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Applied Yoga: Change – Responding v Reacting

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Embracing Change with a Mindful Response

How do you approach change?
Do you embrace it, seek it out… or does the mere thought make you want to retreat?
When change occurs, do you have a mindful response or find yourself reacting impulsively?

Sometimes change is of our own choosing and sometimes it’s thrust upon us. 
Both can be daunting prospects.

A Little History

Humans through the course of evolution, have developed a tendency to be creatures of habit. These ingrained patterns of behaviour were essential for the survival of our ancestors, providing consistent and efficient responses to the challenges of their world.

So, adapting to any kind of change really is a universally human challenge. Yet, it’s often the changes that we don’t see coming – the ones that blindside us – that can be particularly tough to embrace.

Big Changes

Change manifests in myriad ways.
Reflect on your life’s journey so far.
How many of these experiences have shaped you?

Predictable Changes: Such as leaving school, starting a new job, or retiring.

Developmental Changes: Like adolescence, reaching adulthood, milestone birthdays & becoming a parent.

Emotional Changes: Experiencing love, grief, joy, or disappointment.

Health-Related Changes: Dealing with illness, injury, or recovery.

Environmental Changes: Moving to a new home, city, or country.

Relational Changes: Beginning or ending a relationship, marriage, or friendship.

Financial Changes: Gaining or losing wealth, changing careers, or facing economic hardship.

Unexpected Changes: Sudden events like natural disasters, accidents, or winning a lottery.

Personal Growth: Shifts in beliefs, values, or personal goals.

Social Changes: Changes in social status, networks, or community involvement.

Significant life changes can challenge our identity, shaking the very foundation of our “sense of self.”

And yet…

Small Changes

It’s not just the monumental shifts that can unsettle us. Even minor alterations – such as finding someone else in our usual spot at the yoga studio – can disturb our inner peace.

In yoga, we practise the art of Responding over the instinctive impulse of Reacting. Furthermore, by learning to accept & be at ease with the little changes, we’re honing our adaptability as we as build emotional & mental strength & flexibility.

Then, when faced with life’s more formidable challenges, we’re better prepared to have a more mindful response to the change.

On the Mat: From Reaction to Observation

Let’s bring this back to the yoga mat, the space where body and mind unite. The class begins, and the teacher guides you through several postures. Then, a challenge arises – the teacher calls out a pose, and your immediate thought is, “I can’t do that!” Your reaction may be to sit it out altogether, perhaps even with your arms folded, looking on in disbelief.

This type of reaction is natural; it’s a defence mechanism against the unknown. But what if, instead of succumbing to this knee-jerk response, you simply observe the thought?

Becoming the Observer

By watching our thoughts with awareness, we gain insight into our instinctive reactions. When we do so, we become the Observer – rather than just the Thinker – of the thought. This is an important first step towards learning to foster a mindful response to change.

Questioning the Inner Dialogue

With observation comes curiosity. Ask yourself, “Why do I believe I can’t do this pose?” Is there a valid reason, such as a health concern, that makes this pose unsuitable for you? Or is it a limit you’ve imposed on yourself?

Pratipaksha Bhavanam: Flipping the Script

Yogic philosophy teaches us Pratipaksha Bhavanam – the practice of changing negative thoughts. When faced with the thought, “I can’t do that,”, it could be as simple as adding the word ‘yet’ to the end. “I can’t do that… yet!”

Embracing Modifications on the Mat

It’s okay not to be ready for the full expression of a pose. Whether it’s a physical limitation or a mental block, there’s always room for growth. Seek guidance from your teacher for modifications that honour your body and encourage progress.

Chaturanga Yoga Pose, Estepona. Nirmala Yoga Spain by Fox No Limits, 2024.

Off the Mat: The Mat Reflects Life

Adapting to change, whether chosen or not, can be intimidating. By applying Yoga Principles to life’s changes, modifications on the mat can be translated into “Babysteps” off the mat. That is to say: to prevent feeling overwhelmed, simplify and take things one small step at a time.

1) Start with the Necessary:
Identify and prioritize your immediate needs.
Don’t hesitate to seek and accept advice, help, and support.

2) Proceed to the Possible:
Tackle the simpler tasks first. The sense of achievement will fuel your motivation.
Again, be open to advice, help, and support.

3) Embrace the Growth:
As you step out of your comfort zone, watch your confidence soar & the impossible become possible!
Continue to seek and embrace support, advice, and help.

Final Thoughts: Embracing Change with Mindfulness and Compassion

As we encounter life’s challenges, both on and off the yoga mat, we’re often met with the impulse to react. Yet, through our yoga practice, we cultivate the art of mindful response to change – observing our thoughts and aligning our actions with personal growth. This subtle shift in perspective empowers us to move through life’s ebbs and flows with grace and resilience.

Big changes can stir a whirlwind of emotions such as anxiety, anger and sadness. It’s important to acknowledge these feelings and not to try to suppress or repress any emotions.
But don’t let them control you either!
They can be signposts, guiding us forward on our journey but remember, you are more than your thoughts and emotions; you are the observer and the responder.

And let’s not forget that the journey of change is a shared one. When you see others in the midst of transformation, offer encouragement – or a helping hand, if you can – without waiting for a request. The knowledge that we are not alone is a comfort in itself when navigating life’s unpredictable path.

May you navigate changes with Love & Smiles & Softness.

Profile photo and text: Much Love, Nette xxx

Find out more about Nette.

Adapted from an original piece published in the June Nirmala Loveletter, 2018. Edited & updated March 2024.

Jeannette Amy (Nette) Hopkinson (BSc Hons Sports & Life Sciences) is a compassionate, trauma-informed Yoga Teacher & educator based in Andalusia. Follow on Instagram Facebook

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