The Blog

Change a Bad Habit in 40 Days

I've been doing yoga for nearly two decades, running yoga retreats for eight (hiring others to teach) and yoga has changed my life in profound ways. But I am not holier than thou. Nor do I stand on my head for five minutes every morning. Up until about 36 days ago.

Now just to set the record straight: I am NOT a yoga teacher.

I've been doing yoga for nearly two decades, running yoga retreats for eight (hiring others to teach) and yoga has changed my life in profound ways. But I am not holier than thou. Nor do I stand on my head for five minutes every morning. Up until about 36 days ago.

I am reaching the end of what is called a '40 day Sadhana'. Sadhana comes from Sanskrit and means 'a way of accomplishing something to achieve an objective'. In my case - and our online '40-day Sadhana - Build Your Temple' group - it was getting rid of a bad habit and making way for a healthier one.

People chose things like refraining from using electronics after 9pm; giving up alcohol, tobacco, sugar or unhealthy snacks. We were told by the group leader, the rather accomplished yogini Suzanne Faith, to write our intentions down in present tense, as if it were already our truth. Mine was ambitious: "I am joyful and playful, using light humour to deal with the challenges in my life!" The good intention being that I refrain from moaning, complaining, criticizing or shouting (particularly at the children - challenging when we need to have left the house five minutes ago and dreamy seven-year old is still looking for his second sock).

There is a relevance to doing this little exercise in discipline for 40 days. This magic number indicates that 40 days is what's required to change behaviour or 'retrain' the subconscious.

40 is a number that incidentally comes up in many spiritual traditions and world religions, symbolising a period of testing, trial or probation. Islam, Judaism and Christianity share the belief that Moses spent 40 days on Mount Sinai where he received the 10 commandments. Rain fell for 40 days and 40 nights during the Flood. Jesus also fasted 40 days and 40 nights in the Judean desert before his temptation. Like a journey of alchemy after 40 days you have fired up new signaling on a cellular level, or as Suzanne Faith says;

"The practices are designed to build a strong vessel, to purify layers (physical, energetic, mental) and to harvest discernment. The sadhana will cultivate (and require) discipline, focused attention, acceptance, loving-kindness and a burning desire for transformation".

Alongside removing a bad habit the second objective was to add a healthy lifestyle behaviour, action or ritual. Things like; 'I spend 30 minutes a day connecting with nature,' 'I nourish my body with pure, unprocessed vegan foods,' 'I practice gratitude daily, especially before I eat my meals'. 'I strengthen and nourish myself with a daily yoga practice which enables me to support and nourish others,' is mine.

And I must say it has made quite a difference.

Stretching out those tight 'too-many-right-hand-mouse-clicks' shoulders and emotionally charged hips, twisting that knackered lower back, pulling that 'three-pregnancies-later' belly tighter. Not to mention the meditation, which for all of those who know, is the actual point of yoga. The physical distortions or asanas are merely prepping your body and attuning, so you can sit still long enough to calm the monkey mind.

And like most modern day humans, my mind is a multi-skilling, tree-swinging, overwhelmed with stimulus monkey.

Most of us agree that meditation has to be good for you. It is stepping outside the rational mind, or 'getting the hell off that beta brainwave' for a while. Only through stillness and entering a kind of timelessness can we connect with our inner teacher or consciousness of the heart. The deep relaxation meditation brings can improve quality of life and have an amazing effect on physiology. Study after study shows how it benefits health, longevity, lowers blood pressure that's too high, brings up blood pressure that's too low and prevents Alzheimers. They're even suggesting it can alter cancer cells.

But who has time to meditate? I never did.

I was full of excuses. The baby who prevented me from getting up early because she wanted to nurse, I needed fifteen more minutes in bed due to a late night with interrupted sleep, an urgent email calling me really loudly from the closed laptop.

Now that I'm on day 36 of my daily practice I realise it's not as hard to make space as all my excuses would have me believe.

I arm-wrestled the monkey and won.

It doesn't need to be the full, self-indulgent hour of yoga, pranayama and mantra every day - although that does feel wonderfully nourishing and luxurious. Some days it can be just 10 minutes: One minute of stretching, bending forward, maybe a down-ward dog and legs up the wall, 9 minutes of watching the breath; thinking and doing NADA. Or if meditation and yoga aren't your thing you can think of all the things in your life you're grateful for and say thank you to that.

What's 10 minutes?

Even Tony Robbins - the uber-successful author, motivational speaker and life coach says about a daily practice:

"If you haven't got 10 minutes, you haven't got a life."

Well, I just got a bit of my life back. That calm, inner life I vaguely remember from my pre-family days when I had time for yoga classes and pottering around a tidy, silent, single woman's loft conversion with exposed brick wall in Shoreditch.

The focus of daily meditation is helping me deal with those melt-down moments when the kids run a relay race with the 'crying-so-loudly-nobody-can-hear-anything' baton. I'll admit I've slipped up a few times and raised my voice, had a moan, whined etc. But generally thanks to the focus of the Sadhana I have more patience to deal with the challenges. I'm turning stressful situations into jokes, getting the kids ready into a game and we've had some mad discos in the kitchen with the kids doing that kind of free, expressive dancing you only see at hippy raves.