Shifting Samskaras – The Impact of Yoga on the Mind
How often do you sit with your mind and just watch it, notice it?
How well do you know your own tendencies, patterns, and habitual ways of thinking or acting?
Thousands of years ago when Yoga was first conceived and practiced the ancients realized that an intimate relationship with our mind held the key to health and happiness.
Back then people led extremely active lives. There were no modern conveniences like cars, electrical appliances or computers. The routine of daily life was demanding and provided more than enough physical challenges for a person. Yet here Yoga originated – for the purpose of removing suffering…
What is the mind?
The mind is the mechanism through which we perceive the world. We are usually unaware aware that this process is even taking place. From perceptions arise thoughts and then judgements and emotions follow.
The result of this is that we can begin to form attitudes and behaviours or repeated patterns with how we think, act, feel. These patterns can begin to reinforce a belief or a way of doing something that can be hard to shift.
In basic terms, we may start to have a single view, opinion or behaviour that we stick to even when other ideas or options might be of more value for us.
Yoga philosophy refers to these habitual patterns or thoughts as samskaras – they are often not easy to see in ourselves. Some are positive and serve us well – for example, a compassionate nature but others we may benefit from letting go of – such as an overly critical mind. The good news is that with practice the negative ones can be changed!
Yoga can teach us to be with our mind.
During asana practice our focus moves to our body and how if feels. The movement can start to release physical resistance that may be causing us discomfort. As we begin to release this resistance our mind begins to naturally move a little deeper inward.
Something special occurs when our body is moved in a conscious way – it becomes a form of meditation. If we can connect to breath then that meditation starts to deepen. As with any form of meditative practice the magic occurs in the connection with a focus – whether body or breath or both!
Through focusing on one thing other thoughts start to fall away.
The beauty of yoga is that just by doing the practice we can achieve this shift. Our mind naturally seems to follow the practice once we are engaged in it. What a great tool to move us away from thoughts we need some space from!
This is samyoga (connection).
Yoga is valuable in helping direct our mind.
When we start this inner observation, we may begin to uncover new things – form a deeper awareness of our self or a situation.
If we can observe with openness we may take on a new, valuable perspective!
Moving forward we start to build new samskaras and leave behind the ones not serving us. We put effort into what feels positive and good. (Modern science might link this to creating new ‘neural pathways’).
This shift can bring profound inner change.
Yoga offers us the gift of space.
Space comes as a result of resting between postures or at the end of the practice, allowing body and breath to just ‘be’. A satisfying settling of mind can occur when we let go of all that we have done previously in the practice. It is as though we have found a new space for our self.
Insignificant thoughts can start to fall away and a more authentic self emerge – a connection with our deepest truth.
Yoga can connect us with our heart.
This is the true gift that yoga can uncover for us – a link with what lies deeper and is often neglected – our heart (or inner light)! It is believed connection with this inner light (jyoti) can lead to freedom and serenity (visoka).
Interestingly the yogis believed the mind lived in the heart. This would indicate that when we feel peaceful or at ease in our minds the heart feels open and calm too.
Yoga practice can teach us about our thoughts, give us space to see ourselves, offer our body the chance to relax, recalibrate and let go of stress. It is a tool we can use to bring our self back to balance.
But of course there is so much more…
The mind can be our best friend or our greatest enemy.
We live in a time where mental health is challenging for many people. We often exist in a state of viyoga (not yoga).
Many of us have become hardwired to keep going. Our biology has something to do with this. As ancient man our ‘fight or flight’ mechanism (sympathetic nervous system) served a great function when we had to run from the approaching sabre tooth tiger.
We don’t have a tiger chasing us anymore but there are many other challenges we face that start our adrenaline flowing and activate the sympathetic nervous system. If we continually push ourselves this switch stays on at a consistently low level.
This is where mental health issues can begin their slow burn.
Yoga can be a circuit breaker for the busy-ness of our life.
When the body begins to relax and release stress the parasympathetic system activates. Our energetic body starts to be restored. Our whole system benefits from this equilibrium.
Modern science has acknowledged the wisdom of the ancient philosophers and the role of mind in personal change. Through knowing our mind we start to empower ourselves to our full potential.
So just as we feed our bodies we also need to feed our mind with what is good for it.
And the practice of Yoga can be a wonderful place to start.