Behavioral change

A sustainable practice, a sustainable life, a sustainable planet – how it’s all connected.  

During two of the most intense months we’ve had in YOMI; organizing a retreat, finishing and filming two new programs and offering a YOMI class and lecture at Yoga Games Malmö, we decided to spend some extra focus on the subject of sustainability.

Sustainability lies close both to my heart and my fears, as we live in the midst of a climate crisis that’s creeping closer upon us which each day that our greenhouse gas emissions keep increasing.

As I’ve for the past four years worked more and more with climate psychology it’s also become apparent how the issue of sustainability relates to all levels that we live and act on: from the practice on our mats to the entire planet.  

Let me explain:

Sustainability is about carrying out actions whose consequences won’t do us or others harm either now or in the future: on the mat having a safe practice, adapting to our own current conditions. In our lives meeting the needs we have, adapting to however they’re changing. On the planet ensuring that our lust for things now won’t do the planet harm later on.

Truth be told, we’re not there yet. Neither in regards to how we’re treating the earth, but in all honesty a lot of the times nor in regards to how we’re treating ourselves on and off our mats.

In the Yoga Sutras Patanjali outlines the core of the yoga practice, including the eight limbs of yoga where Yama (abstinence) is the first one. In this limb ahimsa, non-violence, is an important aspect. Putting this in relation to the current state of climate disaster it’s called upon us to reflect on how we as yoga practitioners treat this first limb of yoga. Is the current yogic lifestyle compatible with not doing the earth harm? With not doing ourselves harm?

As for our own lives, there seems to be something in the system we’re living in that’s creating an unsustainability in the way we live. We know that psychological distress is on the rise, as are the sick leave numbers. All of this in spite of economic growth increasing alongside emissions. It’s like we’re making ourselves sick at the same pace as we’re making the planet sick.

Is it then possible to create a sustainable world where we still are able to lead good lives? Trusting what we know about what people need to be healthy and happy the short answer is yes.

The tricky part about this is that we at this point don’t know the exact consequences of the climate threat, as we don’t know how the world will choose to act in the coming years. All we know is that the less we act now, perhaps in favor of our short-term pleasures, the graver the consequences will be for us long-term.

That said, we do know from years of research that what makes people happy, what makes people thrive and live well is not connected to living a fossil fuel intensive life. What seems most important for our happiness is good, social relationships. Physical activity, recreation, a meaningful job, helping others and being in nature are other things that seem important for our sense of happiness.  

In light of all of this, I would like to believe that by creating a practice for ourselves that is sustainable for our bodies and minds, we can expand that knowledge into creating actions that help ensure the sustainability of the entire earth.

/Frida 

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Exercising being in all of your five senses.

Maria has been in charge of our Instagram this month, where the theme has been "Our five senses". Concluding this lovely journey through touch, smell, taste, sight and hearing she offers an exercise that anyone can try next time it's time for food: 

Our five senses

This is a very good exercise, both because it includes all of our five senses and because eating so easily becomes habitual and stressful for us, which is not a very good thing for neither our digestive system nor the mindfulness perspective. You can start by just reading it through and then trying it with something to eat. Enjoy!

 Begin by connecting to your breath and body, feel your feet on the ground and notice your experience in this moment. With your awareness in this moment, notice any thoughts, sensations or emotions you are experiencing. (Pause) 

Tune into the awareness or sensation that you have in your body of feeling hungry, thirsty or maybe even feeling full. If you were going to eat or drink something right now, what is your body hungry for? What is it thirsty for? Just pay attention and notice with awareness the sensations that give you this information. (Pause) 

Now, bring your attention to the item in your hand and imagine that you are seeing it for the first time. Observe with curiosity as you pay attention and notice the color, shape, texture, and size. Is there anything else that you notice, sense or feel? (Pause) 

Imagine what it took for this item to get to your hands: sunshine, water, time, processing, and shipping. You may choose to be aware of gratitude for everyone involved in the cultivation and preparation of this item of food. You may choose to bring in your own gratitude or spiritual blessing. (Pause) 

Now place the item between your fingers and feel the texture, temperature and ridges. You may notice smoothness or stickiness. Again, notice if you have any thoughts, sensations or emotions at this time. Continue to breathe and be fully present in this moment. (Pause) 

Take the piece of food and bring it toward your nose and smell with your full awareness. Notice if you have any memories, sensations or reactions in your body. Even before you eat it, you may notice that you begin to have a digestive response in your body just by noticing and smelling. (Pause) 

With full awareness of your hand moving toward your mouth, place the object (fruit or chocolate) into your mouth without chewing or swallowing it. Just allow it to be in your mouth, roll it around to different parts of your mouth and tongue. Notice the flavor and texture. Notice the physical sensations within your body, especially your mouth and your gut. Continue to breathe as you explore the sensation of having this item in your mouth. (Pause) 

Next take just one bite and notice the flavor, notice the change of texture. Then very slowly begin to chew this piece of food, and notice the parts of your mouth that are involved in chewing. Notice the sound and movement of chewing, as you continue to notice the sensations and flavor. (Pause) 

When you are ready, swallow this item and notice the path that it follows from your mouth and throat into your stomach. Notice the sensation and taste that may linger in your mouth. Connect again to your body and your breath and notice your experience in this moment. (Pause) 

Next, I invite you to pick up another food item, and choose to eat it however you wish. Noticing your choice and your experience. Notice how it is similar or different. (Pause for 30-60 seconds, and then return to large group discussion about the experience).

Managing stress: how to identify it and how to know what to let go of.

If you've been following us for a while you know that stress - or rather how to handle stress - is something that we deal with quite a bit. Both in our personal lives and in our YOMI work. 

We've written about how the sympathetic as well as the parasympathetic nervous systems work, and how these are related to stress. We've also written about how we work with emotions in our program YOMI Yin, which focuses on managing stress and worry, as well as a few posts about the practice of acceptance and gratefulness, two important tools in stress management.  

Yet it seems that there are more (endless?) perspectives, questions, tips and tricks when it comes to dealing with stress. On our instagram this month we've dug into a few questions regarding stress: 

What are three early signs of stress for you?
To manage our stress we first need to identify when we start to become stressed. How does it feel in our bodies? How do we act when we start to get stressed? What thoughts and feelings arise when we start to get stressed? Learning to notice these early signs and how they play out in our bodies is a good first step to manage stress in a functional way. For me early signs are usually feeling "messy" in my mind, shorter breath and a general tension in all of my body. These are clear signs that I need to make a few adjustments. 

What's the first thing you let go of when you're stressed? 
We usually get stressed when the demands of life are bigger than our available resources (may they be resources of time, energy, practical help or other). So it's completely in order to prioritise and leave some things for later. It's not uncommon, however, that we in times of stress start letting go of things that would actually serve us well in taking care of ourselves. Physical exercise for example, time on the yoga mat, time with our loved ones. 
In order to know how to prioritise well during stressed times we're helped by knowing which things that usually serve us well (we've written about identifying the function of our actions here ) so that we can remind ourselves what to really hold on to even when we feel like we don't have time - and what is completely fine to let go of when we prioritise. For me, in times of stress, I'm usually better of holding on to my yoga practice than holding on to having a perfectly clean home.  But even knowing this, it takes quite a bit of reminding to hold on to.  

It's a continuous practice as it is a continuous life. Let us practice and be kind and adjust according to what we need right now. 

Wishing you all a happy summer! 
Frida
 

Headstuck! A first step to reflect upon your values.

If you're following us on instagram (@yomi_psychology) you know that this month's theme is Values, which we'll dive deeper into as the month progresses. But to give you a first taste, do watch the video below, and reflect on where your own head might be stuck?

 

Feminism from a mindful perspective

We haven't figured out how to change the author of the blog posts yet, so suffice to say that this post is written by Maria, not Frida as it says above. Enjoy!

My interest for feminism started early in life and I have never had a problem with calling myself a feminist or to fight for equality. But as for many of us, the teenage version of me saw everything from a more black or white perspective than I do nowadays. Life makes you humble and wise. Unfortunately, it also tends to make us more lazy, less engaged and more hopeless with time. Going through my university education, trying out partner relationships and having children made me for years feel ashamed of not being as hardcore in my everyday life as I in my values had stated to be. It made my question if I could really call myself a feminist at all. I have never lost my interest for feminism, but one might say that the problems seemed so big I partly lost my hope.

Having my son 5 years ago made me relate to this issue in a new way. After his birth I soon realized that what I had been told was true. The expectations on a little boy was different from those on a little girl, and many mistook my son for a girl when I chose to dress him in pink and keep his long, dark beautiful hair. I didn’t mind that people mistook him for a girl, but I did mind that they didn’t question their own prejudices. 10 months ago I had a daughter and experienced the same thing, but the other way around. It was starting to make me more irritated than anything else. My fighting spirit was given fire again and I started reading more inspiring literature and listening to feminist podcasts. I started being more hardcore again in my everyday life; being bolder with my statements, being less humble and more demanding. Once again, as in my teenage years, it seemed to make me frustrated and tired, which reduced my motivation once again.

One night, I chose to sit down with my partner and talk to him. I talked about the two perspectives in me and how they made me feel fragmented. One side of me wants to be this tough, sharp and fearless woman. One side of me wants to be this mindful, humble and compassionate person. Slowly, during our discussion, I started to see a vision where these two sides could meet. I could make certain demands of my environment, but still be humble and patient about the fact that change takes time. I could bring the discussion up, make feminism an interesting and important subject in my home, at my workplace and in my relationships, but do it from an inspiring, strengthening perspective.

I know this might be debated. Men should do this, we shouldn’t have to motivate them and so on. I think so too. But to rage on every man in my life will not make me feel more equal, will not make me happier and will not make them see the benefits of walking in the direction of creating a better world for my children to live in - so I really think we have to be smarter than that.

Of course this is still something that I think about every single day of my life and I am nowhere near satisfied but I have a plan that I follow where I both have a path that I am motivated to walk on, but still an acceptance that every piece is not in it’s right place quite yet.
So, may the compassionate fight continue!

 

Nurturing a better self-care: Introducing the concepts of ”topography/form” and ”function”

Most of us know that taking care of ourselves generally is a pretty good thing to do. Feeling well and helping yourself to feel well makes intuitive sense.

In therapy, when we as psychologists bring the issue of self-care up, a lot of clients look at us and burst out: “Oh, you mean I should go to a spa or something?”. Or they quickly say that they have been to the spa several times, but it didn’t make them calmer at all, on the contrary it made them even more stressed.

It seems as if taking care of oneself is not always as easy as it seems, and that taking care of oneself is a concept that has a lot of misconceptions and notions tied to it. Like the one of self-care equaling going to the spa, or getting a facial.

Not surprisingly though, what’s nurturing for one person might not be so for another. While going to the spa might make me calm, going for a run, to a sports game or even watching some TV might do the trick for my friends. So how do we know what works for us, and if we don’t, how can we start to find that out?

In order to nurture a better self-care we can start by getting acquainted with two concepts from the behavioral psychology: form/topography and function.

When we start to look at different behaviors we can describe them in various ways. We can do it by looking at their topography or form, namely what they look like from the outside (for example “watching TV”, “eating an orange”, “taking a bath”). The topography of a behavior is comparable to drawing a map of the behavior, of what we can observe from the outside.

But if we want to get closer to learning about what is a nurturing and self-caring behavior we shouldn’t be too blinded by what we see from the outside, but rather start looking at what functions our behaviors have, what motivates us to do something. If I do something, say, go for a run, it will make a difference whether I do it because I’m scared of gaining weight or because I genuinely love being outside and feeling my body move. Even though the run will look exactly the same from the outside it will in these two examples serve different functions. If I call a friend due to not wanting to feel alone it will serve a different function than if I call him due to wanting to speak to him and hear about his ongoing life. Behaviors that look exactly the same from the outside can serve us in very different ways, varying between people or even between different times for the same person (one time looking at TV might serve the function of distracting me from negative thoughts, whereas the next time my motivation might be that I’m interested in the show that’s broadcasted).

So this is the reason why going to the spa not necessarily equals self-care for everyone (note: to make it a little bit more complex, one behavior can of course serve more than one function, but there is usually a primary motivation behind it). If we want to nurture a better self-care we need to look deeper into our behaviors than their topography, and try to peel away our conceptions of what taking care of oneself should look like. And instead try to get to know what taking care of ourselves feels like, so that we can start looking for behaviors that nurture that self-caring feeling.

We will get back to this subject several times, digging deeper into it with the main purpose of better nurturing our own self-care. But as of today you can start by noticing and observing, not only what you’re doing (the topography), but also what your primary motivation behind doing something is; what function the behavior serves. 

Facilitating behavioral change: establishing a daily practice

If there’s something we psychologists know it’s how hard it can be to make behavioral changes. If it weren’t then this world would look a whole lot different, your life would probably look a whole lot different.

We’re creatures of habit, lovers of the path of least resistance and automatized to the point of in many ways resembling an autopilot that has set out across the ocean, navigating us through our daily lives.

Luckily, something else we psychologists know are a few tips and tricks on how to facilitate the desired changes in our behavior. And, lucky for you, one of our aims with YOMI is to share whatever knowledge we have that might make life easier for just about anyone who’s interested. Hence: this series of blog posts called “Facilitating behavioral change”, fresh with psychological knowledge and research, applied on our yoga and meditation practice, in our regular everyday stressed out lives.

When getting into yoga and meditation, whether it be through a more structured program such as the YOMI program, via a youtube home practice or the occasional yoga class at your gym, most people eventually become more and more intrigued by the thought of establishing a daily practice: a daily sadhana. Which, due to our somewhat habitual and lazy nature, can be easier said than done. Establishing new habits usually requires a bit of effort, but can be facilitated by a number of things:

·      Take small steps: the hard part of creating a daily practice is usually not so much the actual “practice” part as the “daily” part. If we focus too much on the practice being big, advanced or strenuous, chances are it’ll be hard for us to keep up on a daily basis. Rather, when starting out, try to take smaller steps in the beginning, gradually building your practice. Start with a shorter practice, using only poses and exercises you know well. When establishing a daily sadhana five breaths on your mat everyday actually is more beneficial than one and a half hour of advanced asanas once every other week. 

·      Create a good space: It might sound like an obstacle that shouldn’t have much impact on your own willingness to practice, but not having a good space to set up your mat or meditation pillow will decrease the chances of you practicing on a regular basis. People are fairly easily conditioned (as much as your average dog or rat), and our brains love to make associations between activities and certain places (e.g. associating our bed with sleeping, our dining table with eating, and the bathroom with brushing our teeth). So much that it can help us get sleepy when we are nearing our bed in the evening. Creating and condition yourself to a certain place for your practice is a good helper. It doesn’t have to be fancy, you just need to know where to roll out your mat, and that this preferably is a place where you have room to raise your arms, and not be disturbed by too much noise or other people. If you want to cozy it up, go ahead, see that as a bonus, but not as a required.

·      Keep your things handy: When NIKE claims “Just do it” they’re probably not thinking about that in order to do it we need to take a few steps first. Such as getting into the appropriate attire and finding our blocks. The rule usually goes that the more accessible your needed stuff are the likelier that you’ll do it. If you do your practice in the morning, set up your space and lay out your clothes the night before. Keep your mat visible, it’ll remind you of your practice. (Remember the previous step about creating a good space, and about how the brain loves to associate things with each other, such as your mat with you doing your practice).

·      Be humble towards the fact that you have a whole other life to live – but adapt accordingly: Few of us have the luxury of leading lives where time seems to come in abundance. We are usually quite busy, especially the one’s of us who seek out yoga and meditation to help manage our stress levels. And in some ways life is what it is; we won’t get rid of certain daily chores, our kids will need picking up from school at certain times each day, our bosses might keep giving us the evil eye if we slip home early too often from work. So, while you get ready for making that really big life change of downsizing or quitting your job (or if you’re just quite happy with keeping things fairly much as they are, but would like some more time for yoga), stay humble towards the fact that life is there, and it’s requiring quite a bit of you. But learn how to adapt accordingly. What time of day would be the easiest for you to practice? Are you a morning person enough to get up half an hour earlier and roll out your mat? Are you an evening person that would benefit from winding down with a night time practice? Is it possible to come into work later and staying later, giving you some more time in the morning? Are you willing to give up a bit of TV time in the evening to practice?  Do what suits and do what works for you, it’s usually a good guideline to increase your chances of getting on your mat. And that’s really what it’s all about: getting you onto your mat and start breathing. Once you’re there you can gradually build the rest.