I was reading an article recently about modern dog training as my house has been taken over this summer by a tiny little Schnoodle puppy. Despite her size, she believes she is Empress of the World who we all must obey or suffer her achingly cute but devilishly mischievous ways.
The author suggested allowing your dog to lead the way on it’s daily walks, to decide what to stop and sniff, which streets to walk down and how long to be out for. I assumed my pup would always head excitedly for the park, stopping only at particularly delicious smelling pee-covered tree trunks, but she surprised me by often choosing to walk towards the main road, to look at buses, snuffle the ankles of strangers and bury her face in the ever-growing piles of crunchy autumn leaves.
This got me thinking about how I go about my daily activities. What do I expect myself to want or like (like I expected Empress to like the park), and where do my natural habits and interests actually lie?
Woman vs Celery
A few weeks ago my partner’s mum kindly dropped off some homemade dinner: Celery Chicken. I hate celery. This has been a well-established fact in my life for as far back as I can remember. I would go so far as to say that I feel violent towards celery, I resent its very existence and its permeating presence that pollutes all food within a 3-mile radius, dragging it down into its bitter clutch.
Being a well brought up little madam I politely sat down to eat said Celery Chicken. Let me tell you a secret: lo and behold it was actually truly delicious.
So, it turns out our preferences may change over the years, but if we’re so entrenched in our habitual thinking patterns of likes and dislikes, how will we ever expand into new experiences?
Respond Rather Than React
As part of my 500-hour teacher training, I’ve been part of the latest Philosophy Module with YogaLondon. The course leader, Deepti Sastry, touched upon breaking free from our samskaras by releasing ourselves from mindless habits and actions.
In the morning āsana we went through a slow and powerful vinyāsa flow. I’ve always had an issue with holding my breath in Chaturanga Dandāsana, but something went differently this time. We were guided to contain each transition, each pose, within the breath. Inhale — float the arms up and hold still until the inhale completes. Exhale — lengthen over the legs and hold still until the exhale completes. This brought a wonderful sense of calm focus to my practice and I breathed easily through Chaturanga as though there had never been a problem!
These two examples of habits that I have been able to break were both easy enough to recognise, acknowledge and subsequently change, but what other habits might be more deeply buried and how can we free ourselves from these tendencies? Mindfulness can be an excellent tool for identifying how much of what goes on in our heads is story telling and how we can better guide ourselves through each present moment by responding rather than reacting.
By interrupting the stream of consciousness that leads us blindly and numbly through life, we can boost our creativity and sift through the multitude of thoughts that pass through the mind, instead of approaching each situation with single pointed focus. On the advanced yoga teacher training, Deepti spoke about taking leaps of thought to live without anticipation, free from the persuasions, preferences and patterns that we think define us.
Mindfulness Exercises to Break Deep Habits
Here are a few exercises that you can implement into your week to jumpstart your neurons and snap you into the present moment:
- Dominant Hand — See what it’s like to switch your knife and fork over, or perhaps only eat with your hands. Try brushing your teeth, shaking hands and using your phone with your non-dominant hand for an entire day.
- Physical Identity — Spend 24 hours without looking in a mirror, wearing make up (or wear it if you usually don’t), or see what it’s like to wear clothes that are traditionally for the other gender.
- Speech Patterns — Look up a new word in the dictionary and create sentences that allow for that word to be used as often as possible all day. Identify words you use a lot and cut them out, perhaps words such as “like,” “literally,” and “OK”.
- Eating — Visit a shop or market selling food from another region and buy a week’s worth of food there. Experiment with different eating times and frequencies. Cook with a new ingredient and try food again that you thought you didn’t like (even if it’s celery)!
- Yoga — Shake up your practice and experience new aspects of yoga. Perhaps changing the breath and sequencing in your āsana, add in more prānāyāma and kriyas or perhaps see how much yoga you can do that doesn’t involve āsana.
- Thoughts — We sure do love to complain in Britain. You probably do it without event knowing, so spend a whole day without saying or even thinking anything negative. If you slip up, forgive yourself and start again!
Since there are six exercises above, I’ll pose you all a little challenge. Try one of these exercises a day for a whole week, and on the 7th day see if you can do them all at once.
Since the Celery Chicken revelation I have started to add celery to my weekly Abel and Cole fruit and veg box, and I’ve been adding it into my morning green smoothie. I suppose this may be a new habit that I will have to address in the near future!
Can you notice any habits in your life that have until now gone unchecked? Did you discover anything by practising any of the techniques listed above, or try the whole challenge? I’d love to hear how you get on and if you managed to break any long held and unnecessary traditions.