What are Samskaras?
The other day, one of my students had a revelation, and said to me, “I never realized you could practice and choose how to think!” She had experienced, to me, something that is one of the more fascinating aspects of yoga philosophy. Samkaras or sanskaras are mental impressions, recollections, or psychological imprints that affect how we feel and how we behave. The Sanskrit word is often translated as “formation”.
Samskaras are formed and reinforced through repetition. There is neuro-scientific evidence proving that the more you complain, for example, the more likely you are to complain. The samskara, like a groove created by a wagon wheel on a dirt road, is made deeper by repeated attention. Samskaras can be both negative and positive. Where the attention goes, energy flows there.
These impressions are often thought of as seeds planted in our subconscious minds, waiting until we need them to grow into our conscious thoughts and behaviors.
Can you Change a Samskara?
The most exciting and empowering thing is that the mental and physical patterns created by our conditioning, our thoughts and our repetitive behaviors, can be changed if desired! I see yoga as a powerful way to become aware of impressions that are no longer helpful, and to create ones that are consciously chosen with intention, and that better serve our lives.
Through repeating an intention at the beginning of practice or during meditation, we start to imprint them. Yoga is powerful in allowing us to slow down. That can affect our ability to change an undesired pattern. Slowing down lengthens the distance between the impulse and the action we decide to take. Again, repetition always reinforces patterns. So…… what if we could choose an alternative, healthier response and then choose to repeat THAT? Our choice, and our willingness to practice choosing, is our freedom. Read about how to use the Bhagavad Gita to improve your mental health.
Becoming Free of Harmful Patterns Through the Practice of Yoga
I think that’s what the yoga practice really teaches us- to calm the mind and slow down enough to choose how we want to think. Then we are no longer on auto-pilot. We are consciously choosing. We are mindful. Over time we become more free from the harmful pattern. If we choose, we can replace it with something more helpful.
What is a powerful intention you would like to use this week in yoga to create a new Samskara? What impressions and intentions are you choosing to repeat and plant in your conscious and subconscious mind?
What repeated behaviors will serve you best? Where are you choosing to direct your energy? The knowledge of Samskara is a powerful yogic tool!
“Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and freedom.” ~ Viktor Frankl