By Jenny Ní Ruiséil, 200 hour Bali yoga teacher training graduate
The relationship between our mind, our energy and our actions has always been an area of particular interest to me. It wasn’t until I read about the samskaras in T.K.V. Desikachar’s The Heart of Yoga during my yoga teacher training that I found the explanation for something that for so long I’d failed to fully understand.
What Are Samskaras?
The Sanskrit term refers to the conditioning of the mind to act or direct itself in a certain way on a regular basis. It also refers to those paths or patterns along which these thoughts or behaviors travel. It’s similar in concept to the neuroscientific understanding model of how our thoughts and behaviors, whether positive or negative, become more deeply engrained in neural pathways in our brain with each repetition. The meaning of samskara is reflected in the very word itself, with “sam” meaning “well thought out” or “to accomplish” while “kara” means “the action undertaken.”
We must first practice awareness and understanding of self before we can change self. By understanding our individual habitual expenditure of energy, recognizing our tendencies and bringing awareness to behaviors that are not desired or that go against our greatest good, we can slowly and gradually learn to redirect our prana, or our life force, where it needs to go. This process is a lot easier said than done. Awareness is the first step toward achieving this balance.
Encouraging new behavioral patterns and discarding old ones enlists the use of purusha, the all-seeing force of energy within us; a higher consciousness which witnesses our actions from a distance and observes possibilities and potential directions without engaging. Purusha’s powers of observation are best when the mind is clear, and as such it’s vital that we obtain clarity before attempting to redirect or encourage samskaras along an alternate route.
It’s through yoga that we cultivate the mental ability to become aware of and change our samskaras. Yoga and meditation aid with the reconditioning of the mind to repeatedly redirect itself away from the harmful patterns to which it’s accustomed. Yoga also helps encourage the positive flow of energy away from limiting or restrictive tendencies. This is why we find our practice of yoga to be so effective in dealing with mental or emotional struggles. Yoga literally helps create the space necessary to form pathways out of negative cycles.
We must remain attentive and aware as we determine which route we take. Where the mind goes, energy follows. The goal is to consciously redirect our prana towards positive and fulfilling actions until they become habitual. When this is done continually and with conviction, we call it a samskara.