Want to break old habits that are no longer serving you and solidify new ones that’ll boost your health and happiness? The secret is cultivating discipline, compassion, and patience on the mat. Here’s how.
As yogis, most of us continually strive to move through life more mindfully. Yet sometimes, despite our best efforts, we run into obstacles and react in ways that don’t serve us. We vow to cut back on sugar, then cave at the sight of cookies; we get down on ourselves for playing the comparison game when looking at social media feeds; we feel frustrated if we can’t balance in Bakasana (Crane Pose) during yoga class. Often, these roadblocks are tied to our samskaras, the Sanskrit term for the mental and emotional grooves, or habits, that we find ourselves falling back into time and time again.
Whether conscious or unconscious, positive or negative, samskaras make up our conditioning and influence how we respond in certain situations. Changing these deeply ingrained patterns can be difficult—even if those patterns cause us pain. The good news is that we can use our yoga practice to examine our samskaras, identify what may be getting in the way of realizing our best intentions, and work with what we uncover.
By observing our reactive patterns on the yoga mat and meditation cushion, we’re better able to recognize when we react mindlessly in real life—and in turn, consciously shift our feelings, thoughts, emotions, moods, and behaviors. For example, if you lose your balance in Vrksasana (Tree Pose), look at how you talk to yourself. Are you kind? Or do you beat yourself up? Can you dust yourself off and try again, even when you feel like giving up?
The most common roadblocks I see students struggle with on a regular basis are self-criticism, frustration, and lack of willpower. The following sequences will help you cultivate the tools you need to work through your roadblocks, so you can break the patterns that no longer serve you and call in new ones that will help you live more mindfully.
If you struggle with WILLPOWER...
this sequence will improve your discipline.
IF IT FEELS EASIER TO indulge in familiar habits rather than embracing rituals that help you crawl out of them, join the sangha (community). Breaking free from our habitual patterns takes work. The following sequence will help you develop the strength and courage to face your challenges and stay your course. These postures are simple; however, holding a pose like Utkatasana (Chair Pose) gives us an opportunity to sit with intensity, preparing us to better navigate the challenges life throws our way.
Stand at the front of your mat in Tadasana (Mountain Pose). As you inhale, stretch your arms out to the sides and then overhead, lengthening through your side ribs. As you exhale, sit your hips back and down. Shift your weight toward your heels, and release the tops of your thighs and tailbone toward the mat. Soften the sides of your neck, unhinge your jaw, and quiet your eyes. Stay here for 1 minute. Utkatasana is intense. You’ll notice your mind searching for a way out of the discomfort. Observe what arises, and choose to stay. When it gets hard, let it be hard.
2 UTTHITA PARSVAKONASANA
Extended Side Angle Pose
Return to Tadasana (Mountain Pose) at the front of your mat, and step or jump your feet wide. Stretch your arms open to shoulder height, rotate your right thigh open 90 degrees, then turn your left toes in slightly. On an inhalation, ground down into your feet and lift up. On an exhalation, bend your right knee any amount, or until it is directly over your ankle. Align your knee with your second toe by rotating your right thigh open. Draw your right outer hip toward your left heel, and lengthen your torso toward your right foot. Place your bottom hand on a block to the outside of your right ankle, and stretch your left arm straight up. Root your right hand into the block as you lengthen up through your left collarbone, arm, and hand. Reach your left arm over your ear, spinning your outer armpit toward your heart. Breathe here for 1 minute, then repeat on the other side.
3 ADHO MUKHA SVANASANA
Downward-Facing Dog Pose
From Balasana (Child’s Pose), stretch your arms out in front of you, and lengthen the sides of your body. Look to see that your hands are shoulderwidth apart; press your palms into the mat, and straighten your arms. Inhale, and shift forward to your hands and knees. On an exhalation, curl your toes under and pull your thighs back into Down Dog. Ground down evenly into your hands, and pull up through straight arms. Press the tops of your thighs back, and shift more weight into your legs. Stay here for at least 1 minute, observing what arises as you hold the pose. You may feel the urge to fidget, which disconnects you from your experience and may prompt you to avoid what comes up. If this happens, recommit your attention to the actions of the pose.
4 PLANK POSE
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August/ September 2018