The power of the habit: Breaking our little habits and building up new ones.

by Isidora Liakou

The appearance of certain behavioral patterns, little routines and habits was something that always intrigued me, even before my son's birth. When a new day was rising, for a few minutes I had a silent and rather subconscious conversation with time, negotiating the ways this new day could grow and pass. I was thinking of my day as a blank canvas, and all the different people, possibilities and objects around me,  as the colors with which I would  give certain forms and paint on the canvas. Later on, when school started, suddenly there was not enough empty space left on my canvas to draw, so like everyone else had to squeeze mu inner thoughts , wishes for the day.

Becoming an adult, that concept has not left me, and there were always those seconds of recognition, just when waking up in the morning. It is that  moment, the one that we need to acknowledge and grasp, in order to get closer to what a day in our lives  would like to be. The practice of Yoga, has of course enabled me to keep this sensation alive, even on the days that for various reasons I have been hiding from myself, spending my time in a way that was non-satisfactory for my inner self and was leaving me with a bitter taste of neglect ion or anxiety. We all have things and patters we fell into again and again, although finally make us feel miserable and unhappy. I could not answer the question why we have this tendencies towards minor or major patterns of self-destruction;it is something very complex but I could attempt to give more light, on our lighter side-the one that does make us finally feel happy and content. How can we develop more the patterns that give us this positive sensation  and make those our new life habits?

When you head is buzzing from  the noise that all that information you gathered makes, and you are feeling tired or 'lost' just even on the start of a new day, just try to recall a habit that has a positive influence on you for most of the day, rather just for a little time. (Therefore, a chocolate cake or watching a favorite series would not refill your energy for long). It is better if you try something physical. Something that will enforce you, subconsciously initially,  to re-think of the way you move, you breath, your body feels, they way you stand you walk, not in order to judge yourself but to know yourself,and through this physical action, bring a balance to your numerous thoughts.

When, you feel tired first thing in the morning, because you have not slept well or slept very late, and you suspect that this comes from staying late working or  for hours at the computer, this is a already a very good step in to the path of self-recognition. Not self-judgement - but positive recognition. The next and harder step is minimizing the 'destructive' habits, the ones that make you forget of your inner motivations through a day and somehow make you feel powerless.  So, when this powerful habit is  calling you, before or after  falling into it again...why not attempt doing something new, for instance try yoga..and then just try  to identify that time of the day, when your head feels more fresh and productive. Acknowledge that moment, and then,  try to play with it,prolong it through your day. See it as a game with yourself, what would happen if instead spending hours on the computer late at night is replaced once with reading a book, or just having a walk, or staring  the stars, or practicing yoga? See it as a little test to yourself, notice your inner and spontaneous reaction and you can even write them down. Just from getting in such a process of self observation and play,  you stop feeling so lonely or weak and you suddenly sense the unlimited possibilities and sides that you have. Time, will not feel as a factor of anxiety and distress anymore, but rather a concept that does not really affect you.

For me, the practice of yoga has been a way to that. First thing in the morning, with the stomach empty, just when the mind is half-asleep,  so without much thinking going through a yoga routine that pleases me personally on that specific day most. And, in this way, before putting my head in the 1000 other things a day is holding for me, having this precious time with myself, a  silent conversation with my body, with my breath, finding out how they are today, how have they slept, if they are ok and what do they need to feel better, And in the end, when, just lying down still, half-asleep, just before starting putting everything in motion again (body and mind) there is this magical moment of self-connection and empowerment. Magically,  suddenly, I don't feel sleepy and tired anymore, I don't even need a coffee, on the contrary I am feeling more concentrated, positive and relaxed to get through this  unique day. And most important, whatever I encounter during my day, I am the one who holds the basic paints and brushes to fill my canvas of the day.

How is that happening?

Yoga makes me feel better about myself. Yoga makes you fit, yes, but something bigger is happening on the mat: GABA levels increase with exercise, measurably after only ten minutes of exercise. The neurotransmitter GABA shuts down the stress response and makes us more stress-resilient. Yoga also does this thing to your brain where the section that is responsible for sad-feeling responses as you interface with the world, the insula, gets activated. Simultaneously, with Yoga and mindfulness practices, the superior temporal sulcus and the left frontal cortex, areas of the brain that evaluate our experiences and help us to make comparisons, quiet down. Therefore, the more we learn to feel sad without getting caught up in it, without commenting on it and wondering what it all means, the less depressed we get. After Yoga and any mindfulness exercise, we feel more but judge less. The inner critic has been quieted. Our experience becomes one of less suffering and more peace. Yoga gives me purpose. When feeling down for the whole winter season, going to the habit of  Yoga  could take Herculean Jedi-mind strength  You will probably have to wrestle with yourself to leave the safety of your previous habits. But once you start you can't avoid to understand  from experience that it is good for you; and every time you doubt, or feeling lazy, you can recall this sensation you have  for hours after a practice; Yoga practice is a firsthand experience that exercise is medicine.