Saturday, February 7, 2009

Samskara – Habits, Patterns, Changes

Everyone knows we have good habits, not-so-good habits and habits that are unhealthy or destructive. These habits can be mental, physical or emotional. They form patterns that run our lives. Many of these patterns are unconscious. They are very comfortable and easy. In yoga the Sanskrit word for the root of these habits is “samskara”. The word sounds like “some scars” and means complete action or cause. Samskaras are impressions or grooves created by thoughts, actions and emotions.

These grooves or neural pathways become our familiar and reactive way of viewing the world and living our lives. They are our personal history. These patterns tend to self-perpetuate. Every time we react the same way to an outside stimulus we deepen the groove. Some samskaras we want to strengthen. If we see someone in need and we typically reach out to help that person, we want to cultivate that samskara. But if we get angry and stressed when caught in traffic or running late for an appointment, we want to change that habit.

Samskaras are powerful and changing them requires a strong intention. But that intention sets things in motion. The universe will respond to that intention in many forms. We can get help from other people. We may get a strong enough “wake-up call” to go beyond our comfort level and do the work needed to make the change.

We have to become aware of our samskara in order to change it. Awareness often takes slowing down so we can lengthen the pause between our impulse and our action. We need quiet time to reflect. We need to remember that there are choices. When we rush through life too fast it becomes a blur without details. We lose our sensitivity.

Yoga is a great practice to change our negative samskaras and to deepen our positive samskaras. The practice of yoga involves changing and finding new grooves with our movements, our thoughts and emotions. We practice full breathing and quieting the mind. Yoga reminds us that we are innately good, that we are connected to a bigger energy, that we are loved and supported.

Transforming our patterns is a long-term process. Part of our success in creating new habits is enjoying the process and not beating ourselves up when we recognize that we are repeating a negative habit. The process is like a spiral. We will return to the old samskaras and it may seem the same, but there has been progress. We really are in a new place. Slowly, with time and patience, we can replace our old negative samskaras with new positive samskaras.

Everyone breathes and stands. Our habitual ways of breathing and standing are not necessarily good habits. We tend to breath with shallow breaths stuck in our chest. We tend to stand with a spine that has either lost its natural curves or has too much curve. By practicing yoga with awareness of proper alignment we can change our habits of breathing and standing. Yoga unites the breath with movement. When we breathe fully and use the breath to initiate movement we open pathways that have been blocked or are underused.

Mountain pose (Tadasana) is a pose we do everyday without thinking about it. It is our foundation. Our alignment in Tadasana transfers to our habits of sitting and moving in general. We can use the principles of Tadasana in our daily lives: create a foundation, remember our core, set our alignment and expand outward with grace and wisdom.

Practicing Tadasana mindfully by standing with the natural curves in your spine, opening your chest, integrating your shoulders on your back and engaging your belly can create a powerful samaskara in your life. The body and mind are connected so a strong spine with open shoulders helps you see more possibilities and have the courage to act on them.

When you have the proper alignment your body will feel light and open. When you begin to notice your habits of standing, you can start replacing poor habits with good habits. When the grooves of your positive samskara deepen. your life flows with more ease and grace. It pulses with the rhythm of the universe. Imbalance is replaced with harmony. You feel the sweetness of your own divine nature.

1 comment:

  1. Great post. IMHO yoga's ALL about samskara, though most people don't even see this. You describe this situation so well, such eloquence :-D