthened. Samskaras can be thought of as impressions or tendencies.
In the The Sivananda Companion to Meditation
, the mind is likened to a CD that contains grooves which are the samskaras in our mind. Samskaras are not always negative. Some can be uplifting and beneficial to your life while others are destructive and will bring you down. The trick is to replace the negative thought patterns or grooves with more positive ones. For example, if we constantly think “I’m not good at anything”, the groove will deepen and the power of this thought increases. As a result the thought may manifest in action and we start to believe that we not good at anything.
So how can yoga help you change your habits? Bo Forbes puts it beautifully in Yoga Journal: "By making space in the body during yoga, we generate freedom in the mind; this freedom can spark our creativity, helping us find an unlimited choice of healthier patterns." Patanjali, in the yoga sutras says that to be successful you need to practice regularly for long periods of time. By doing this you will create new behavioral grooves that take advantage of the brain’s neuroplasticity. One of the best ways to change samskaras is to replace the old behaviours and thought patterns with new ones. The new grooves are systematically strengthened over time through repetition and your new habits become so strong that they replace older les desirable ones.
Practicing yoga postures and meditation can help you to create new and positive samskaras. When strong feelings and emotions surface during meditation you may think you are doing something wrong. But perhaps this is just a natural process of old samskaras being burned off. Practicing meditation can help cleanse your unconscious of thought patterns that you may not even know exist.
What is one pattern that you would like to change or create? Research has shown that it takes around 21 days to create a new habit. Over the next 21 days, when you notice something that triggers your negative patterns, work with a practice to disrupt the pattern – perhaps something as simple as stopping to take a deep breath. Take some time to consider what new habit you could replace the old one with. Remind yourself that this is a process, it’s not instantaneous, and take pleasure in even the smallest changes. I’m going to take the next three weeks to get up earlier to create a daily asana (yoga posture) practice. Meet you back here in 21 days to chat about how it’s going!