I listened to my mom grumble as she begrudgingly put on her jacket. "I can't stand this jacket anymore.” In her defense, this was during an unseasonal spring snowstorm, and after a long winter; we were all tired of our jackets. But mom's coat complaint did make me think about the way I sometimes feel when I wear an old item of clothing that I no longer like or feel good in—that tired, "this-thing-again" feeling. And the opposite sensation that arises when I wear something new: that elusive promise of a fresh identity, a clean slate.
Maybe it's not the old, worn-out winter coat we wish to replace, but our perspective.
Shopping is a form of searching/seeking. When we shop, we're searching for something much deeper than the items we buy. We believe, on some level, that material things can fill us up or satisfy us, and since they cannot (not for long, anyway), we shop for more things. Pema Chödrön, an American Buddhist, reminds us that shopping is a way of “always trying to find security, always trying to feel good about yourself.” Maybe it's not the old, worn-out winter coat we wish to replace, but our perspective.
This is where the yoga comes in. Over the past several years, as my practice has become more consistent, my incessant desire to shop, obsessively highlight my hair, and engage in other various unfavorable behaviors (like dating unavailable men) has dwindled. I'm not saying I've been forever cured, but I am getting there (although I'm still working on my sweet tooth—last night I polished off so many cookies that I lost count).
It's difficult to tackle unhealthy behaviors at a purely cognitive level because these habits are embedded too deeply in the psyche. Real change needs to happen at a cellular level first. Yoga does this first by changing the way we carry ourselves, improving our posture and our body alignment. The practice draws attention to habitual physical tendencies that may not be supporting us, and to the places where the body is holding stress. Looking at what lies beneath these habits and physical patterns is the first step. When I first started practicing yoga, I was constantly asked to plant my feet firmly on the ground. I’d think "why does the teacher keep harping on this?" and then realized that I never stood solidly on my feet during the day. My pattern was to balance awkwardly on the edges of my feet, and I finally recognized that it didn't feel good. It hurt!
Our bodies reflect what we feel inside. I stood on the edges of my feet, a tentative posture and a bizarre balancing act, because that's how I felt inside: ungrounded, like I was balancing on the edge of life and unsure of where to place my feet. The yoga practice brought my attention to this unconscious tendency that was certainly not supporting me (our feet support our entire body) and I worked each day to adjust it. It felt good to feel the ground under my feet!
Yoga is about more than pretty poses: it's a deep way of working with yourself.
Changing deeply seated habits is a gradual process. It happens silently and over time. It is often unglamorous, and even uncomfortable. Yoga is about more than pretty poses: it's a deep way of working with yourself. People sometimes worry about the cost of yoga (understandably so), but if your yoga practice helps you cut down on mindless shopping, it may actually be saving you money. I still have moments of desiring shiny new things (and sometimes that's just what the doctor ordered). But on the whole, that impulsive need to fill a void by purchasing a new item or, as I mentioned earlier, sacrificing my hair (my hair once wound up fire-engine red; it was an interesting look) is gone. My yoga practice has filled that ubiquitous void because it enables me, through the mind-body connection, to leave the thinking mind (or, at least, to make more space between thoughts) and to move into the present moment of life where all the true newness and shininess exists.