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A YOGI CHA BLOG

The conditioning towards making better choices that asana do to us

Hi, I’m Charlotte (Yogi Cha). I’m a yoga teacher with a degree in clinical psychology. I’ve always had a deep curiosity toward eastern and western approaches to understanding the mind, and the ming/body union. You’ll find me in the lovely Canggu Bali, nestled amongst coconuts, palm trees and sunshine 🥥🌴🌞

 

In the field of “addiction psychiatry” there have been studies lately of the physical impact that emotional states bring us. A rather commonly known factor; the fact that we tense up when stressed has been taken to its full extent.

The studies have shown that the negative emotional states such as anxiety, anger, frustration all create a sensation of CLOSED inside of us. It’s the famous knot in the stomach or in the throat or of course, the heartbreaking pain in the chest.
As we can then imagine, the studies showed that the positive emotional states such as joy, kindness, belonging… created a sensation of openness inside.

I think that most of you can relate to this and that it doesn’t seem so groundbreaking.
However, when we combine this fact with the studies made on addictive behaviour, it becomes more interesting. What has us hooked in addictions is the “reward value” that we attribute to the behaviour that is addicted. The way to stop the addiction is not through willpower like most people believe but by decreasing the feeling of reward that the behaviour is triggering.
It’s the reason we get addicted to sugary and fatty things instead of lettuce. We have a far stronger signal of “reward” planted in us linked to cake than vegetables.

Here’s what you need to understand: Its not behaviour that changes future behaviour- it’s the reward that changes it.

If there is little effort to enjoying the open state of joy, than we can see that there is not need for something external like a drink, ice cream, cigarette or sweet, to get the feeling. So if we can learn to practice awareness as we experience the state of “openness”, we access the reward state without effort.

Have you ever noticed what you really do when you practice yoga asana?
You open and you close. You retract and you release. You create that openness in the body to release the tensions and create a more relaxed state of being.
The more you practice, the easier it becomes to feel the different states. We feel the contraction and tension in the twist and the release is then so much stronger when we move out of the pose and into another. In a way, we could say that the constant positioning of the body in shapes that create tension and then their counter positions, that creates openness; are the perfect way to teach our mind what reward is. We begin to feel the reward when we feel the positive emotional state.
In this way, we can therefore train ourselves away from the trigger REWARD that only cookies bring. The stronger our awareness becomes while we practice, the easier we access the state of joy/belonging/love and that it can exceed the reward that the cigarette seems to promise which will decrease our longing for the toxin until we’re “just not that into it” anymore.

Because the key to changing a behaviour in a sustainable way is to rewrite the narrative you have around it. It’s not really to replace it with something else, it’s making it obsolete.

Whenever I have spoken about addictions in my talks, I have always said that you need to take away the guilt around it. Guilt will only work on your willpower really because its a motivator to having a different behaviour. No, what you need to do, is to become very aware of what triggers you to do the habit. So, if I feel a strong need to reach for that cookie, the idea is to go on with it but to stop for a moment and ask yourself, what happened just before? What thoughts led me up to the craving? The idea is to find what it is that I’m really seeking with the addiction – what am I trying to avoid, if you will. Let’s say that it’s a feeling of helplessness that comes over me so that I am seeking to feel more nurtured. That is why I reach for the cookie.
Now that I have the awareness of this, it becomes easier to rewrite the habit loop of searching for the feeling of nurture. The open state of being taken care of. So imagine that I can take this with me into my asana practice and set an intention of “nurture” to it. I will gently move my body, take care of it, love it and then be so appreciative of the release that some poses (savasana, anyone?!) brings. I will repeat this every day and little by little that sensation will exceed the reward that the cookie brings. Finally, I’ll be less interested in the cookie.

If this sounds interesting but a little overwhelming to do on your own, join the Self Image Project because that is basically what our goal is!
The idea behind this online course is to create an understanding of why you are the way you are. Once we understand we can be more forgiving and less judgemental and this is how we then can see why we act the way we do as adults. The last part of the course is a hands on procedure on how to create the change as we implement new habits through routine.

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