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Written by Beth Lapides   

Practice Pages : My Other Car Is A Yoga Mat

Beth Lapides
Beth Lapides

I was lying in final twist, pulling my hip away from my ribs like a good little yogi, when the teacher, who didn’t know my practice that well, came over and gave me an adjustment. My back cracked. His eyes lit up; I could tell he was very pleased with himself. My back cracked ten more times. His eyes shifted to panic. Being a people pleaser, I tried to quietly reassure him. But I was, in fact, on the verge of panicking about it myself.

I’d been trying, unsuccessfully, to remember when my right hip joint had started cracking so prolifically. But I could only conjure memories of lying on my mat, twisting deeper and deeper, feeling like it needed to crack but couldn’t.

That night, standing in the shower, I swayed – shifting my ribs ever so slightly in the particular way that causes my back to crack over and over again. I counted up to 100 cracks. (I know. Counting is another bad habit that we control enthusiasts fall into when chaos is looming.) But I couldn’t stop. I was trying, as I had been every night for some time, to crack it until it was all cracked out. One more crack. Just one more.

I stepped out of the shower and into Facebook. Out of one habit into another. I wrote about my cracking problem on the My Other Car Is A Yoga Mat Facebook fanpage (join us please! quite a lively kula). And one clever yogi commented ,“Don’t get hooked on the crack.” Ha ha. Funny yogi. You crack me up.

Of course so much of life is habits. And Yoga teaches us to exchange unhealthy habits for healthy ones: The habit of unconsciousness for consciousness; the habit of being distracted for the habit of focus; the habit of avidya, incorrect comprehension, with vidya, correct comprehension. At least that’s my comprehension of correct comprehension.

Even before my feet stepped on their first mat, I practiced the habit exchange program. When Greg and I met I was a smoker, a pack of Marlboro Reds a day. Late one Sunday afternoon, at the end of a falling-in-love weekend, we were sitting in a red vinyl booth, waiting for our egg rolls. I was smoking. Greg looked me with his big dreamy brown eyes and asked if I’d ever seen anyone die of lung cancer.

When I got home, I threw the rest of the pack away. I would exchange smoking for love. But how? I wasn’t practicing Yoga yet so I didn’t have the advantage of my mat. I was a voracious reader though (or did I escape through fiction out of habit?!) and I happened to have a book called Dune lying in wait. I got into bed and cracked the spine of the book.


Yoga teaches us to exchange unhealthy habits for healthy ones: The habit of unconsciousness for consciousness; the habit of being distracted for the habit of focus; the habit of avidya, incorrect comprehension, with vidya, correct comprehension. At least that’s my comprehension of correct comprehension.


One story element in Frank Herbert’s page-turner turned out, synchronistically, to be a highly addictive, cinnamon-esque-smelling substance. Reading about addiction helped steel my resolve to exchange the habit of smoking for the habit of loving.

Quitting smoking was just the beginning. I’ve changed in all sorts of ways for Greg. As he has for me. I know that a lot of couples subscribe to the romantic policy promulgated by Billy Joel, “Don’t Go Changin’” to try to please me.” But we have what we think of as a ‘do go changin’” relationship. What if you do go changing to try to please me? Make a little effort. Of course the trick is to find someone who likes you just the way you are, but also sees some room for improvement and has some good ideas. It wasn’t like Greg was asking me to stop being an artist, or start doing crack.

One habit Greg has tried to help me break is my habit of negativity. “You’re so negative for a positive person,” he’s always telling me. He’s right. And I hate that about myself!

The first time I noticed my ‘no’ habit I was climbing the stairs out of the West 4th Street subway stop. I was a young artist begrudgingly headed to a day job. “No,” I heard myself say with each step. No no no. And just as the darkness of the underground station gave way to the daylight of the West Village, it dawned on me that if I could just replace those nos with yesses, everything in my life would change for the better. When I paid attention, I could do it while I was walking. “Yes yes yes,” I repeated all that year as I walked my way from day jobbing to the life I’d imagined.

Even now, all these years later, when I don’t focus on saying yes, I still easily slip back into the no habit. And this habit of negativity, I now know, in Yoga is called dvesa, rejectivity, or aversion. Dvesa is one of the four branches of avidya. We get caught in the habit of dvesa when we say no to things that are unfamiliar, things that have caused us pain before, maybe even things that we are afraid will reject us.

I’ve noticed I don’t always know when I’m engaging in dvesa. Because a knee jerk, dvesic no, sounds a lot like a considered discerning no. But no – all nos are not alike. And of course, you say no to no in order to say yes to yes.

What was I saying yes or no through my incessant back cracking? The first cracks were a no to a feeling of stuckness and a yes to freedom. But now I was saying yes to sensation that caused no effect. And this habitual action is raga, attachment. Raga is an other form of avidya. It is the wanting of something because it satisfied a need we had previously. One more. Just one more.

The word habit comes from a PIE (Proto Indo European) base ghabh – to seize, take, hold, have, receive and surprisingly also to give. The word habit opened my mind to the idea that giving and receiving are not opposites but rather two unique expressions of the same DNA, like the flower and fruit of the same tree.


All nos are not alike. And of course, you say no to no in order to say yes to yes.


Of course the place which we inhabit is both the place that holds us and the place we hold in our hearts. Which then holds us. Ad infinitum. Like a Marushka doll of hearts and homes, holding and being held.

This idea of holding helped me shine new light on my habits. When I perpetuate bad habits it does feel like they have a grip on me. When I perpetuate good habits I feel I am holding more prana, that I am a vessel for the life-force. I thought of one of my favorite prayers: I build a house of light and therein dwell.

And then my mind settled on the “to have and to hold” part of the meaning. When Greg and I got married we were young and rebellious and never even considered exchanging the classic vows. But I see now how the vow, “To have and to hold,” creates an uplifted structure around the idea of marriage – which is habituated love, a kind of soaring cathedral in which the echoes between giving and receiving can resonate. I saw the rings on our fingers, symbols of our union, our Yoga, perfectly placed reminders as our hands engage in taking and holding and giving and receiving too.

So I said no to the habit of cracking and turned off the shower, because why was I still here when Greg was already in bed, ready to practice two habits I hope he never changes. The habit of loving me. And the habit of letting me love him.

Beth Lapides has an active discussion on the My Other Car is a Yoga Mat Facebook fanpage about all things habitual. Get in the habit of listening to her podcasts and checking out her current schedule at: bethlapides.com.

 
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