We are What we Repeatedly Do

The realization that it has been almost a year of living through a global pandemic can stir up some intense emotions. That being said, maybe it was the recent trip with my extended family, volunteering at a vaccination clinic, the first glimmers of Spring in the Northeast or the discussion of my children going back to school full time (likely a combination of them) that has helped me feel lighter recently.

As I begin to sense some version of normalcy returning in the coming months, I have been reflecting a bit on how my thoughts, actions and behaviors may have changed over the last year. These habits, (known as Samaskaras in Sanskrit) can shape our perception of our world in meaningful ways without us being aware. The noticing of Samskaras on and off the mat has powerful implications because it allows us to make mindful choices. What we repeatedly think and do becomes who we are. This became my message for my students last week and as we began to warm up on the mat I shared this powerful quote. “We are what we repeatedly do. Excellence then, is not an act but a habit.” — Will Durant

I selected the different movements of the Vinyasa to demonstrate how the concept of Samskaras work on the mat. Vinyasas are typically what we do “in between” the poses and because of that we often move through them on “autopilot”; without noticing each important step and the muscles we need to engage to safely and powerfully move through. This is symbolic of many of our thoughts and actions– we often function in a bit of a trance or on “auto-pilot” and miss thoughts or behaviors that are not of service.

For each Vinyasa we moved through in our practice this week we took it step-by-step in a mindful way. Paying attention to the transition from Plank to Chaturanga and realizing it required not only the abdominals, hip flexers and quadriceps to be engaged but also the rhomboids (muscles in between the shoulder blades). Moving from Chaturanga to High Cobra requires an opening of the chest and relaxing of the shoulders and in order to lift the knees for upward dog there is a very distinct engagement of the quadriceps and hip flexors that needs to happen. Once we notice, we can begin to see how these habits carry over into almost every pose in our yoga practice. For many of us, our home practice has become much more significant over this past year; this makes awareness of our Samskaras that much more important.

As many of you know, for the prior ten years before Covid, I taught every Wednesday at 12:30pm at YogaWorks. This past Wednesday when I woke up, for a moment I thought I was teaching that day. When I realized I wasn’t, I felt a pang of loss. Likely, I have had that experience many Wednesdays over the past year. Just as teaching that class was a habit for so long– likely my feeling of loss over it has also become a habit– however I didn’t consciously notice it until this week. Once I did, I took a moment to acknowledge the sadness and sit with the loss and I feel a little more healed. Without this awareness, I found myself wondering how long I would have carried around that loss. The gift of awareness is that it allows us to begin to let go.

There are the new Samskaras we have developed over this past year, but I also began to think about what Samskaras we may have lost or given up without noticing. I realized that there was something in my teaching that I had given up…. working at the wall. On further reflection, I understood why. It is more difficult while teaching online and the live/livestream combination classes to use the wall. With all I have had to adjust to as a teacher, I let this part of my teaching go. So, I made a mindful choice to change that this past week, to conquer my fear of being able to effectively cue and execute a trip to the wall in this new world of teaching. It felt wonderful to bring that positive Samskara back to my teaching. I hadn’t realized how much I missed it until I found my way back to it.

As my students entered into Savasana this week I asked them to bring their practice inward; to let go of the habits in the body and begin to notice the habits of thought and action that may have developed or disappeared in this last year of stress and fear– there is powerful learning in the noticing without judgment. From there we get to mindfully connect to who were are through our choices to let go of what is not of service and to reconnect to what is. Namaste.