Yoga is a wonderful practice with numerous physical benefits. It can also affect one’s mental and emotional well-being. A consistent and intelligent yoga regimen can initiate many positive changes and help transform unhealthy habits.
How can yoga do this? The skills we acquire through regular practice are the tools we can use to gradually change our behavior.
Skill #1: Ability to Focus Attention
In yoga, we flow through poses mindfully. We learn how to pay attention to even the most subtle sensations in the body and nuances in the breath. We start being attentive to the thoughts and emotions that come and go. Bringing awareness to whatever is occurring in the present moment is the first step towards changing habitual patterns. We are able to recognize that impulse to reach for junk food or mindlessly scroll through social media as it arises. Sometimes, when we are truly present and mindful, we discover that we don’t even enjoy these behaviors and we only engage in them out of habit.
Skill #2: Ability to Slow Down and Pause
When we are unaware, we react to situations blindly. We repeat actions simply because they are familiar. Once we bring awareness to the behavior we want to change, we now have a choice. In yoga, the slower pace of movement enables us to observe repetitive patterns in our thoughts and emotions. This ability to slow down and hit the pause button will help us respond to the situation with more clarity. Instead of losing our temper or lighting another cigarette, we can now stop and choose how to act instead of being on autopilot.
Skill #3: Ability to Stay with Discomfort
Whenever we try something new or encounter an unfamiliar situation, a sense of discomfort arises. In the physical practice of yoga, we learn how to sit with this discomfort. We discover how to find ease within challenging poses and how to observe our thoughts and emotions without judgment. If we are trying to drink less or exercise more, for example, recognizing uncomfortable feelings as they come to the surface is very important. We realize that we sometimes behave in certain ways in order to avoid being uncomfortable. When we are able to dispassionately observe our own discomfort, it will eventually lose its power over us and only then can we initiate real change.
These skills, along with the patience and discipline we acquire through yoga practice, will help us in our journey towards better health. We can slowly let go of old habits that keep us from living full and happy lives.
***This is an article I wrote for the Front Door Fitness website. FDF is a fantastic personal training company in the Kansas City area and I am proud to be part of their team. Check out the FDF blog for more articles on fitness and nutrition from my other colleagues.