Week 26 – The Practice

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    I started crafting when I was 23, around the same time I started practicing yoga. Crafting was my answer to help me quit smoking – it kept my hands busy and my mind occupied on something other than the craving to put a cigarette to my lips. As active and health conscious as I was, I had picked up the habit in high school. It was the cool thing to do. Insert face palm emoji… Seriously though, I started smoking socially in my teens to fit in. Not many of my friends smoked, but some did, and the cigarettes were always passed around when a crowd gathered. Long story short, my social habit became a regular habit in college. I went from a beer and a smoke, to a cigarette with my morning coffee. Thankfully, I came to my senses after only six years of that nastiness, largely because I knew how terrible it was for my body, but also because I was starting to look at my health and habits on a much deeper level.

    My first yoga teacher, the late Dianne Bruni, hosted a television series called Breathing Space Yoga. It was a thirty minute program that aired five days a week dedicated to provide clear, accessible and beneficial insight to not only the practice of postures, but also to the immensely rich philosophy in the practice. In one of the first shows I watched, Dianne introduced me to the concept of samskara. The word samskara is a derivative of two other Sanskrit words : sam meaning well planned or intended, and kara meaning the action under-taken. Thus samskara is ultimately the ability to perform our actions with full intentional awareness while remaining attentive throughout. 

    Think of samskaras in this way: every time an action is repeated, it leaves an impression, like a tire mark in the mud. If you were to repeatedly drive over that same mark, eventually it will become a deeper forming a rut. The deeper the rut, the harder it will be to get the tire off track. 

    “Each time the action is repeated, the impression becomes stronger. This is how a habit is formed. The stronger the habit, the less mastery we have over our mind when we try to execute an action that is contrary to our habit patterns.” – Pandit Rajmani Tgunait

    Like habits, we can have both positive and negative samskaras. The aim of yoga, is to help our human condition and the creatures of habit that we are, clear out the adversely destructive physical, mental and emotional patterning we’ve been conditioned to, and replace them with meaningful, impactful and conscious actions that support a vital and healthy functioning group of systems, a.k.a. the body/mind continuum. 

    The philosophy in this Sanskrit word grabbed me hook, line and sinker as to how profound yoga was, and even more so, how it was linked to way more than just postures on a yoga mat. In her unique way, Dianne explained that samskara is relative to that of the habits we ‘perform’ each and every day. Through the explanation of postures and guided breathing exercises, she taught me to start looking at the way I moved relative to my breath, while closely observing these actions and the underlying intent. Was the action I was performing for benefit, or was it negligent? Was there awareness in and of what I was doing, or was I just simply moving (through life)? Big questions for such a young grass hopper. 

    Regardless, what Dianne posed rang a bell in my consciousness thus sparking the intention of change. Little by little I started to notice how I moved and why. I noticed the mental cravings to light up, felt the emotional pleasure in doing so and yet felt the ill effects in my body once I did. I started to pay attention to when the cravings were most intense, which turned out to be in the evening. Sitting at home with nothing to do, my habit was to watch the boob-tube and smoke. I didn’t want to smoke any more but still found myself doing so. That’s when crafting kicked off. I could never hold a smoke in my mouth while doing something with my hands, so keeping my hands busy was huge in helping me shift to break the negative habit. Eventually, meaning the better part of three years later and a diverse stash of craft supplies, I had gradually moved from coffee and a cigarette, to a social puff, to no more smokes all together. 

    Like moving one grain of sand at a time, changing one action at a time has profound effects on our health and wellbeing. The notion of samskara changed my life in immeasurable ways and is one I continue to practice every single day. As much as I can, I remind myself to be conscious of my repeating actions and look out for physical, mental and emotional patternings that help me live my best life, while slowly shifting away from the ones that don’t.