Neuroscientists have traced our habit-making behaviors to a part of the brain called the basal ganglia, which also plays a key role in the development of emotions, memories and pattern recognition. Decisions, on the other hand, are made in a different part of the brain called the prefrontal cortex. As soon as a behavior becomes automatic or habitual, the decision- making part of your brain goes into sleep mode.
According to Charles Duhigg, author of The Power of Habit, a habit has 3 parts: A trigger to initiate the action, followed by the action or habitual behavior itself, and always proceeded by a reward to gratify the action and set us up to habitually repeat the process again in the future. Habitual behavior can be formed in many different situations. Nervous habits such as nail biting, hair twirling or over eating offer some level of relief in times of anxiety. Lifestyle habits such as healthy diet or regular exercise can promote longevity or deter from it such as smoking or being sedentary. As long as there is a trigger followed by an action and rewarded at the end then we will tend to continue the behavior and it will eventually occur on an unconscious level.
The holiday season tends to be a time of habitual behavior "It's tradition!" Sometimes these traditions are good and sometimes they can be less positive for posterity. So how do we break old habits and/or form new ones?
"What we know from lab studies is that it's never too late to break a habit," Duhigg said. "Habits are malleable throughout your entire life. But we also know that the best way to change a habit is to understand its structure — that once you tell people about the cue and the reward and you force them to recognize what those factors are in a behavior, it becomes much, much easier to change."
First we need to bring the cue, action and reward into the conscious mind. Identify what actions we take habitually in our lives without awareness. How do I walk? How do I speak to people? How do I spend my day? How do I decide what to eat? How do I spend my thoughts? Then we can begin to consciously decide which actions serve us best and which less so.
One practice that yoga teaches us is the practice of tapas. Once we identify the less positive actions we are taking on a regular basis or identify a gap where we could insert a positive practice or habit, we can then create a tapas.
A tapas must be clearly defined. First setting the specific goal, for example, practicing a juice diet for 24 hours, or practicing bridge pose for 5 mins each day for 2 weeks, or something more behavioral such as reacting differently when angered for 1 week. Then setting a time frame, a clear beginning and ending point for the tapas. The tapas must be completed for exactly the set amount of time, the tapas is either completed or not there is no grey area. If the tapas is broken in any way the tapas must be repeated for double the length of time originally set.
The practice of tapas stimulates our Manipura chakra by activating our will power in a repetitive and conscious way. By repeating our tapas we create a trigger, action and reward which perpetuates the formation of the habitual behavior that is designed by us for our improvement. The trigger being the setting of the tapas, the action is the new behavior and the reward is the completion of the tapas.
Creating an environmental change during the initiation of any habit change has shown to trigger the prefrontal cortex, or the conscious mind, to kick in. Think of the fresh start that comes with moving to a new city. Changing your environment, whether it’s across the country or in the kitchen, even taking a short holiday break, can disrupt old behaviors, making it easier to create new ones. Repeating a behavior in the same context is what makes it easier for your brain to coast on autopilot.
This all begs the question: Why make this effort? Why change? Why perform tapas? "Tapas is the power to let us move mountains," Swami Vivekinanda. We spend much of our time and energy acting and saying things that may not be inline with how we really feel or what we truly identify with. Bringing these actions out of the unconscious and into the conscious mind allows us the space to act differently, to improve ourselves, and to align ourselves with our true being. According to Swami Vivekinanada this alignment of ourselves is actually alignment or resonance with the universe and from purity of tapas comes purity of karma. In other words if we do good then good will come to us. If we bring our actions into consciousness and align our actions with our true being then the world around us will also align with our true being.
This month I encourage you to identify your habits, bringing them into your awareness and then trying a tapas to break an old habit or generate a new one. Happy Holidays!!
How to Make a Tapas Identify your daily habits: the way you react to people or situations, the way you walk, the way eat, the way you think. Write them all down bringing them into your consciousness.
Generate a goal for the tapas: pick one habit to add or change to your daily activities.
Set a time frame with exact beginning and end times: start small and work up to longer periods of time
Dedicate the action: the tapas can be dedicated to a higher purpose for example "I will perform this tapas to align myself with my true being"
Complete the action: the tapas is either completed or not there is no "almost"
Each time the tapas is incomplete double the original goal and finish when able
The tapas needs to be a constructive goal not a goal to feed the ego
Do tapas humbly: telling people about your tapas expels the magical bubble of energy that is surrounding your tapas
The tapas is for you only so that you can become your true self.
Manipura Chakra Manipura Chakra, located between the navel and solar plexus, is the core of our personality, our identity, and of our ego. The energy of this chakra allows us to transform inertia into action and movement. It allows us to meet challenges and move forward in life. A strong third chakra reflects the ability to move forward in life with confidence and power. It reflects the ability to make conscious choices to choose and to act. The practice of tapas and changing habits to align with our true being will strengthen Manipura Chakra.
Setu Bandha Sarvangasana There are many poses that stimulate the energy of Manipura chakra and therefore build our will power. For example the Uddiyana Bandha breathing exercise which I highlighted a few months back or Dhanurasana (bow pose). However I wanted to focus on bridge pose this month because in addition to working on Manipura chakra bridge pose also stimulates the throat chakra which manifests truth which I find to compliment the practice of tapas very well.
Seth Bandha Sarvangasana can be practiced in many ways. It is shown here in a more advanced way but can also be practiced with the hand flat on the ground or even by placing a block under the hips for support. Hold the pose for 1-5 minutes breathing deeply throughout and then take a moment to notice of you find any stimulation at the point of Manipura and/ or Vissudha chakras.