Years ago I traveled to the mountains of Utah to take classes with a popular yoga teacher. The classes started early in the morning when it was cool, and I found I felt better when I got to the yoga room early and stretched for a few minutes before the workshop began. One morning I arrived just as a woman was lighting the candles in the room. Something about the way she was holding the match seemed a little odd, but I could not figure out exactly what it was.
However we move, our bodies tend to be extremely accommodating. We can sit poorly in front of computers for hours not realizing until we log off that our wrists and fingers are cramped and our shoulders are sore. We can slouch in front of the television all evening completely unaware that our lower backs ache until we stand up. If our minds are absorbed in whatever we are doing while we hold ourselves or move in a way that is unhealthy, we rarely notice until we become less focused on the activity or we start to experience pain.
If we move in the same way for a period of time, our bodies adapt to our patterns and these patterns become habits. We often do not recognize these habits; it just becomes easier or more comfortable to move in one way than another.
Sometimes our physical habits are of no consequence, but some postural habits can affect our wellbeing. Two common examples are standing with most of our weight on one foot or sitting with our legs crossed the same way every time. Both create imbalances in our hips and legs that we compensate for with our spines and upper bodies. If we stand or sit improperly for decades, some muscles become chronically tight and others chronically stretched which commonly causes those muscles to become achy and sore.
In the Utah workshop at a group dinner later in the week, the woman who lit the morning candles proudly announced that it was the fifteenth anniversary of the day she had quit smoking. As I watched her light the candles the follow morning, I could clearly see that instead of holding the long match between her index finger and thumb, she was holding it between her index and middle fingers the way many people hold cigarettes.
How we hold a match does not really matter, but it illustrates how easily and unconsciously habits are formed. In the physical form of yoga, Hatha Yoga, we move our bodies in ways most of us would not move otherwise. Though we have all seen pictures of yoga poses that require remarkable flexibility and strength, the basic yoga poses are accessible to almost anyone. When these basic poses are practiced with alignment, they strengthen and stretch our muscles. Over time bring them into better balance. For some, aches and pains diminish and quality of life improves. Also, since Hatha Yoga causes us to focus on our bodies, we often begin to notice our habits and imbalances which we might otherwise not be aware of when our attention is focused on our everyday activities. With this awareness, we may start to change the habits that are not healthy, feeling better now and avoiding future discomfort.