I recently heard a yoga teacher make the assertion that a habit is a limited choice, and a habit is also the best option you have in any given moment. This statement challenges the idea that habits are negative, merely limitations. I began to think of habits in positive terms. My habits are a reflection of what is available, what is familiar and what I know. If I knew differently, I would choose differently, right? As I always say, I don’t know until I know.
This statement reminds me to accept my experiences and actions as they are in the moment. At the same time, I believe we need to experience more parts of ourselves, find more parts of ourselves, find new options and develop new habits. So, if habits develop because of limited choices then how do we begin to expand our options and make different choices? How do we create new habits, find new possibilities and experience new things? We must accept ourselves as we are AND we must engage in investigating, reflecting, learning, remembering, paying attention, feeling, observing… experiencing more.
Our habits are intimately connected to how our nervous system is patterned and wired. This notion of habits being wired in our nervous system is not anything new. More and more research is being done about the complexity of the nervous system and our understanding is changing all of the time. I am not an expert or professional in this area, but I am a researcher. I have studied and reflected upon my own experiences, as well as observed other people’s experiences over the past 20 years. I have learned and observed that the nervous system is a recording system, a well grooved path of wiring, and yet it does have the potential to change. Introducing new movement to the nervous system is one way in which we can begin to expand our habitual patterns. When I move in new and unfamiliar ways the movement is introduced to my nervous system. Introducing new movement to my nervous system gradually gives me more options to choose from. This is the only way to begin to form new habits.
Here is an example that I hope many of you can relate to…You come to a Somatic Yoga class and the teacher asks you to wake up to an area of your body that you have never thought about before, like the very end of your spine, the tailbone, coccyx bone. You start to investigate that you have a tailbone, while in table top or in your downward facing dog. You begin to poke around and touch your tail, wiggle it around and explore moving from the very end of your spine. And as you investigate, there are moments of confusion. Perhaps you don’t feel anything happening and your tail might feel like it doesn’t exist. And gradually over time, the end of your spine becomes a part of your growing movement vocabulary and the tailbone begins to participate in pushing, reaching and leading, and perhaps even wiggling. Your tailbone, coccyx, now knows that it exists and it can feel sensations and initiate movement and has created a neural pathway in which it can make choices of engagement or not. Your tailbone is now no longer something unknown, but known. Your tailbone is no longer a limited choice but now an option that you did not have before you started this process of rewiring and re-patterning your neural pathways. You may not have been able to perceive the change as it is happening but change has occurred because you now have feelings, sensations and movement possibility that you did not have before.
Bonnie wrote in her book, Basic Neurocellular Patterns, “ To initiate movement from any specific area, one needs to have awareness in the tissues of that area. If there is diminished sensation being received from an area, there will be diminished movement initiated in that area. If there is diminished movement being initiated in an area, there will be diminished sensation arising from that area.”
A habit is a limited choice and a habit is also the best option you have in any given moment. If our nervous system is a recording system and if our body only knows one way of moving and there is no new information being introduced then we keep repeating that same way of moving. When we introduce a new way of moving or moving from something that didn’t know that it existed then the nervous system picks up that new movement and creates a new neural pathway and connection. Our nervous system has learned a new pathway and as a result, we have more choices to move from. Instead of one way of moving, you now have two ways of moving. The habit gradually begins to shift and your nervous system begins to have more options to choose from. Little by little your body re-patterns itself and as a result the tissues become more resilient , responsive and adaptable as they become more aware of their own existence. Our habits are not bad or good, just the best option you have in any given moment.