I missed the opportunity to write about inhibition before the holidays when I could use the obvious example of keeping one’s hands tightly pinned at one’s side when the plate of cookies and chocolate went around the table. Even so, inhibition is also a good topic for the New Year. I have already had several discussions with students about how inhibition plays a big part of their thinking as they “refresh” their goals and make resolutions.

Resolving to be better at something, or to change in some way, comes down to changing a habit of thinking and doing. Most often that all boils down to inhibition, which means not doing one’s familiar pattern. This applies to physical activities like reaching for the cookie jar, and it also applies to thought processes like “This isn’t going to happen” or “I’ll never get it together to do such and such.” Thought and movement patterns go hand in hand. Basically one has to stop the habitual reaction, no matter how strong the impulse, to do whatever it is that one wants to change.

One student is already busily working on his whole body balance by preventing his foot from slapping the floor so his shoe doesn’t wear out on that side. The pattern he wants to change seems to stem from an injury he had many years ago. Over time, his compensations have accumulated into passivity in the leg and foot when his foot meets the floor each time he takes a step. His recent attention and resolve have already paid off in terms of better stability and balance. He is inhibiting the urge to release and go almost limp with his foot. Instead, he is energetically staying with the leg and foot, allowing him to give his leg a conscious direction each time he steps. He has recently been able to walk a mile while paying attention to what he is doing and holding a conversation at the same time. That is progress!

Another student is contemplating how to approach a habit of interrupting people and talking too much when she is anxious. We discussed what to notice with her breath as she prepares to jump in to the conversation. We discovered that she might be stopping her air flow and holding her breath as she prepares to talk. Consciously focusing on the physical act of continuing to breathe, instead of getting drawn in to responding verbally, will help her consciously control her anxious feelings. This might also lead her to participate differently in the conversation by being able to listen more fully and respond at the end of someone else’s thought. In any case, she now has a tool to help her inhibit the urge to insert herself when she feels uncomfortable.

A third student has decided it is time to be more present in her communications, so she must stop shrinking back and trying to disappear. This shrinkage physically manifests for her in the form of pulling her chin back in a retreating fashion, thereby cutting off her neck and throat from the rest of her body. This also restricts her breathing. She agrees that she needs to inhibit the urge to shrink away from situations, to stay with whatever is going on both physically and emotionally and see what happens. Continuing to breathe is important here too. She will notice that the urge to pull back probably coincides with a change in the breathing. With this awareness, she can make a conscious choice as to how to proceed.

In all of these cases it will take attention and inhibition to change the habit. It will take conscious thought to catch the familiar response before it happens and not to fall back into the familiar reaction, or to recognize when one has already started that reaction and then make the decision to change course in the middle of the situation.

As you change patterns and enter new unfamiliar territory you will have different sensations that lead to new understandings. Take the time to respond in new ways to familiar stimuli. Allow yourself to pause and inhibit your old patterns of response and behavior.

When I talk with people about stopping a habit, they often get very concerned about what they are “going to do” instead of their normal response. They often feel they have to actively “do” something else. Often the appropriate thing to “do “ is to wait a moment and “not do” anything and see what happens! See what possibilities open up with the new choices.

When we don’t react in our habitual way, the mind and body are allowed to register what is really happening. Then we often find that choices are available that have never before occurred to us.

The bottom line is that to enact changes, something has to be different. In order for something to be different, one has to inhibit one’s response somewhere along the line. One can then have a different experience. Once you identify what needs to change:

· Start paying attention to the moments before you have the response you want to change.

· Direct yourself to stay with your breath and inhibit your normal response.

· See what happens and what options are available to you.

· Choose an appropriate response.

Once you start to play with inhibition, you will become fascinated by how many choices are available to you.

Let me know what happens!

Happy New Year!