By Dr Susannah Ward

Changing unhelpful habits can be very hard for us mere mortals. Many of us end up slaves to maladaptive behaviours continuing them over and over despite knowing they don’t serve us – this is Albert Einstein’s definition of insanity!

“Insanity is repeating the same mistakes and expecting different results” Einstein.

I, for one, struggle with the 3pm cake and/or chocolate urge when tired at work, not to mention the tempting Friday after-work drinks offer that gets in the way of my evening yoga class!  But I find having an awareness of my urges and habits and a structured approach to managing them facilitates behavioural autonomy so I can make choices that work for me more often than not.

Drawing on the ancient wisdom of yoga is one way to break the cycle of maladaptive habits. Here’s a five-step structured approach to becoming aware of and overcoming unhelpful habits using the incredible and timeless wisdom of yoga.


Step 1.  Pratichaya (quiet reflection)

Becoming aware of your habits is the first step to change.  Quiet reflection allows you the opportunity to notice and identify the habits in your life that you wish to change (maybe just start with one at a time).

Step 2. Set your ‘Sankalpa’ (intention)

Changing behaviour is driven by a conscious intention to do so.  Decide how you want to be in your life that is different from now and internally phrase this in a way where you have achieved the change, e.g. “I no longer need cigarettes to cope with boredom or anxiety. I am able to sit with these feelings knowing they will pass.”

Step 3. Darshan (envision)

Use mental imagery and imagination to effect the change and start preparing yourself for it in real life.  Visualise yourself being in this new way.  What do you look, feel and think like?  How are you behaving instead?  Imagine it morning, noon and night in a meditative way, relaxed and confident.  The more you do the better!

Step 4. Tapas (commit)

Get accountable to yourself.  Consciously and formally commit to your Sankalpa.  Plan committed action towards it by setting small, measurable, achievable, realistic and timed goals.

Step 5. Ishvara pranidhana (surrender)

Be willing to undergo unpleasant thoughts, urges and feelings in order to transform into this more useful version of yourself.  This is the hard part but taking an approach of radical acceptance and surrender is the way through.  Relax, rest and nurture yourself as you surrender to the challenges.

Step 6. Abhyasa (persevere)

Have a growth mindset, stay focused and keep trying as best you can.  Forgive yourself for slip-ups and get back on track each time you do. It’s all part of the process of change and the path forward to the habit freedom you so truly deserve. You can do this!!!!

Believe in yourself & use yoga to be who you want and need to be.