A typical American, I started practicing Iyengar yoga for the physical benefits and to help mend my problem hips. Little did I know that yoga would transform much more than my body. One Iyengar yoga teacher in particular, Manouso Manos (who doles out a very memorable brand of tough love), said something that stuck in my mind and drove me to examine how I was living my life: “You cannot change and stay the same at the same time.”
From The Sticky Mat …
Manouso was explaining how yoga teachers push students beyond our comfort zones, help us release our inner control freaks, and step out of the hard boxes we put ourselves in. Iyengar students learn these lessons through performing poses or asanas and observing our minds and bodies in action. Through observation and analysis, we can catch our habits of letting the strong parts (e.g., calves) do the work while the weak parts (e.g., hips) attempt to evade notice; doing things the same way over and over again (e.g., gripping my calves so my hips can release) without noticing our patterns; and avoiding certain actions (e.g., twisting standing poses) because they highlight our imbalances (e.g., weak and tight hip muscles).
Good yoga teachers help us become more self aware and show us how to do things differently in order to build strength and balance. Nothing is as transformational as having a teacher put your body in true alignment and feeling as crooked as Lombard Street to let you know that you need to change something. In order to incorporate the teacher’s corrections, yoga students need to maintain an open mind and be willing to shed old habits and adopt new methods.
… And Beyond
This approach was having positive results for my yoga practice and my hips. But Manouso’s words — “you cannot change and stay the same at the same time” – carried far beyond the sticky mat. I was unhappy with how I was leading my life. I felt the need to change. What was holding me back? My desire to maintain the same lifestyle. I wanted to change yet remain the same at the same time.
Turning to what I learned from yoga, I observed myself in action: What habits was I engaging in that were causing the misalignment? How could I break free from the box I’d put myself in and do things differently? The answers came fairly quickly. To borrow a term from Stephen Covey. I neededa paradigm shift. As Covey explains in The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People:
“We can only achieve quantum improvements in our lives as we quit hacking at the leaves of attitude and behavior and get to work on the root, the paradigms from which our attitudes and behavior flow.”
The Paradigm Shift
When I examined my life, I realized that I had fallen into what Covey describes in The Seven Habits as a “money centered” paradigm, putting economic security at the top of my priority list:
“When my sense of personal worth comes from my net worth, I am vulnerable to anything that will affect that net worth. But work and money, per se, provide no wisdom, no guidance, and only a limited degree of power and security.”
Latching on to material things had created weaknesses and imbalances that skewed my priorities as much as my wonky hips had skewed my body. In order to change and create the life I envisioned, I needed to let go of the pseudo-security of owning a home and being able to buy whatever shoes strike my fancy at Nordstrom’s.
Once I opened myself up to moving away from a money-centered paradigm and aligned myself with my core values, the changes began to flow. In Covey’s words, “paradigm shifts move us from one way of seeing the world to another. And those shifts create powerful change.” Driven by my desire to use my talents to help others and to save money for my Reinvention Fund, I can now breeze through Nordstrom’s with no desire to buy another pair of shoes for my too-large collection. In fact, I’m amazed at how quickly that “shoe girl” disappeared.
That’s not to say that change is easy. The hard work of selling my condo and moving to a much smaller place ranks right up there with the challenge of working on my tight and weak hips. But by developing self-awareness (in my case, through yoga and Manouso’s tough love), we can identify habits that don’t serve us. No matter how deeply embedded those habits are, with persistence and the courage to change and a vision for a better life, we can replace them with more effective behaviors that strengthen and balance our bodies, minds and souls.