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by Angie Newson
A Yoga and Pilates Expert
Practising yoga improves our self-control, our willpower and our ability to overcome any bad habits. Yoga enhances self-discipline - practising with precision and control of how we place our body on the mat, in turn improves the mind, our thinking, our outlook, our attitude, and studies show that being kind to ourselves and to others also improves our willpower! Learning breathing exercises enhances our concentration so we become more centred, more present and more focused. Being 'in the now' - although often challenging to do - and taking a few moments before the start of our practise or workout or even on the pitch for a game of football, will help us become more successful in whatever we set out to do. Think of the successful tennis players who sit quietly before the match and in between the games and sets to become present and focused.
Learning about ourselves and really knowing ourselves and what our habits are, good and bad, is at least the first small step to change - either to improve our willpower to start and maintain our yoga practice or to overcome those urges when we don't feel like getting on the mat. What is really happening when we have good intentions of going to yoga or getting to the gym, and after a few weeks, we miss a class because it's too cold outside or we go out for dinner instead? We then become someone who says, "Oh yes I do yoga - haven't been for couple of weeks though 'cos I'm so busy!" which translates to: it was warmer to stay inside or dinner was more satisfying for my belly than a load of ab crunches.
Lots of research shows the key component to success is willpower and it can sometimes look to those on the outside that successful people do things with little self-control or no willpower - but in fact what they do has become so automatic to them that it is in fact now a good habit. So for those of us who workout or practise regularly, it's become automatic as brushing our teeth or having breakfast everyday - it's part of our lives. In 1992 a Scottish study in an orthopaedic hospital showed that the patients recovering from a hip or knee replacement surgery recovered faster if they wrote down their goals for the day - something as simple as writing down 'walk to the bustop at 3.30pm to meet the wife' detailing each obstacle on the way and how they would overcome it. So starting a yoga practice and actually maintaining it, the first step would be to write it down in your diary. Anticipate the possible obstacles that may stop you getting to class and work out how to overcome these in advance.
Habits are formed because of the rewards - positive or negative - they give us. Once we start seeing and feeling the results from our practice or workout, the habit will become more ingrained. Smoking is a bad habit that gives, some consider, a short-term reward (along with a definite long-term negative outcome). Exercise gives us short-term rewards - the immediate buzz you get from your workout in the gym or your practice on the mat - as well as long-term rewards - the change for the better of our body shape, the health benefits, mental clarity and deeper love and care of ourselves. Back in the 30's when people didn't brush their teeth, Pepsodent invented the first toothpaste - with little success. When it was suggested to add a little 'fizz' into the toothpaste so the gums would tingle giving the mouth a super clean sensation - a habit was formed. The tingle - the reward - had actually nothing to do with how clean the teeth were but it gave that little buzz of cleanliness and everyone loved it. So get on the mat to feel that tingle and allow yoga to improve your self-control and willpower!