Facing change

copyright B Gilmor

As much as I profess to love new experiences and challenges, the reality is that often I am a creature of habit. We all have our set routines, and our little ways of doing things that suit us. So when change sweeps in and demands we adapt sometimes like a stubborn toddler we dig our heals in and resist. Alternatively when we accept the change sometime we can feel unrooted and unsettled by the shift.

Change can take us by surprise with a shock that is total out of our control or at other times it’s a big decision we do have the control to make, but feels equally difficult as we know it may lead us down a radically different path in our life. Often it’s a million little things that shift bit by bit each day. For me I got thinking about change as I face a relatively small change of shifting my weekly yoga class to Sundays (rather than Thursdays) and a bigger change of starting a new placement as part of my university course. Both means meeting new people, changing habits and possibly encountering some unknown challenges.

Perhaps the thing that makes change difficult is fear and the unknown. There is an interesting theory called the End of History illusion, by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert. Which essentially suggests that people find it much easier to remember the past than to imagine the future. It’s tiring to try to think through the possibilities of how a change may alter our future. So we try to avoid thinking about it, or avoid the changes altogether.

So what has all this got to do with yoga? Well in the yamas and niyamas, a kind of yoga code of conduct written in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, we find Aparigraha (non-possesiveness or non-grasping) and Santosha (contentment and acceptance). These are interesting ideas to explore in our lives – for more information on this check out the brilliant blog by Helen at Yoga Bright and the book How Yoga Works to see the Yoga Sutras guidance put into examples in story form.

Secondly our approach to change can mirror our approach to the physical practices in yoga: we are always looking for a balance between ease and effort (sthira and sukha). We need to find the sweet spot in the middle between wilfully forcing our way through change, and being like a piece of seaweed tossed and turned at the ocean’s whim. In my practice I find that requires attention and care to constantly negotiate that fine balance. Every time we get on the mat there are changes in our bodies, in our feelings and our practice. It’s important to be aware and open to these changes rather than slip into the mantra of ‘i should … be able to touch my toes’ or ‘i could… do this pose last week’ patterns.

Finally whenever I start to notice change in my life I return to practices that emphases grounding in yoga. The simplest way to feel this is to take note of your foundations – really feel the feet in standing poses, sitting bones in poses like dandasana or even the whole body touching the ground in savasana. For me this is effective because it shifts the awareness from your individual view of a change and how it affects you, back to a connection to the ground and maybe even a bigger sense of the earth that supports us daily.