‘Yoga is the process of replacing old patterns with new more appropriate patterns’
‘And then it dawned on me that I didn’t have to put up with this shit anymore’
Penel McNally (one of our regulars at Live and Breathe Yoga)
I heard these two quotes this last week and they got me thinking about samskaras. Samskara is the Sanskrit term for the accumulated stock of old habitual patterns we each have. We have both positive and negative samskaras within us.
As a result of our experience in life (both current and past), seeds are planted in the field of our awareness, or beliefs about the world we live in are born. Like normal seeds, if these seeds are given a fertile ground they flourish. The field of our consciousness (I prefer the word awareness but I’m not quite sure they are one and the same thing – let’s leave that discussion to another day) becomes fertile for negative samskaras to grow, when obstacles are present and strong. These obstacles are the ego (or feeling separate to everything else), aversion to pain, attachment to pleasure, ignorance to what really is and the fear of death. The negative samskaras bed down deep roots within our psyche and eventually bear fruit. The fruit is the fruit of suffering.
Ok so to give you an example of how I see this in my life….
I was in a car accident many years ago and as a result of that experience I often find myself preparing for disasters and accidents that I think are about to happen (on a daily basis). I don’t want to die (like I almost did), I don’t want to be in pain again (like I was), and I believe the world is one big accident waiting to happen (ignorance to what really is). For me, these obstacles rate pretty high on the obstacle-ometer. (that’s a new word I just made up).
So the samskara has bedded down quite deep for me and as a result I am suffering on a daily basis worrying, working out escape routes, predicting the worse case scenario and then ways to deal with them in my head wherever I go. I know, INSANE!
The practice of yoga allows us to see these samskaras clearly as if a veil is lifted. During our practice, we seek out and dig up these seeds and see them for what they really are. It’s a purification process of our thoughts (not a detoxing of the body kind of purification, although that can happen too but it’s not the main focus).
We purify all the limiting beliefs, the stories we repeatedly tell ourselves and eventually, after years of work, we see that deep down we are OK just the way we are, and most of what we have invested in as our beliefs are simply untrue.
In the ashtanga yoga practice, we use demanding physical postures in a set sequence combined with specific breathing technique to create heat in the body which is perfect for the purification process to happen. It’s not an external heat, as like any work with ourselves, it must come from within – we must do the work ourselves within ourselves. Tapas means heat or discipline and through discipline of showing up to our mat and facing our samskaras head on we start to wake up, see things for what they really are and then let go of anything that doesn’t serve us. We start to notice habits that arise on our yoga mat as we practice as a reflection of what habits arise off the yoga mat. With the tapas of a dedicated practice we cook those seeds so well that they can no longer bear the fruit of suffering. Like Penel said we don’t have to put up with that shit anymore. We then need to replace these negative habits with new positive more appropriate ones. My yoga practice has shown me that in time the once seemingly impossible physical postures are now quite do-able and fun.
I broke both my arms in that car accident and was put back together with pins, plates and screws so I would never have thought I would one day be able to do all the fun stuff I can do now. Through a slow and steady, gentle approach, my yoga practice has changed my beliefs and I’ve witnessed first hand how the body heals itself. And now I believe anything is possible.
We plant new seeds for positive samaskaras to grow and flourish and to do this we apply two main fertilisers : Maitri (friendliness) and Karuna (compassion). By treating ourselves first with the utmost of respect, using friendliness and compassion a real shift can happen as we start to let go of the negative habits that have caused us so much distress. We start to make better choices and create a new story about ourselves. This, then trickles out and we are become more friendly and compassionate in our relationships with others, the planet and all the beings that share it with us.
I came up with this mantra for myself and have shared it at the studio:
It really is that simple. Not easy but simple. What habits are you not going to put up with anymore? How are you applying friendliness and compassion to write a new storyline for your life? What are you going to let go of?
See you on the mat soon…