Adapting is our nature
Lately I've joked about the fact that I sometimes feel like I've discovered yoga just in time to be able to survive this pandemic. I suffered from eating disorders for about 10 years. Alternating from periods of anorexia where I would starve myself and only eat an apple a day for months, and periods of bulimia, stuffing myself to sickness to calm my anxiety. Before I found yoga, the only way I had to keep myself off these destructive coping mechanisms was to keep myself busy and active, be outside as much as I could to keep myself distracted. I can't begin to imagine the agony it would have been for me had this pandemic happened 13 years ago.
Yoga as a framework taught me tools to be less scared of what I can't control, more in tune with my needs, and overall be better at welcoming change.
Why do we resist change?
Fear is certainly the main reason why we cease to expand whether it's physically or mentally. This is something I often talk about in my Yin classes. Whilst trying to let go of tensions to target the deeper layers of connective tissues in the body, we often tend to engage our muscles, sometimes even without noticing it. This is a protective mechanism of our body which isn't sure our joints can expand that much for it's never done it before. But if this reaction happens in our body, it also happens in our minds. Most of our arguments take place when we refuse to put ourselves in the other part's shoes and see their truth through their lens. Allowing this to happen means that we'd genuinely give a chance to those arguments and really consider a different mental model for a second. This is scary. This means rewiring our brain to a different view. Who knows what we could find out? Maybe that we were missing something all along. But if that's indeed the case, would it be a bad thing?
Lack of options
One of the best decisions I took was to move to a foreign country. I'm French and I had never lived abroad until I met my boyfriend, who was living in London at the time. I was living in Paris. A few months later, I decided to join him not knowing what to expect. To be honest, the British culture isn't that different from the French one, if you compare it to the Indian or the Japanese culture for instance. Yet some of the differences between the 2 countries showed me that things could be done differently. A society, a nation, a community – you name it - is first and foremost a system. Each member interacts with others following customs – or rules – and there's usually a shared understanding across all the actors of a system. Shared references or experiences create this feeling of belonging and they shape our perception of the world. Even though we know that not everybody in the world can share the same experiences – they don't belong to the same system – the consequence of this isn't always obvious to us. If there are different systems that operate with different rules, then maybe the solution to some of the issues we face in our system can be found just by looking at what our neighbours are doing differently.
I reckon habits may be the most difficult ones to spot. Unlike a lack of options - that in itself presupposes that alternative options are being looked for - when we default to habits we tend to not even question them. Therefore we don't even try and challenge them. In the recent years, the #metoo movement has made a lot of noise and brought to light through a unified voice, what women had individually reported in the past. It gave it a stronger voice, and enough weight to have momentum. I always considered myself as feminist. I've been raised in a fairly gender neutral way by my family and I had never felt conditioned or excluded by the fact that I am a woman. Like most people did when the hashtag came out, I started reading more and more on the topic. I realised that some of my default behaviour that I never questioned so far had actually no scientific evidence or even rational explanation beside being relics of patriarchy that I had integrated to the point where they became the norm. I didn't even see a problem there, and that realisation was heartbreaking. It took a worldwide uprising for me to question it in the first place. Without #metoo, perhaps I would have never reflected on those habits.
How can we adapt ?
Observe to understand. Understand to trust.
We tend to fear what we don't understand. Whether it's a culture or a religion, a language or an eccentric look. Understanding is the cornerstone of trust. Understanding how something works, how someone thinks, may or may not impact whether we can affect it or not, but at least it can give us some closure. Some experience we can learn from. Understanding where a physical pain comes from can allow us to act on it or work around it. Understanding someone's context can help us see the point they're trying to make. Understanding our own thought patterns, observing their triggers and noticing their impact can help us start a healing process. About 8 years ago I started paying attention to what would trigger some of my crisis. I realised that I was so attached to what other people were thinking about me that I would never say no to anything, to never give anybody a chance to be disappointed. But doing this would put me under a lot of stress that I didn't know how to deal with. That's how bulimia started: as a way to cope with overwhelming stress. When I realised this I started to say no and to put myself first. I did lose a few drinking buddies in the process that's for sure but do I regret it? Not for a second.
When we let go of fear we can find peace.
When something doesn't make any sense to us and we feel completely stuck, we can try and shift the perspective. This is what I'd call in my other job creative problem solving. Sometimes it's about looking around to see how others are solving the problem (only to find out they avoid it altogether!) Sometimes it involves reframing the problem: remember that what you see always depends on where you look but also where you're looking at it from. Try and take your power back. If you feel stuck over something you can't change because it doesn't only depend on you, then maybe the best way to adapt is by letting go of it and instead focus your time, effort and energy on something you can actually control.
Be aware of your comfort zone
One of the things I struggled the most when I started practicing yoga was the whole "listen to your body" thing. I couldn't understand how I could push myself and make progress whilst taking a child pose when the practice was overwhelming. Aren't those 2 affirmations contradicting each other? I guess the point of it is to know yourself well enough to sense when you need to push yourself and when you need to stay in your comfort zone. Sometimes defaulting to our habits is the best thing we can do for ourselves. It's reassuring, it's comforting, it feels safe. But if we never assess what we actually need before defaulting to the usual, this is how we can get stuck because of habits.
I mentioned earlier in this article my complicated relationship with food: when you starve yourself because you need to feel like you're in control, you have to cut the connection between your body and your mind. You can't listen to what your body's telling you because it would literally tell you to eat to stop letting yourself die. As a result, I spent about 10 years not knowing how to decipher what my body was telling me. I didn't feel hunger, I didn't feel thirst, I didn't feel tiredness until my body was literally crashing like a computer running out of battery. Learning to pick up the signals has been a whole journey. And even today when I'm under stress, I can see that I tend to stop listening and default to my old habits. Being able to pause and reflect and not necessarily consider the default option as the only (and best) one is such a valuable lesson. Same goes with the physical yoga practice. If you always pick the most intense variation, maybe ask yourself why you do that? Is it what your body needs or is it you defaulting to an old habit?
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