Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Wednesday, 9 January 2013

Let Go the Line: Changing Habitual Practice

We all rely on habits to move us through our day. Using the shortest route to work allows us to arrive on time. We choose our default cast on technique for knitting because we are more likely to knit a successful garment. Without habits and routines, we and the world would not function efficiently. At the same time, we we rely on habits for comfort, to delay changes which will come to us. In some cases, our habits can be dangerous, but we are caught in the habit of thinking that those habits are too difficult or not worth breaking. (I'll bet you're tired of my habit of the use of the word, "habit," aren't you?)

I attended a Level 2 Yoga class last night at Bodhi Tree Yoga.  The instructor, Heather, teaches the Breath and Meditation class there. She's a wonderful teacher, knowledgeable, gentle, relaxed, with a quick and quiet sense of humour.  I'd heard great things about her Level 2 class; since these classes are part of teacher training, I thought I'd drop in, despite my concerns that I might not be able to keep up with the asanas.

Heather's approach to this class was very different than other classes I've attended.  As is common in many Iyengar yoga classes, we used props; however, these props were there not so much to support us in our efforts, but rather to challenge our regular practice.  Using a wall in triangle pose did help us stay upright, but Heather's goal was to show us how quickly our bodies find ways to "cheat" and adapt so that we can rely on habits to get us through our routines.  In this class, the wall was there to help us stretch into awareness of where we are going, not to allow us to fall back into our comfort zones.  A racquet ball held between the knees while twisting in chair pose, raising our elbow just slightly away from our bent knee when we are twisted-each change was a call to awareness.

Heather noted that it takes about 3 short cycles of Sun Salutations before we slide into doing what we know, moving through the sequences in a fashion which is more about "getting it done," than being mindful.Changing small things-lifting the foot and leg before we move back into lunge position, for example-makes us aware of how we tend to drag ourselves back carelessly in order to "get there." Shifting weight into our fingertips during Downward Dog keeps us mindful of how we rely on parts of our bodies to avoid challenges. One of the practices, moving in and out of poses quietly, was a wake up call for me because I tend to move any way I can in order to keep up with the rest of the class.  I know that "keeping up" is never the goal, but ego and pride tend to cloud that knowledge.

I'm sore this morning, but in a way that allows me listen to my body and makes me grateful for what it can do, rather than worrying about what might be difficult.  Every pleasant bit of stiffness reminds me that we didn't attempt massive changes to expand our practice.  Our shifts in attention were tiny, but every small change made an improvement in my poses.

The next time you head to a yoga class, don't set your mat down in your spot.  Practice in a different part of the studio and pay attention to your perspective from that vantage point. Use a wall in order to increase the stretch in your pose, not to relax into your asana or to keep you upright.

The next time you start a knitting project, choose a different way to cast on before you knit that sock.  Do you habitually use wool when you spin?  Try spinning cotton or linen or recycled plastic bottle fibre.  How do your routines change?

We don't need to take big leaps to spring into action. Small steps, one after another, can move us away from our lifelines, far enough so that we can find a different perspective but still close enough to grab those lines when necessary.

Thanks, Heather.



  1. I am very much a creature of habit. But, I agree, evaluating and changing-up our habits can be a benefit every now again.

  2. Excellent reminder.