Yoga has many benefits. These include physical strength and flexibility, stress relief, and increased flexibility. There are many other benefits. Yoga can help us navigate through the ups and downs in our lives. According to the Yoga Sutras (sutra 2.48), “mastering” the asana makes us “no longer upset at the play of opposites in our lives.” Yoga’s ability to help us to change our habits was another benefit I discovered early on.
When I was 26, I began yoga. I was finishing college. A search did not mark my college years for clarity. Instead, they were all about changing my mind as often as possible. It was the 1970s, and I was at Indiana University, the number one party school in the United States. Despite this being a phase that was ending, my life was not completely healthy.
Three weeks into my practice of yoga, I noticed an unpredicted shift. A few beers were consumed the night before I took this class. The next night, I felt weak and shaky in class. It was not something I liked. Even the minor sensitivity I had discovered in just three weeks of practicing shed light on the effects alcohol has on my body.
Many unhealthy habits have been thrown out of fashion since then. As I waited for my car’s inspection and registration, I glanced at the candy bars on my garage counter. There were Mounds, Reese’s, and Snickers. These are all candy bars that I used to love as a child. This morning, I wasn’t even tempted. It has been a while since I have been drawn. The bars made me feel the same way I did after eating them: agitated and ungrounded with a “sick stomach.”
It’s not that a glass of wine is something I don’t enjoy every once in a while. I sometimes do. It’s something I sometimes do. For me, drinking is a conscious choice and not a habit.
CHANGE THE BRAIN AND YOUR HABITS
The Huffington Post interviewed Dr. Timothy McCall a while back. He talked about how yoga can change your brain. This is the quote that resonates most with me:
Yoga can be practiced with awareness and sensitivity. This increases your understanding of what is happening in your body and heart. You will notice the consequences of your actions when you are more aware and present in your body, mind, and breath. You may find that a particular food may not taste so healthy, but it may make you feel sick. You will notice this connection and say, “You know what? I don’t want to eat that anymore.”
McCall discusses neuroplasticity in the interview. This is the brain’s ability to change itself. The brain creates connections to make it easier for us to do the same action again and again. This is how habits are formed. It is possible to cultivate the habits you want. Habits that make us happier, calmer, and healthier. Override those habits that cause us to feel tired, agitated, or weak.
IT ALL COMES DOWN TO MINDFULNESS
Paying attention is critical to being present when we eat, drink, and exercise, as well as when we do yoga. Every person’s experience will be different. Alcohol doesn’t feel good to me. It might be beneficial for others to help ease stress. If we are more aware of how our actions affect us, then all of us can make decisions for ourselves. Understanding how your life is structured will help you change your habits.
Pay attention to your feelings after eating, drinking, exercising, or practicing yoga. After each asana, I like to take a moment and listen. This allows me to see the effect of each pose’s development and the quality of my efforts. Do I feel calm, agitated, relaxed, tense, frustrated, peaceful, edgy, or smooth when I practice the pose?
This applies to our physical and mental habits and what we ingest. This applies to our mental/emotional behaviors. What does it feel like to be greedy? What does generosity feel like? What does it feel like to either love or hate someone?
Yoga can change our lives and habits. We can cultivate positive habits by being aware of our actions’ future and present effects.