For the last few days, a robin has been attacking its reflection in the window to my home office. Over and over again, it flings itself at the window in a show of aggression. I’ll shoo it away, and a few hours later it returns. One of my students suggested I Google “robin totem”—it seems the robin, harbinger of spring, is a symbol of change. That’s ironic, as this bird is not changing its behavior. Its now-habitual action is causing it harm.
Inside the office, at my desk, each time I open a new window in the Safari browser, I get a look at my own habits in action. My top 12 most-visited websites arrange themselves: my studio sites and scheduler, social media pages, news sites. Occasionally a new one pops in after I’ve been doing research on a particular subject, but eventually the top 12 reverts to its usual array. This is a neutral habit, and it’s a convenience to see my go-to sites arranged for easy access.
When I leave my office for a run, I see more evidence of habits. We’ve had a cold, rainy few months in North Carolina. The trails I run daily boast wide muddy patches, and while the singletrack is regularly closed due to the wet ground, some runners and cyclists, seeking to avoid the mud, pick their way around the puddles, broadening the path and leading to what the forest manager calls “trail braiding.” Here, forging new paths, digging new ruts, is destructive; the proper choice is to stay on the current paths, even if that means getting muddy or staying off the singletrack when it’s wet. Running the preestablished trails is a positive habit.
In yoga, we talk about samskara, or patterns imprinted on our psyche. These deep, subconscious trends influence our daily habits. These habits can be harmful, like the bird hitting the window repeatedly; neutral, like me visiting online banking daily; or beneficial, like the runners staying on the preset trail. Maintaining the positive habits while abandoning the habits that cause suffering will bring us closer to connection, union, yoga.
Yoga gives us the opportunity to observe our habits with a little distance—to see how they play out, and to make decisions about whether they work going forward. In asana practice, noticing potentially harmful misalignments or feeling relatively weaker muscle groups that need care gives us a chance to choose habits that help us stay safe and present for the practice. If we have a habit of dissociation, in asana, sports, or relationships, a meditation practice can help us learn to stay in the moment. If we have reached a plateau in sports training by repeating the same workouts and drills or doing the same exercise routine, watching our habits and trying new ones can be just the stimulus to take us to the next level.
Use your practice as a seat from which to view your own habits, and to choose which are best continued and which should be abandoned.