The scaffolding of habit
As we slow dance our way from the hesitant unconfinement of summer into colder, darker days bound by uncertainty, how can we build habits to cultivate steadiness? How can we learn new ways to track time, less focussed on progress, and more on simply being? Unsurprisingly, my waking and dreaming thoughts have become narrower, like the shard of light between branches as the afternoon dips into evening. I’ve been thinking about the value of daily habits, and how, even in their smallness, they can give us the structure to continue to exist in this perpetual in-betweenness.
In a biological context, Wikipedia tells me that scaffolds are materials that have been engineered to cause desirable cellular interactions to contribute to the formation of new functional tissues ... Cells are often ‘seeded’ into these structures capable of supporting three-dimensional tissue formation. I am no biologist but am fascinated by the body’s substructures, its layers of growth, materials seemingly generated from nothing, that build on themselves and each other to produce structures both beneficial and destructive. I think of cells as the constant and their interactions as controllable, producing endless possibilities to replicate, grow, shrink, recombine, produce materials both predictable and surprising.
Since the unsettled spring, my constant has been a daily pranayama and asana practice, focussed on moving energy up the spine, from earth to air. This practice is my internal compass, keeping me meandering in the direction of positive change. Using breath and movement to carve out space (in both body and mind) is helping me build the scaffolding to support transformation, no matter how slowly or circuitously it happens.
Whether it’s 10 minutes of simple spinal movement after rolling out of bed, a linear(ish) ashtanga-lite practice, or an energetics-focussed vinyasa practice, tapping into body-memory of the sequences I learned at my home studio, the intention of linking breath and movement (regardless of the outcome, which has varied wildly) has kept my mind in an easeful and curious place. This habit is small, inward-focussed, easy, really — but it derives potency from its layering: each minute decision to practice strengthens my resolve to make bigger decisions — the ones that could matter.
Flipping through my late-summer yoga journal, my practice was strong, firey, fuelled by the solar plexus — that bright, yellow energy centre that attracts prana, to be distilled into purpose and clarity. I needed structure, to push myself, to break through the temptation of stagnancy. I needed to feel effort, to be made breathless, to strive towards physical postures (and to collapse, giggling, when my attempts at one-legged crow inevitably led to face-planting).
Now that autumn, a steadier season, is here, my pen swirls around the softer verbs of structure: layering, nesting, cocooning.
I still crave challenge, but it is taking on a more energetic, rather than purely physical, form. If I could characterize my current practice as a word, it would be a seed. It begins with the smallest thought, idea, or intention, then with each cycle of breath, that seed is nourished with energy, subtle engagement, and fuller-body movement, so that eventually, it becomes a fully-formed organism with all of its life-giving structures in place.
Some questions to ponder if you’re interested in nourishing that seed in your own practice:
How does it feel to start from empty: a deep inhale and a noisy, full-body exhale?
How does our quality of movement change when we approach a new pattern with curiosity rather than expectation?
Where is movement stored in the body by default, and how can we access it when it feels blocked, stuck, or perhaps held for our own protection?
What makes a certain movement challenging, and how can we layer the strength and control to make us light, rather than pushing through resistance?
What cues, movements, actions can trace the gentle path from containment to expansion?
We are all holding so much — yet we are all resilient, whether it manifests as inward or outward energy. As I continue to sit, breathe, move, trace new patterns, undo old ones, I want to connect my own scaffolding to building collective resilience as we, somehow, learn to ground ourselves in the tectonic shifts we’re experiencing. I invite you to trust that carving a bit of time and space to build internal resilience will create your own little nest to return to, while letting in the light and air that keeps us connected, despite distance.