In The Willpower Instinct, health psychologist Kelly McGonigal explains that willpower is the ability to do what really matters, even when it’s difficult.
Anoher way to think of willpower is taking control of an undesirable behavior or impulse. You exert willpower to refrain from doing what you’re craving (or desiring) and can then celebrate passing beyond the urge. For example, you were out to dinner with friends and brought home dessert. When you look into your refrigerator a few hours later, are you hungry and do you eat the dessert? Or can you set aside the desire—that the dessert is calling your name—and instead exert a little willpower to wait to eat the sweet until tomorrow when your belly isn’t still full?
If you want things to be different, you have to do things differently. Here’s the good news—a few minutes of redirecting your thoughts through focused, deep breathing or movement can change your whole day!
Commit to Change
Sometimes it is challenging to change your ways. Take an honest assessment and consider if there are any behaviors or lifestyle elements that you feel ready to release—whether these are ongoing challenges or period triggers you must fight.
When the time comes, it may take some willpower to make positive changes. But oftentimes doing something difficult is worth the payoff! Have you ever pushed yourself to hike up a tough hill and been rewarded with a beautiful view? Or set your alarm early to make it to work on time for that Friday paycheck? Totally worth it and definitely requiring willpower! Having some go-to tools for when you feel tempted to resort to old habits, such as taking a few deep breaths or a walk or phoning a friend, is key to redirecting your energy.
Give yourself the chance to reset and create new habits by hopping onto your yoga mat and trying one or two (or all!) of the following six yoga poses. They each have the similar effect of distracting you from your immediate concerns and bringing fresh oxygen to the brain for a change of perspective.
1. Legs Up the Wall
This pose is a nice reset because it is relaxing and it gives your back, feet, and legs a rest. Legs Up the Wall is a partial inversion, helps oxygen flow to your brain a little faster than when you’re standing, which in turn helps clear your mind and potentially bring a change of perspective. This is a restorative yoga pose and helps to relieve anxiety, which could arise as you create new habits.
- Sit next to the wall and roll down to your side.
- Swing your legs up the wall and move as close to the wall as is comfortable for the backs of your legs.
- Rest a blanket under your head as a pillow and under your low back for support.
- It can also feel grounding to put a folded blanket on top of your feet, especially if the weather is cold.
- Breathe deeply and hold as long as you’d like.
2. Standing Forward Fold
This pose helps to stretch the legs and relieve pinching and pain in the low back. Standing Forward Fold is a partial inversion in that your head is below your heart. As with Legs Up the Wall, this pose can help clear your mind and may also bring a change of perspective, which can bring clarity to why you’re even bothering to push yourself to do something challenging in the first place!
- Stand with your feet at least as wide as your hips.
- Bend your knees and slowly roll down and fold over your legs.
- Keep a generous bend in your knees and allow your upper body, torso, arms, and head to hang heavy.
- Shake out your head and hair, and relax your jaw.
- Sway gently side to side and forward and back to feel all parts of your feet on the ground.
- Stay folded and experiment with different arm variations for 10 to 15 breaths. Roll up slowly.
3. Supine Spinal Twist
This pose stretches the lower, middle, and upper back and helps to strengthen and align the spine. Supine Spinal Twist physically and symbolically allows you to turn in a new direction and change focus.
- Come onto your back.
- Hug both knees into your chest.
- Allow both knees to drop over to the right side.
- Reach your arms out to the sides and rest them on the ground.
- Turn your head any direction that feels good.
- Hold for five to 10 breaths and switch sides.
4. Pigeon Pose
This pose stretches the outer hips, butt muscles, hip flexors, and knees. Because Pigeon Pose can be an intense stretch with deep sensations, it requires focused attention and deep breathing that help redirect the mind.
- From your hands and knees or Downward Facing Dog, slide your right knee and shin forward toward your hands.
- Extend your left leg long behind you and lower your hips.
- Adjust your right foot forward as far as is comfortable to allow for some sensation but no pain.
- Rock from side to side as you settle in.
- Rest your hands, elbows, or forehead down on the mat in front of you.
- Stay for several minutes and switch sides.
5. Child’s Pose
This pose helps relax the back and often feels restful. If your forehead is resting on something supportive, the pineal gland, an endocrine gland that modulates sleep hormones, is stimulated and a relaxation response is triggered. Child’s Pose is a reflective pose that can help turn your awareness to the deeper needs and desires underlying your craving or willpower challenge.
- Come to your hands and knees.
- Place a pad under your knees with a blanket for extra comfort.
- Bring your big toes together behind you.
- Separate your knees a comfortable distance apart.
- Shift your hips back toward your heels and bow forward.
- Extend your arms in front of you and allow your head to rest on the earth or a block.
- Feel your ribs expand and relax as you breathe deeply.
- Stay for five to 10 breaths.
Headstand is an inversion in that your head is below your heart and your hips are above your heart. This helps oxygen flow to your brain a little faster than when you’re standing upright, which helps clear the mind and shift your perspective. Plus, when you’re distracted by being upside down, it’s more challenging to focus on cravings!
- Come to your hands and knees.
- Place your hands about as wide as your shoulders and spread your fingers.
- Tuck your chin into your chest and place your head down in front of your hands. There should be an equilateral triangle between your hands and your head. If you can see your hands and your elbows are bent at 90 degrees, your base will be most stable. Make sure you’re on the true top of your head—not your forehead.
- Tuck your toes under and lift your knees up off the mat.
- Walk your toes in toward your hands, sending your tailbone up toward the ceiling.
- Roll your shoulders up and away from your ears. Press into your fingers for stability.
- Lift your right foot and bring your knee to your elbow or triceps muscle. Set that foot down and repeat on the left side.
It is possible to create new pathways in the brain and to change old habits that no longer serve you. Give yourself a willpower challenge (for example, do your taxes for just ten minutes or don’t light your cigarette until you’ve walked around the block twice) and then give yourself permission to try a new routine. One of these poses might be the ticket to a new you!
*Editor’s Note: The information in this article is intended for your educational use only; does not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Chopra Center's Mind-Body Medical Group; and is not a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health providers with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition and before undertaking any diet, supplement, fitness, or other health program.
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