(originally written for Zuna Yoga)
The Samskaras in Yoga
The relationship between the mind, energy, and actions has always been an area of particular interest for me, and to learn about it in the context of samskaras in yoga has proven a fascinating way to relate them to one another. As it is often difficult to pinpoint exactly how or why the practice of yoga is beneficial to us – ask any new yogi, it sometimes takes a while to figure out just why it makes us feel so good (and it’s different for everyone!) – the description of samskaras and our neurological tendencies in T.K.V. Desikachar’s ‘The Heart of Yoga’, succeeded in explaining a sensation which for so long I had failed to correctly define.
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 behaviours travel. It’s similar in concept to the neuroscientific model of how our thoughts and behaviours, 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.”
But how do Samskaras work?
We must first practice awareness and understanding of self. By understanding our individual habitual expenditure of energy, recognising our tendencies and bringing awareness to those behaviours that are undesired or against our greatest good, we can slowly and gradually learn to redirect our prana, our life force, to where it needs to go. This process is a lot easier said than done, however, and awareness is the first step towards achieving this balance.
Purusha and Energy Flow
Encouraging new behavioural 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 our practice of yoga that we cultivate and maintain the mental ability and clarity with which to do this.
Yoga and meditation aid with the reconditioning of the mind to continually and repeatedly redirect itself away from harmful patterns to which it has become accustomed. Yoga helps encourage the positive flow of energy away from any limiting or restrictive tendencies. This is why we find our practice to be so effective in dealing with mental or emotional struggles. It literally helps us create the space necessary to form pathways out of these negative cycles.
Our beliefs and lifestyles, even when we engage in them unconsciously—especially when we engage in them unconsciously!—can result in imbalances and undesired manifestations of our energy. We must remain attentive and aware as we determine which route we take. The goal is to consciously redirect our prana towards positive and fulfilling actions until it becomes habitual.
“Where the mind goes, energy follows”, and so when this is done continually and repetitively and with conviction, we call it a samskara. And that is when we avoid further suffering.