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Unlocking Change: Yoga & Mindset

Mindsets are lenses or frame of mind that affect how we feel and see ourselves and the world around us. It’s said that all of us are a mix of both growth and fixed mindset, and that it evolves with experience overtime.




“Let it grow, let it grow....”

The theory of growth mindset was developed by Stanford University psychologist Carol Dweck. As Dweck writes in “Mindset,” “…as you begin to understand the fixed and growth mindsets, you will see exactly how one thing leads to another — how a belief that your qualities are carved in stone leads to a host of thoughts and actions, and how a belief that your qualities can be cultivated leads to a host of different thoughts and actions, taking you down an entirely different road.”


A growth mindset is based on the idea that our essential qualities are things we can cultivate through our efforts. It assumes that we could change and grow through experience and practice. As I share this, I ask myself the question – is mindset a privilege? If we look at the world around us, we see people who have privilege in life and have instilled a negative and fixed mindset, while there are those who come from challenging backgrounds who are able to foster the capacity to rise above their circumstances and have an open mindset. By challenging ourselves with new experiences and perspectives, we can form new neural connections — or mindsets — at any point in life (if we’re open to it). The great news is that our brain is plastic (neuroplasticity), it is able to undergo reorganisation and development.


"What does have yoga have to do with mindset?"

As I look deeper into the research of mindset, I discovered a few intersections between growth mindset and a mindful yoga practice. Both encourages us to approach life and practice with openness and receptivity, curiosity, presence, reflection/open to feedback or support, open to challenge or tapas (fire/discipline).


During pregnancy and various points in my parenting journey I had to challenge my own way of thinking and have become more open to discovering who I am as a mother and a woman.  I knew if I didn’t take the chance to reflect and embrace new ways, I might play out patterns that might hinder that sense of connection, understanding and acceptance that my daughter is needing more than ever as young child and now a teen. It takes a lot of inner questioning, navigating discomfort, and a resolve to explore something new. But the good news is that there in moments in life (ie adolescence, pregnancy, post-natal, menopause) where our minds are prepared for impending changes.


Now you could be reading this, thinking that you have enough challenges before you. How then do you navigate all of it?


“We are better together”.

Having a growth mindset seems individualistic, but I feel that it can be approached from a collaborative and community perspective. I genuinely believe that “we’re better together.” Seek support and feedback from people you trust – your manager, a mentor, partner, friend, therapist, and in our yoga practice, find a teacher you connect with. Apart from the knowledge they share about yoga, does this person show unconditional positive regard? Do they create a space for self-enquiry and agency? Perhaps seek out a mentor, someone you not only admire for the work they do but how they live their lives. Do your values align? Since life isn’t perfect, and embracing failure is part of a growth mindset, it’s safe to hypothesis that cultivating self-compassion is essential when navigating challenges and interacting with our inner critic.

  

“I will never change”.

Fixed mindset is the opposite of a growth mindset. It is a belief that our intelligence, abilities, and other qualities are innate and unchangeable. Perhaps you’re reading this and at some point, in your yoga practice (or life), you’ve thought that you’re not “good at yoga” maybe because of the perception that yoga’s only for those people who are flexible, or that the “goal” of the practice is to be flexible, strong or stress free.  Having taught for over a decade, I’ve have witnessed many who have experienced changes in their practice and in the way they approach it. They commit to a regular practice that looks and feels different depending on the season of life and how they’re feeling when they show up. Some days they practice dynamically, other times they take a different softer approach. Their dedication to showing up has become a steady source of learning, and connection to inner and outer strength and openness. Through practice they’re able to feel and witness a shift and change, whether it’s physical, mental, emotional or spiritual.


So how does one cultivate a growth mindset?


  • Notice your fixed mindset traps. ie “I’m never going to change” dialogue. Awareness of your internal dialogue can be helpful while practicing self-compassion. There is so much research around the power of self-compassion and how it can allow us to be kinder to ourselves while being open and receptive .

  • Get curious, embrace challenges and discomfort. In your yoga practice, you can start to explore your edge. Just like in goldilocks and three bears -not so hot, not too cold porridge. Find your middle ground. Curiosity is the antidote to self-judgement. Shift from “I am..” to “I am noticing.. “. Sthira is the Sanskrit word for steadiness or effort while Sukha refers to ease, or the ability to remain comfortable in a position. Explore the dance between Sthira and Sukha in your yoga practice and life.

  • Instead of getting fixated on outcomes alone, acknowledge your effort (Sthira), progress, and learnings. Try to recall a moment in your life where you were aiming for something. Remember the effort you placed on your specific intention, and how you may have changed your approach and strategies along the way. Valuable things take time to change and grow. The path isn’t linear. Give the effort and learnings you gain the value it deserves.

  • A growth mindset is not the same as toxic positivity. In fact, it’s about getting real, acknowledging where you’re at, and making friends with failure or setbacks. We know that avoidance of pain can lead to more pain. If we are in pain on a physical level (ie injury), and we don’t attend to it, maybe we stop moving completely and not seek help, it will simply get worse. Avoiding failure or our perception of failure can lead us to not try at all. We become stuck and feel a sense of unease in life.

  • Take small, and intentional, steps. Seek support – find a mentor, coach, or surround yourself nourishing people who can listen and help you along the way. They say we are sum of the company we keep. Choose wisely and perhaps you can also seek constructive feedback from the people you trust. The psychologist and author Adam Grant has a great blog on feedback.  

  •  Learn to rest and embrace stillness. In this hyper connected world, we need rest the most. In order to reflect and make wise choices, we need to feel grounded, connected and safe in the moment. Find time to reset and nourish yourself. More on yoga and rest in this link.

  • Connect to fun. When my daughter is about to do something, such dancing, playing football/soccer, drawing or going out with her friends, I always remind her to have fun, because true fun involves playfulness, connection and flow. We cannot be in a fixed mindset when fun is involved. Reflect on what true fun is for you. I love Catherine Price’s work on fun.  I'm also learning how to have more true fun in life.


What I love about the theory of growth mindset is that it reminds us that change is possible if we are willing to do the work.

 

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