Water, Sand, Rock
Habits are interesting things. Some of them are chosen, and some of them are unconscious. Some of them are helpful, and some of them hinder us. Often times when we are making decisions to do the same things we've done before we don't even realise that we are creating a habit.
I had a teacher who once explained habits (or as we might call them in a yogic setting, samskaras) as being lines we draw. If you draw the line once in water, it will be gone immediately, maybe even before you've finished drawing the line. It leaves no trace, and to do it again exactly the same way would be challenging.
If you draw the line in sand it remains. You can look at it and see what you've done. You can recreate it by following it again. It will remain so long as nothing else changes. But if the wind blows, or the rains come, or another person comes by, the line will be gone.
When you draw a line in rock, over and over and over again, it creates a permanent change to the rock. The line will remain. We see this in nature with water running over rocks. If it continues, eventually it creates a groove that the water will run in every time it flows there. These are the habits that become so difficult to change. We have to intentionally go back again and again and do something different, no matter what the pull is to the old way.
Of course this analogy applies to all parts of our life. We create habits in everything we do (or don't do) every moment of every day. You can apply this to a movement practice. You can look at it in terms of your interactions with social media, your relationships with other people and the world around you. And, of course, the thing that I've been thinking about lately, the way I've been applying this metaphor, is to our breathing.
We breathe around 20,000 times each day. That's a lot of lines drawn. There are many different ways to breathe, and of course we should allow the breathing to change to suit the activity we are engaged in. We don't breathe the same way when we are sleeping as we do when we are running, nor should we. But what are the things we are hoping to entrain in our breathing? What habits do you want to create?
When we're teaching breathing techniques that vary from what we might do at rest it's really important that people understand why we might be doing these things. How is this new breathing technique impacting our anatomy, our chemistry, our psychophysiology? If you don't know how it's going to impact all of those things, please take the time to find out before teaching it to someone else.
After having spent a long time practicing breathing techniques, in times of stress we will call on them. They will be our "go to" whether we want them to be or not. It's habit. It's a samskara. And in a moment of stress we do not have the resources, or the mental space, or the physiological ability to make a new decision. It's so important that we learn to breathe in a way that will support us in stressful moments. Practice those breaths until them become a habit that you will do even while you are sleeping. Practice those breaths until they carry you through stressful moments in life. When you have that nailed, then feel free to try some other breathing techniques, understanding fully how they are impacting your whole person, why you might do them, when would be appropriate to use them. And always return to the calm, quiet breath that will serve you for the other 19,999 breaths that day.
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