Taking a holiday over the December/January period is a practical decision for most. Apart from the obvious being that it falls across a time of significant celebrations, it is also usually a quiet or non-productive period at work, it is a time when family and school aged children are around and it comes at the end of the calendar year when time off can feel like a well-earned reward.
All practicalities aside, I find beginning the year with a break from routine really handy timing. With new or refreshed commitments and goals in place it is the perfect opportunity to begin paving new pathways to my evolution.
In yoga these paths are known more accurately as ‘samskaras’. They are the positive and negative patterns we create in our lives that, with constant repetition, are reinforced. It is how habits and addictions are created. It may be a sugar habit that you are trying to break or a regular yoga practice you are trying to stick to. It takes a fair dose of conscious repetition to carve out a new groove where a perfectly formed old one exists, and some conscious resistance to walk a new path rather than abiding by our conditioning.
In most circumstances we prefer the familiar to the unknown. We find comfort in the world as we know it. We construct stories that we tell ourselves in order to unconsciously perpetuate and justify cyclic patterns, even when negative. It is the reason we may stay in a destructive relationship or stick with an unfulfilling job or maintain an unhealthy diet or addiction. My well-worn path is one that steers me towards busyness and setting mostly unrealistic, lofty goals. My passions, interests and creative visions see me regularly overextending myself, and yet justifying my productivity prevents me from gaining true insight, and thus fully realising the importance for change.
Here is the great segue to holidays. Having time off or, better still, time away creates an interruption to our conscious and unconscious routines. It is my experience that when our holiday is one where we create the time to slow down, open up to new experiences and take the space for reflection we are creating the ideal circumstances to experience change. We get the chance to rehearse living life differently with choices we may not feel are available amongst the demands and stresses of life at home. We may exercise more, interact and connect more with our loved ones, spend time on activities that are fun rather than purposeful, try new things that make us take notice rather than move through our lives blindly. The conditions are right for us to challenge some of our preconditioned and unconscious actions, thoughts and emotions.
Sometimes these encounters have a profound longer term impact, sometimes they may just provide a glimpse of how life could be a bit better. Either way the challenge is how to bring these gifts home with us.
One of the best ways to change samskaras is to cram out old behaviours and thought patterns with new ones. Using your time away to form new habits is the start of creating and sustaining new ways of being. These grooves are systematically strengthened over time through repetition until your new habits become so strong that they replace older, less desirable ones.
Research has shown that it takes around 21 days to create a new habit so it is important to stay focused and conscientious during this early period, knowing that it will get easier. Stay alert to moments when your negative patterns are being triggered and work with a practice to disrupt the process – perhaps something as simple as stopping to take a deep breath.
Changing our habits is often a matter of changing our minds. Yoga and meditation are great tools that can help us discipline our minds. Both of these methods provide us with the training to be less reactive to our thoughts and urges and are thus helpful in overcoming negative habits and replacing them with new, more positive ones.
So unless you can take a 21 day holiday and get closer to completion, use your time away to begin the valuable and rewarding process of adding positive changes to your life. Play and experiment with new activities, interests and routines that you can use to crowd out the old habits once you are home. It is easier to take these first steps whilst you are in a relaxed environment and under less stress with fewer negative triggers. By the time it comes to returning home changes will be underway. You will have formed new grooves in your path that can be reinforced through repetition once you return. Your holiday may have ended but you will be returning with the start of a new, improved version of your life.