Words: Dr. Luke Sniewski
The process of behavioral change is hard. It doesn’t serve us to sugar-coat or avoid that reality. Whether we are moving away from addictions, trying to break bad habits, or seeking to move away from behaviour we have a problematic relationship with, it requires intentional practice. Without practice, our mind tricks us into thinking we know what to do, only to be left deflated and confused as to why our wellthought-out strategies didn’t get us any closer to our goals or intentions.
Conscious practice is what turns ideas and theories into real change and action. Two practices that support this process of change are yoga and meditation. Most people have experienced one or both of these potentially-transformative modalities. While both practices are health-promoting in and of themselves, they also cultivate qualities within us that make the possibility of authentic change a reality.
Embarking on the journey of change invariably requires us to have regular confrontations with the experience of discomfort. While our habitual and instinctive response to discomfort might be to avoid it, doing so when we are trying to create change will lead to the experience of taking one step forward and two steps back.
With yoga and meditation, we are invited to lean into our discomfort, making it easier for us to face discomfort in everyday life. As we consciously practice facing our discomfort, it builds the foundations of our mental, physical, and emotional resilience; and we’ll need every ounce of resilience we have access to as we follow through on intentions for change.
Most – if not all – yoga and meditation approaches invite the participant to focus on their breath and away from the ruminating thought patterns of the mind. When we are trying to change, it’s our ruminating thoughts that tend to derail our progress because we fall back into the behaviors that we are trying to move away from. As soon as we get stuck in our heads, we believe the stories of the mind and react.
It’s not easy to disconnect from the world of thought. It requires gentle, patient, and consistent practice. Every time we engage with yoga and meditation, we are provided with an opportunity to practice staying connected to our breath rather than being swept away by thought. This skill becomes useful when we take it off the mat – or cushion – and apply it when we notice that the mind is ruminating.
Most of us are so immersed in the routine of everyday life that we rarely get a chance to reflect on different aspects and contexts of our life. The monotony and repetitiveness of daily living sometimes don’t allow for the space necessary for contemplation. It’s during this quiet and still moments of reflection, however, that we gain access to insights that were simmering just below the surface of our conscious awareness. New insights about ourselves help us examine, question, and challenge our thoughts, behaviors, and beliefs. With new understandings come new possibilities; ones that hadn’t existed prior to the fresh new perspectives that tend to emerge during moments of reflective stillness.
Yoga and meditation represent two transformational practices that invite such reflective experiences. When we get out of our heads and embody our present-moment experience, we have the space to reflect on our challenges in new ways and arrive at new insights. In fact, this process is natural and doesn’t have to be forced in any way. It might even be better – and more accurate – to describe the process as getting out of our own way. When we disconnect from the chaotic world of thought and pause the endless cycle of mental rumination, what we make space for is the emergence of an innate wisdom that exists in all of us. It’s from this space of peace, calm, and clarity that we discover that we had the answers we were looking for all along within ourselves.
Health and Wellbeing
Finally, what supports the process of change is the foundation of health and well-being. When the body is healthy, it has more energy and vitality to utilize as fuel. A healthy body also leads to a calm mind, thus making it easier to stay focused. Indeed, it’s when the body gets stressed and overwhelmed that we find ourselves falling back into subconscious reactivity.
One of the ways of determining health is to look at the stress levels of the body. We can do this individually by taking a closer look at our own lifestyle choices. Every lifestyle choice we make is either adding to our well-being – such as walking in nature, getting vitamin D for the sun, or eating a wholesome meal – or subtracting from our health, such as eating highlyprocessed foods or staying up all night in front of a screen. Our health and well-being at any given moment can be accurately determined by objectively looking at whether the majority of our lifestyle choices are stress-inducing or stress-relieving.
Yoga and meditation are two lifestyle choices that, when practiced consistently, are effectively stress-reducing and, thus, health-promoting. As the body reaps the health benefits of consistent practice, it makes it easier to focus on intentions for change because the mind isn’t being burdened and distracted by the constant aches, pains, and symptoms that come when the body is full of stress.
Dr. Luke Sniewski (Ph.D. in psychology) is a New Zealand-based Wellbeing Coach and Somatic Therapist, as well as a Certified Practitioner, Mentor, and Facilitator of
Compassionate Inquiry, a psychotherapeutic approach developed by Dr. Gabor Maté. In November 2022, he released his book, ‘Somawise: Get out of your head,’ get into your body, which provides the practices that cultivate and support the process of reconnecting with the body. Today, Luke works with clients worldwide, helping them to learn how to listen to their body and the wisdom it has to offer.