I enjoyed a great workshop with Leslie Kaminoff (and Kristie!) at the Toronto Yoga Show this year as he taught us about the Breath Body. I had questions. He had answers. In his answers, he said something that really stuck with me.
I asked him to comment on a trend I’ve noticed, both in myself and in my students. It is the trend of practicing a pranayama (breathing exercise) so much that it becomes a deeply grooved habit. What I’m seeing is people who cannot be on their yoga mat without auto-magically doing ujjayi (the ocean sounding breath) regardless of what they are practicing. My understanding is that we need to use the appropriate techniques at the appropriate times. The breath you use for head rolls might not be the breath you need to use for Sun Salutations. It is also my understanding that the breath we choose for practice is to be mindful and deliberate, not automatic.
He said that he’s seeing the same trend, and that ujjayi has simply become another habit people have formed.
Someone else in the crowd spoke up saying “Isn’t ujjayi good? Isn’t it better than shallow chest breathing?”. And here’s the answer that stuck… Leslie’s reply was,
“No breathing pattern is good or bad. The pattern isn’t the problem, it’s getting stuck in a pattern that’s the problem.”
Stuck in a pattern. Yikes! That’s me. I’m always getting stuck in patterns all the time. The pattern is not the problem, the stuckness is!
Since that day in Toronto I’ve been thinking about all the patterns I’ve gotten stuck in: relationships, smoking, drinking, food (especially wheat, sugar, chocolate, and gummies), schedules, thoughts, ideas… I’ve been stuck in just about everything at some point.
Leslie talked about how one of the things yoga is very good at is helping us to notice our patterns, realize what needs to happen, then give us the tools to make and navigate change.
The power of change in yoga is described by Patanjali, codifier of the Yoga Sutras, as Kriya Yoga. Kriya means “action”. Kriya Yoga is a form of practice in action that leads to transformation. Kriya Yoga is comprised of three parts:
- Tapas: the heat or fire of discipline. This translates to our will power and putting effort into acting in a way that brings about positive change. Tapas is about embracing possible change. Intention setting is a form of tapas.
- Svadhyaya: self-study and self-observation. It involves learning about and developing our heart-mind to connect to our higher truth. This is where we notice something about ourselves, in the case of this example, that we are stuck. Then we can reflect on our tendencies, actions and consequences – we can begin to get to know the grooves we get stuck in.
- Ishwara-pranidhana: faith and humility in an inner, higher knowledge. This stage is about focusing on our actions, and accepting the results of our actions. Cultivating appropriate expectations is a form of this practice. This is where we begin to dig new grooves, and refill other grooves (each groove being a habit pattern or samskara).
Some of you might recognize these as the last three niyamas, or self-care practices that bring harmony to our internal environment. Some of you might also recognize the following popular application of Kriya Yoga:
Serenity to accept the things I cannot change (ishwara-pranidhana)
Courage to change the things I can (tapas) and
Wisdom to know the difference (svadhyaya)”
I was amazed when Leslie Kaminoff basically translated the Serenity Prayer into the niyamas so seamlessly!
Interestingly, the same tools that help us cultivate deliberate change in our lives are the same tools that can dig grooves in the mind so deep that we develop another habit pattern we can get stuck in. Gotta love yoga irony.
I’ve been thinking a lot about being stuck. Yep, it happens. More importantly, what are things we can do to get unstuck. Here’s a list:
- Yoga – get on the mat, go to a class, invert to get a new view.
- Talk to someone you trust.
- Move your body – walk, dance, run, asana… even jumping up and down can shake things up enough to get unstuck.
- Learn something new – a new pose, joke, song, pottery, poetry, anything!
- Be of service – sometimes we need to get out of our own stuff to gain perspective (zoom out as Larry would say).
- Get help – sometimes we need assistance to get unstuck. Recruit family, friends, therapists and teachers as needed.
- Laugh – nothing moves energy like laughing (even faking it works!).
- Stop, Breathe and Be – landing in ourselves is often exactly where we need to be.
- Change of scenery – go for a walk in nature, get out of the house, off the computer… essentially walk away.
I wrote this in the hopes that it would offer some insight not only on habitual patterns we may have, but on where we get stuck in our patterns and lives. I often find that becoming aware of something shifts things.
The invitation is to explore your habits, your stuckness, and how you get unstuck. Enjoy!
Om Shantih and Prema (universal peace & love),
Mona L. Warner, ERYT500 & CYA-E-RYT500
ps. A big thanks for all the support being offered as Janati Yoga School opens. I am humbled and grateful <3