After my first day of Yoga teacher training I decided to hit up a coffee shop on the way home. When I got home, I got an éclair from the refrigerator, grabbed some Cheetos from the kitchen cabinet and headed in to my bedroom. While snacking on them I opened up my laptop and logged on to Facebook. Eventually, and seemingly unbeknownst to me, I found myself staring at a friend of a friend’s wedding pictures while finishing an entire bag of Cheetos.
Afterwards, I tried to go to sleep, but the caffeine kept me up until about 230AM-anxiously overthinking a variety of unresolved issues. The next day I awoke in a discombobulated haze to the sound of my alarm. My brain immediately took me back to the proceeding thing I was worrying about the night before. It took me a moment to orient myself. Eventually I got out of bed, made coffee, and left for yoga teacher training without eating breakfast.
I pulled in to the parking lot of Ebb n’ Flow and got out of my car. As I walked up to the studio I noticed the bridal shop next door taunting me. I took a sip of my coffee and glared at it with the stare of a mean girl. A wedding dress attempted to say hello. In response, I flipped my hair and walked away to signal indifference. I opened the door to Ebb n’ Flow and my eye caught a glimpse of the dress again. I took another sip of my coffee while staring at it. It confidently stared back. I took another sip of my coffee. My stomach grumbled from lack of food and I lost the staring contest with the dress. I opened the door to the studio and walked inside.
A classmate soon approached me.
“ So, you are a Dietitian! This is great! I need some tips! What’s your secret? What are some breakfast tips!?” She pleasantly asked with a smile.
It was a ground hog day moment. I’d received the same greeting yesterday except from a different classmate. The universe was sending me a message about my poor diet. Evidently I was not open to receiving it.
About three hours in to class, right before lunch, I’d found myself energetically depleted. My caffeine high had ended. Karen had us practicing revolved triangle pose and I was feeling light headed, hungry and angry with myself.
This is what you get for not eating breakfast! What is wrong with you? Why do you do this to yourself? I thought silently while trying to appear calm and poised in the yoga pose.
Karen’s voice broke through my negative self-talk. She had been aligning the posture of a classmate. Each time my classmate would take Triangle pose her body would hunch over and out of alignment. Karen would come over and gently straighten the hunch out. We would then go through other poses and cycle back to triangle pose.
When we would take triangle again, my classmate would position herself back in her old alignment instead of the new one. She did this purely out of habit, but I could tell she was getting frustrated when she would get corrected. I think Karen also sensed her frustration.
“ Please don’t get discouraged if you find yourself unable to hold poses ‘perfectly’.” She said, and then continued.
“Our bodies have developed patterns of movement over the years that contribute to our structure. You are a fixed structure that can’t be easily changed over night. Changing your alignment is a gradual process. It will take patience as you work with your body to change patterns you have developed over the years. “
As I sat in Triangle pose listening to her comment, I realized how hard I was being on myself for eating poorly. My terrible diet, just like an improperly aligned body, was a symptom of a pattern I’d created. I then reasoned that it’s just as unrealistic to expect someone to instantly change a diet habit as it is to expect a novice yoga student to ‘perfectly’ align herself in every pose. Both take time and hard work.
While we continued to hold our yoga pose, my mind started to drift off. I’d recently read about something in a psychology book called Neuroplasticity. Neuroplasticity tells us that habits are a consequence of your brain wiring. Therefore to break habits, one of the things you have to do is change your brain wiring. Sounds easy, right? Nope. It’s not. This is super challenging!
Brain wiring is created over years of doing the same action. This eventually becomes known as a habit. Each time you partake in this action you create a stronger wire-like connection within your mind. The connection resembles a well-worn path in the woods. It’s easy to follow this path because it’s used so regularly.
To break a habit is like coming up to a fork in the woods. On the left side is the nicely manicured and well-worn path. On the right side sits a machete in front of a forest with no set path. To break a habit you have to willingly stop yourself from taking the well-worn path and instead pick up the machete and forge a new one. Should you elect to forge your own path, you will successfully break your habit through the magic of neuroplasticity.
Karen continued to walk around the room while adjusting the alignments of my classmates in triangle pose. Eventually she came around, adjusted my body and went on to another classmate. Needless to say, neither my yoga pose nor my diet was ‘perfect’ on that day. Like me, you are a fixed structure that cannot be easily changed over night. Your ‘bad habits’ will be hard to break. Change takes time, determination and dedication. But, whatever you are working on, you can do it! Don’t give up!