I've recently taken up a new physical practice -- Bikram Yoga. I'm loving it -- the heat, the focus it takes to stay in the postures while honoring my body's limits, and the flow state I acquire and that stays with me afterwards. The heat is intense, and staying present becomes a practice in itself.

As a beginner it's easy to feel inadequate, and I appreciate the dedicated instructors who help us execute the postures, each transforming the room with their ki.

At a recent practice, our instructor, Mike, prefaced the usual closing -- Namaste -- with a familiar poem. I have written about the poem before. It's a favorite of mine, and of many, because of the truth it tells about the difficulty of changing habits, whether on the mat or on the street.

by Portia Nelson

I walk down the street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I fall in.
I am lost . . . I am helpless.
It isn't my fault.
It takes forever to find a way out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I pretend I don't see it.
I fall in again.
I can't believe I am in this same place.
But, it isn't my fault.
It still takes a long time to get out.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I see it is there.
I still fall in . . . it's a habit . . . but,
my eyes are open,
I know where I am.
It is my fault.
I get out immediately.

I walk down the same street.
There is a deep hole in the sidewalk.
I walk around it.

I walk down another street.

One Breath at a Time
Mike finished reading the poem and said, "This is how you change habits--one breath at a time." He meant that in yoga you sometimes feel you'll never be able to do a certain posture. It's too hard. It hurts. Or, your body just doesn't work that way.

But you don't have to do the whole posture now. You can do a part of the posture.

Can you breathe? Then do that.

Can you lift your knee to your thigh? Then do that.

Next time, maybe you'll be able to take the next step, and the next. For now, do what you can.

Changing Habits
It's the same in life. For example, the holidays have streets with holes. Even in the most functional families, the special pressures of holiday gatherings can cause us to revert to habits that no longer serve us.

Changing family dynamics is like the difficult yoga posture. It seems impossible at first, and we don't know how to get there with this body.

In a similar way, the relationship change you wish for may seem impossible. You can't get there with these habits. When you're changing habits, start by focusing on what you can do, not on what you can't.

You don't have to change everything, just one thing. What can you do?
• Can you breathe?
• Can you center yourself?
• Can you choose a respectful stance?

Then do that.

This holiday season, walk down another street.

You'll find that when you change, everything changes. Breathing deeply and centering yourself before you speak will alter what you say and how you say it. Choosing a respectful stance will center you and the people around you.

Give the gift of centered presence -- this season and every season.

Wishing you joy, love, and light at this most wonderful time of year.

Merry Christmas!

Author's Bio: 

Judy Ringer is the author of Unlikely Teachers: Finding the Hidden Gifts in Daily Conflict. She provides conflict and communication training throughout North America with unique workshops based on mind/body principles from the martial art aikido, in which she holds a second degree black belt. Employing best practice communication models, Judy brings to life key concepts such as self-management under pressure and appreciation of other viewpoints. Her programs are interactive, experiential and energetic.

She has written articles on the relevance and application of the aikido metaphor for Aikido Today Magazine and The Systems Thinker and is the author of the award-winning e-newsletter, Ki Moments.