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Remodeling the internal landscape

Dear friend,

I hope you are enjoying the spring spirit, the long days with lots of sun light, and nature being cheerful and colorful. Check out the previous email I sent about breathing through your nose which is extra important these days with all the small particles floating in the air ;-)

I recently had a short talk with a curious person after class regarding the role yoga can play in the process of transforming our habitual patterns and tendencies. During class I emphasized this topic in regard to moving, breathing and positioning our body in space, however this person was wondering if any of that applies to changing habitual patterns outside of our formal practice, in our daily life.

This question made me reflect on my own process of changing patterns of thought and behavior along the years. As part of my yoga process I came to a realization that I need to change some of my habits and tendencies if I want to progress on the path and improve my overall state of wellbeing. When facing these powerful forces, particularly the ones that were deeply ingrained and have been operating for a long time, I noticed to my surprise that even though changing or modifying these patterns was not easy it was very much doable. Saying that, it does require particular ingredients and attitude for it to be possible and more importantly to actually stick over time. I would like to share some of my insights with the hope that it can be of some use to you and please keep in mind that there are other very worthwhile ways to go about it, maybe you already figured in out on your own.

First stage: Make peace not war

From my experience it is hugely helpful to remind ourselves when facing a self-harming habitual pattern that at some point in our life it served a purpose, maybe it helped us face some challenge or navigate through life, or maybe even to protect us from a threat. The starting point should always be gratitude and appreciation for these patterns which have served us well but at some point ran their course and are now ready to be retired. It is very important that we make peace with these tendencies and not gauge war on them as though they were our enemies.

Second stage: Avoid the wrong attitude

We must avoid an attitude which is inconducive to the process of letting go of these patterns. Playing the self-betterment game or indulging the notion that there is something broken in us that we need to fix usually ends up biting us in the ass, all it does essentially is feed one of the main sources of these harmful patterns which is a common ingrained belief that we are not perfect as we are and that we need to correct ourselves, that there is a better version of ourselves waiting to be unraveled. This is a vicious cycle that tends to trap us in a loop of replacing old harmful patterns with new ones.

Third stage: Set the right attitude

Change is happening whether we like it or not, we are always in a state of flux. We can try and block or suppress internal change which often results in holding on to things that don't serve us well, or we can let psychological change happen in seemingly spontaneous ways which basically means that the conditioned unconscious is given the power to drive us. Another option, which is probably our best bet, is to empower our conscious selves and act from a place of free will, of self-kindness, a kind of generous gift that we give ourselves. A good gift is not meant to fix the person receiving it but rather to bring more pleasantness and joy into their life.

Another possibly useful additional attitude is a playful one, taking things with more lightness. We set to make some changes but we focus on enjoying the process and all the interesting things we learn about ourselves along the way, we let go of any pressure or expectation to achieve a certain result. If we come to the process with an open heart and a positive approach there is no failure, we can only gain something.

Fourth stage: Mindfulness

This is maybe the most important stage which is developing the capacity to be mindful of the workings of these habitual patterns in real-time We want to observe these automatic ways of acting, reacting or thinking, noticing the repetitiveness nature of them, the impact they have on our body, breath and mind. It is very important to remember that mindfulness is not just about paying attention but rather a combination of noticing things as they are while at the same time being non-reactive. We don't judge or evaluate, we don't analyze or categorize, we just pay attention with openness, raw curiosity and an inner smile.

Side note: It can be very useful to practice mindfulness during formal yoga sessions so that when we face these powerful patterns we can apply it with more ease.

Last stage: Creating new patterns

Being mindful of these habitual patterns which is rooted in a conducive attitude can often result on its own in them dissolving away from our internal landscape without being required to make any additional efforts. However, sometimes it is not enough and we realize that these patterns are still impacting us despite the fact that we are observing them non-reactively.

At that point we have a couple of options:

To resolve to consistent attempts which means that we keep at it for some time with some amount of will-power making sure that it is very soft and forgiving and definitely not rigid or harsh. Every time these patterns raise their heads we observe them, how they effect our body, breath and mind, and counter them with a firm intention of letting go, of releasing them. We greet them with "hey there, nice to see you, you can hang out for a bit but then you are free to go, bye bye". Very often with patience and consistency they will lose their power.

If that doesn't work we create and cultivate a counter-pattern, one that is either fully opposing or semi-opposing the one we are trying to change.

Creating a new pattern of behavior is quite simple, for example if we want to develop a habit of waking up early and doing a yoga practice in the morning before work, we may have to set the alarm and drag ourselves out of bed a few times, maybe start with a 5 minute practice and gradually increase the duration, but then after a short while it turns into a new habit and usually feels much easier to sustain.

Creating new patterns of thinking is more difficult, it requires us to manufacture specific thoughts and keep repeating them until they become second nature, for example if we want to develop a positive attitude towards someone we can repeat phrases of goodwill and kindness towards them in our mind such as "may you be happy" or "may you be surrounded by people who love you", etc.. At first it may feel artificial and awkward but overtime it will appear as new settings in the mind and will feel very natural and organic.

It all depends on how consistent we are willing to be! 

One more thing

If we attempt to change these habitual patterns and end up so called failing, the most important thing is to not let it discourage us or make us feel defeated. We must remind ourselves at that point that we have taken a step towards breaking free. Some things take a long time, very often worthwhile things. If the challenge is too big at that moment in time it is probably better to consciously surrender and give up our attempts remembering that there will always another opportunity to give it another go. We should feel happy and content with the fact that we had the will to face the challenge, whatever outcome our efforts had. With patience and lots of compassion things are bound to change in the right direction.

Does any of that resonate with you?

If you find yourself curious about these kinds of topics - join a workshop, a retreat, or any other event on offer.

Looking forward to sharing space, breath and being present with you in June.

With love and gratitude


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