How Do I Break A Repeating Pattern of Behavior? The Healing Power of Yoga

Mark Whitwell
5 min readNov 4, 2020


Heart of Yoga | Mark Whitwell

Mark Whitwell | Heart of Yoga | Bali
The heart of yoga in Bali — Mark Whitwell

Despite their best intentions, family and society imprint us with an automatic array of mental, emotional, sexual, and physical habits. And in turn, no matter how good our own intentions, we are duplicating the patterns of our parents and society. The broader social patterns we are critically aware of are within us. We are brave enough to acknowledge that without conscious consent, we were trained to duplicate culture.

In Yoga, patterning can be described as saṃskāra, defined by my teacher T.K.V. Desikachar as “habitual movement of the mind; habit, conditioning.” These habits, he writes, “cover the mind with avidya [‘incorrect comprehension’], as if obscuring the clarity of consciousness with a filmy layer. … The goal of Yoga is to reduce the film of avidya in order to act correctly.”

Where to Turn?

When we notice patterns in our life repeating and when we feel restricted or frustrated where can we turn? We look to our luminaries, those who throw fresh light on a situation. When we find a consciousness who has made a little bit of space for itself, who has departed from the story that was written for it and lived to tell the tale — such as Audre Lorde, James Baldwin, Wangaari Maathai, Henry David Thoreau, Simone de Beauvoir, William Blake, Ram Das, Paulo Friere, Arundhati Roy, Bob Marley — there is an utter sense of thrill and possibility. These are sacred texts! They offer room and permission to expand ourselves beyond the patterns we were groomed to duplicate.

Or it may be a beloved relative, teacher, friend, or coach. My teacher would say to me,

“You are a completely unique person Mark, and so is everyone else. But the culture has convinced us that we need to conform to some ideal mold. In truth, you are here to enjoy your life.”

We are drawn to this sense of possibility because our bodies love freedom so much. They are exuberant, natural, joyful, expansive pieces of nature, like outrageous toucans. They don’t like being forced into premade patterns — the good girl, the diligent worker, the dominant male, the total mess. When we are emboldened by those who have gone before to break these habits, the energy of life flows more freely in us. It feels good. Following in their footsteps, we start to shed some of the restrictive patterning of the past. We look to live in a different way.

And yet, it can also be disturbing and painful to see how engrained and how negative some patterning is. We may start to see how our embodiment of these patterns is hurting ourselves and others, and we grieve it.

So we are blessed by the flashes of inspiration that allow us to step outside of these constricting circuits; we are empowered by our understanding of their origins and the way they express themselves; we have the hopefulness to form sincere intentions of behaving differently; and yet, the patterns continue to play out.

Is Awareness of Patterns Enough?

Over time we discover that awareness alone does not give us the freedom we hope for. It can be exhilarating to notice our patterning after years of it being hidden in unconscious cycles. And coping with patterns by increasing self-control leaves us tight, numb, and un-spontaneous.

Rather than only increasing awareness, we need to practice an alternative, positive way of being and doing in the world. This is where Yoga comes in.

Through our Yoga, we re-connect with our body and breath as a living organism. We practice experiencing intimacy with life as it actually is, reality as it actually is, prior to ideas about it, and release the struggle with our patterns, for the patterning to struggle is perhaps the strongest of all.

How Does Yoga Actually Work?

Mark Whitwell | Yoga Guru

The practices of asana, pranayama, and relationship, if done accurately, allow us to gracefully and naturally participate in the native intelligence of our whole body. We develop an intuition of our natural state and come back into communication with the whole body, that which is larger than and prior to our social conditioning. We do not become an un-patterned person; we just notice that there is a feeling body there, underneath and start to enjoy living as that organic piece of nature. Our attention shifts from being fixated on our patterning to enjoying and embracing our Life. This is the positive direction we can move in.

But, you might ask, isn’t it just more patterning on the system to practice Yoga every day? It’s true, Yoga practice replaces negative patterns with positive patterns. And positive patterns are an imposition on the natural life. Eventually we put down the tools. Yoga is the stick that stokes the fire and then gets thrown on the fire.

And I don’t mean just any Yoga, nor do I mean ‘my’ Yoga — as if I were another spiritual salesman selling Mark Whitwell TM Yoga out of Los Angeles.

I mean the specific technology that Tirumalai Krishnamacharya (1888–1989) brought forth from the wisdom traditions of humanity that flourished during the Tantric period between the 5th and 14th centuries in India and Tibet.

The Pleasure of the Breath

The flow of breath and feeling through the whole body may be one of releasing patterns, but this is a side effect of the primary process of increasing our pleasure in life. In our natural state, humans have these upright soft bodies with the ability to feel deeply, especially through the frontal line. We have a very evolved nervous system and spine that culminates in a massive brain core. It is capable of many delicious functions, including self-expression, art, music, logic, feeling, Sex, and creative pleasures of all kinds. With our soft bodies and huge brain cores we can feel and enjoy our reality. We empower each other. The whole body is a feeling mechanism built entirely for relationship.

We feel the pleasure of being alive, of moving and breathing in beautiful rhythmic cycles with the breath. Like a river, our body wants to flow. Patterns dam it up, diverting its living waters into society’s irrigation projects. The land downstream starts to dry up. The villagers are angry. The fish cannot migrate. Our Yoga is our intimate embrace of life. Life unpatterns the body, breaking down the dams and allowing the body’s feeling intelligence to flow unimpeded. The ecosystem is restored.

For a summary of the principles of Yoga that Krishnamacharya and Desikachar taught visit and go to the resources tab.

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Mark Whitwell

Mark Whitwell has worked as a Yoga teacher around the world for the last 45 years and is the author of 4 books on Yoga. He lives in Fiji with his wife Rosalind.