Old Habits Die Hard

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Samskara is a Sanskrit word for our old, well-known grooves, loops, cycles or mental patterns that reinforce different behaviors in our lives, both positive and negative.

They can be responsible for holding us hostage to a way of being that is harmful to our mental and physical health. Our samskaras feel familiar, like old friends, and because of this we resist letting them go — even if we see with undeniably clarity that what we are doing isn’t serving us (and even potentially harming those around us).

As a therapist, I see that these samskaras are what clients feel like they are constantly battling against; the old and well-worn way of being vs. the new, uncomfortable, and very foreign change lying in front of them. What can we arm ourselves with as we begin such an uphill battle? One of my favorite authors, and fellow combination yoga teacher + psychologist, Bo Forbes, writes on a seven-step process we can commit to if we are wanting to reevaluate and release ourselves from old, detrimental cycles:

Intention: be clear on what you want

  • create daily or weekly intentions. Remain clear on how you want to live your life, even for just today. Enter each new situation feeling clear about what you value, so that your actions and decisions can reflect that.

Tapas: dedication and commitment to the daily work

  • stick to it, even when (and ESPECIALLY) when it gets difficult. Trust that you are resilient, strong, and that fearful thoughts are a whole lot of bark without much bite. Show up every single day, in big or little ways. And remember that even a small step is still better than none.

Shani: slowing down, pausing, and creating a chance to look inward

  • take time to check in with yourself, be it through meditation, journaling, or a simple 5 minute walk outside alone. Without this, we can't expect ourselves to know how to approach our emotions. We need to know what we're dealing with first in order to know how to make it better. How can you create space for you to look inward in a regular basis?

Vidya: awareness of both mind and body

  • Yoga is a create channel for this. Create practices that build awareness. Get in touch with your emotions through therapy, journaling, meditation, or vulnerable conversations with people you trust. Start to notice your patterns, write them down, and get familiar with the way you work. Also, move your body in a way that connects you with it. Drop out of your thinking mind often through physicality. 

Abhaya: fearlessness, diving into the unknown by letting go of the familiar

  • TAKE. THE LEAP. Stop debating. Your heart knows already what is good for you, what you need. So stop doubting your capabilities to persevere through it. The best day to start anything is TODAY.

Darshana: vision; visualization of the new pattern we want to create

  • Do regular visualizations of the life you want to create. See yourself in that place. What are you wearing? Who is around you? Where are you doing it? Get clear with every little detail, and do this often. 

Abhyasa: practice, practice, practice — so as to strengthen our new way of being

  • Stick with the practices. The more you commit, the quicker you will feel a shift. This one is the easiest concept to grasp, but the hardest to follow through with. Be gentle with yourself on the days you fail, but remind yourself sweetly to step BACK on the path tomorrow.

Pretty simple stuff, right? I’m kidding. But the path is there. Oftentimes, when faced with the reality that we can no longer continue living life in a particular way, we say, “But I don’t KNOW how to be any other way.” It’s not that you don’t know how, it’s that you’re choosing to not explore the unknown. You’ve let fear chain you down by the ankles, not realizing that you actually have the key that sets you free in your hands. With the chains loose, where will you go? Yes, this can be a scary question. But it can also be incredibly liberating. The path is yours to forge, and that first step will always be the most difficult. But committing to action (even the tiniest one) can get the machine moving in a direction we had never even dreamed of being available for us. One that is freeing, authentic, and totally aligned with who we actually WANT to be.

The choice to change is ALWAYS yours. No, it’s definitely not easy. Yes, it can be incredibly challenging and terrifying at times. But will it be worth it once you emerge on the other side?

Well, you already know the answer to that.

{ Read more on the seven steps for transforming samskaras by Bo Forbes in the article linked here. }