Human beings are creatures of habit. Thankfully, it is possible to change or reverse negative habits and actions over time — and regular yoga practice can help you do it.
How Habits Are Formed, for Better or Worse
Whether our habits are positive or negative ones, there is an explanation behind our likelihood to fall into certain behavioral routines. This likelihood is, in part, thanks to a neurological phenomenon known as neuroplasticity, or the brain’s ability to restructure itself after repeated action and thought.
The more you think a given thought over and over, the more it becomes ingrained in your daily pattern of thinking — and the harder it becomes to change. This is where habits are formed. Each time we repeat a specific action, neurons in our brain establish connections between the action and how it makes us feel. The more we repeat certain actions, the stronger these neural links become. Therefore, the more you do, think or say something, the more likely it is that you will repeat the action in the future.
This phenomenon is shared with certain ancient yogic teachings. According to related yogic philosophy, we cycle through patterns of embedded thoughts, words and actions our entire lives. These repeated behaviors are known as samskaras. Samskaras can be positive and create feelings of happiness, trust and joy. They can also be negative, such as persistent thoughts that solidify low self-esteem or promote self-destructive behaviors.
How Yoga Can Help Change Bad Habits
Regular yoga practice is one of the most effective ways to adjust negative samskaras and to create new positive habits.
Each time you practice yoga — which, ideally, is every day — you are building a new, positive samskara by simply enjoying the action of your practice. The more often you repeat this practice, the deeper and more solidified the connection between doing yoga and feeling good becomes.
Yogic philosophy teaches that these newly developed connections and neural networks in your brain can eventually take the place of some older, less healthy and more discouraging habits you might have. Although regular yoga does not necessarily make negative habits vanish, you can strengthen newer, healthier patterns of progressive thought and weaken older, negative habits.
In addition, regular yoga practice awakens your body’s ability to recognize what is happening to it. This means that your body is more aware of how poorly it feels when you reach for too much chocolate after a bad day instead of some fruit or a cup of soothing tea. When you become more aware of your body, you become more aware of how certain bad habits really make you feel. You may realize that certain persistent habits you have or foods you thought you liked to eat are actually making your body feel poorly; this recognition can help encourage you to make more healthy life choices and fewer negative ones.
Want to Know More?
If you would like to learn more about the benefits of yoga, we invite you to join us for a class. We offer beginner, intermediate and advanced classes, so you will find the one that is right for you.
Hailing from East County San Diego, Kaleen Moran (she/her) is an English major at Cuyamaca College and a young yoga enthusiast. Her free time is spent out in nature, whether her feet are on the trail, nose is in a book, or notebook and pen are in her hands. She finds solace in mountain tops, her dogs and cat, books and poetry, good vegetarian food, and the loving embraces of her family and friends.
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