Breaking the cycle: how yoga can help reduce harmful habits
Have you ever felt like you’re stuck in a rut? Maybe you’ve got it together for the most part, but there’s those one or two unhelpful habits you just wish you could kick; the sweet tooth, that extra glass of wine, the additional episode of that netflix series? Those small habits you know would make a big difference if you could shake them, but can never quite break? Yoga is a powerful tool to help break the cycle. Read on to understand how.
For me, it’s been four years since I last drank alcohol or took drugs. You know, I thought I’d always miss it but i’ll let you in on a secret: I honestly don’t. My life has never been richer or more vibrant than it has these last few years. Yes, it was hard to break those deep decade-old habits, but through yoga and mindfulness we can change the direction of our lives and support our recovery.
If you’ve also struggled, then you’re not alone. In England and Wales in 2016 of all the deaths relating to drug poisoning, 69% of these were men. Alarmingly, incidence of male deaths from drug poising rose +78% between 1993 and 2016 (compared with +17% in women). We live in a culture of almost limitless choice, of constant stimulation, distraction, and ultimately, temptation. But on the flip-side we also live in an age with more tools and better access to support than ever before. Yoga is one of those tools.
Over the years I’ve noticed for many men, that the more we show up to the mat, the more we show up for life. I’ve noticed unhelpful habits and desires fall away like dead leaves, allowing for fresh growth. You might think it’s through sheer grit and determination, but often as a result of the practice unhelpful behaviours seem to slowly dissolve over time steadily freeing us from the things which no longer serve us. Here are seven ways this occurs:
- Yoga brings us toward our present moment experience on the mat, acknowledging what is here rather than reaching outside ourselves for some other ‘fix’.
- Yoga teaches us we can do new things, we can progress, we can still learn. This demonstrates in a very real sense that growth and change can happen for us.
- Yoga helps release physical tension in the body that may have built up from stress and anxiety. This makes us feel more at ease, which in turn reduces our need to rely on temporary, external comforts.
- Yoga also sometimes puts us directly in touch with discomfort, learning to breathe and find peace in the midst of challenge, rather than looking for an escape or antidote.
- Working with the breath improves our ability to regulate the nervous system, so we’re not always living off adrenaline in fight/flight/freeze mode.
- Yoga is a choice towards well being of both body and mind. By making this choice regularly, we condition our brain to look for healthy choices off the yoga mat too, and that can create a virtuous spiral of health-promoting behaviours.
- Yoga and mindfulness bring us closer to seeing our monkey mind for what it is - a lot of random reactions and impulses. Once we start to observe, we can create a space where instead of reacting from habit, we can choose to respond skilfully.
Yoga and mindfulness are a powerful support in your decision for a happier, healthier life. Regularity can help develop positive habits, and establish helpful behaviours; and whilst they should not be taken as a substitute for talking therapies or prescribed medication, they can be a rich support for your healing and recovery.
This article was written for us by our awesome Brand Warrior, yoga teacher and writer, Soho-based James Rafael. For more information about James, click here