I’m realising how much I am a creature of habit. Not just in the way that I like a coffee in bed in the morning, a walk at lunchtime, eating late and listening to classical music before bedtime. Beyond these obvious habits, I’m learning the habits of my mind a bit more intimately. It’s horribly fascinating observing the reactions repeating themselves in what feel like endless cycles and re-cycles. But perhaps by observation they will come to change in time.

As I practise yoga I see repeated cycles of confusion and clarity, questioning and acceptance, resistance and struggle followed by some yielding and surrender (aka “getting on with it” as my practical-minded teacher puts it!). These cycles are of various lengths — there’s a longer cycle that runs for months or sometime longer, long enough that I can’t really keep track. And then there’s a short cycle which is horribly visible to me at the moment. It’s right under my nose, day by day, each practice moving me through this cycle of reactions.

I’m working closely with my teacher at the moment, exploring the idea of ‘yoga goals’ — the idea of making a more concerted focus on some aspects of physical practice, rather than my default habit of simply meandering through and allowing myself to be distracted by anything that crosses my consciousness. Not that my way is ‘wrong’, but I would like greater focus.Trying to change a habit is hard and some days I’m not convinced I want to. The process is pressing all my buttons! It’s extremely uncomfortable. And yet I’m also fascinated by the possibilities, by the idea that I could experience life differently if I changed my mindset, that there’s a greater freedom available if I could only dare to reach for it. That would be pretty exciting.

Now the cycle of my reaction to change is becoming clearer to me and I’m hoping this clarity is a sign of greater (potential) freedom. Here’s how it goes:

  • My teacher suggests something new to try. I try to be a good student, I check my understanding with him, and I commit to his helpful or interesting suggestions. I want this and I trust him.
  • I go home and immediately my head fills with uncertainties and questions. Suddenly I don’t get what I’m doing. I literally lose sleep turning the questions over in my head.
  • Then there comes the phase of self-doubt. Even if I put the technical questions aside, I’m not sure I can do this, I’m not sure my body can do this. I get on the mat only to slump down and cry, full of self pity.
  • Then I get angry. How can I have such a terrible teacher who expects me to do things which are so obviously not possible for poor little me? Why doesn’t he understand how unreasonable he’s being and give me more sensible work? I think I’ll prove this by getting on the mat and failing so obviously that he’ll apologise and give me something easier to do and be generally nicer to me.
  • Then I get angry with myself. I’ve noticed the self-sabotage and it’s so frustrating! I half-coax and half-discipline myself into trying again. But althoughI’ve reached some clarity in my head-thoughts and feel more determined and more positive, my body is playing its own game, and as I explore unfamiliar shapes or ways of moving overwhelming emotions reduce me to physical uncertainty and wobbles. There is a horrible visceral churning feeling, as though the inner stuff of my body is writhing, shrinking away from trying something new.
  • And after all these messy confrontations with myself, I suddenly settle into the work quite cheerfully. I am full of energy and dedication. I explore, feel curious, make the work my own through trying variations and modifications, moving faster or slower, deeper or lighter… Oh happy day!

I wonder if eventually I will be able cut out some of the exhausting middle stages? Less anger and self pity would be nice. I would like that. I’m sure my teacher would appreciate it too! 🙂

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