Dismantling Habitual Behavior

Since the middle of July, I have been involved in a yoga teacher training program that I have mentioned a few times in blog posts. During that entire process—the 20 days at the yoga institute and the six weeks between the two ten-day sessions—one of the primary focuses has been on our habitual behavior and how it keeps us from being who we really want to be.

The last time I wrote about habits, my article was a review of a book that aims to help us change habits. The methods suggested by the author, Charles Duhigg (The Power of Habit) are very effective at helping us alter habits which are no longer serving us. The approach presented is very logical and behaviorally focused, perfect for individuals and behavioral health professionals to use.

The mode of dismantling habitual behavior in yoga is just a bit different. Yoga practice utilizes the body, the breath, and energy as tools to bring us face-to-face with our habitual reactions, and then uses proper alignment, breath and internal focus (concentration and meditative awareness) to help us react in ways other than our usual, habitual ones.

For many of us, our habits are invisible. Even when others point them out to us, we have a hard time seeing them. We may even become defensive and insist that we do no such thing. For some of us, focusing on the energy tied up in that habit rather than on the habit itself is a more productive path. Becoming aware of our reactive patterns and using that awareness to become mindful of how the habit serves us or does not in our daily lives is one step toward change. Working directly with the energy we have invested in the habit—bypassing our thoughts, rationalizations and justifications for the behavior—can be an effective method of change for those of us who are expert rationalizers and justifiers.

Those of you who are body workers or have had experience with body work (massage, chiropractic, Thai massage, Rolfing, Reiki, Feldenkrais, etc.) know from your personal experience that the body holds a great deal of tension and energy that is connected to emotion. The first time I had a chiropractic adjustment, I cried all the way home—not because it hurt; it did NOT. I cried because I had been in pain for most of a year and the adjustment I received relieved that pain immediately. It also released lots of energy that I had tied up in that pain and in the muscles in my body that were trying to keep it from getting worse and were working hard to protect me from the pain. Releasing that energy makes it available for my use rather than my protection.

The same is true with energy I have tied up maintaining habit patterns that may no longer serve me. That energy can become available for my growth and for improving my health.

What methods have you learned for changing habits…your own or those of your clients? What has the effect been on your energy? Do you have experience with body work or with yoga that has resulted in behavior change?

Please share your experience and comments below.

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