At the start of each new year, many of us dust off our good intentions – resolutions to eat better, exercise more, or let go of long time bad habits. Unfortunately, these old habits are strong. We’ve all got unconscious habit patterns that guide our actions rather than our conscious intention. This is nothing new. Thousands of years ago Patajali described unconscious habit patterns of the mind in the Yoga Sutras.
Patajali identified the subtle impressions of our past actions, or unconscious thought patterns, as samskara. The word samskara translates from Sanskrit sam means joined together and kara means action or cause. One way to understand samskara is as neural pathways that form deep connections in our brains through repetition. The concept that “neurons that fire together wire together” reflects this idea.
Some habitual thinking is useful. Often when the thought pattern is first employed, the purpose is to reduce effort or suffering. The problem comes when these habitual thought patterns unconsciously drive our actions and reactions or create negative consequences. Yoga practices, especially meditation, provide a way to bring awareness to unconscious habits. With increased awareness, we can consciously choose our actions or create new, more functional pathways.
The Yoga Sutras explain that yoga is the mastery of the subtle patterns of the mind. When those patterns are recognized and broken, the true self is realized. Mediation practices are tools to focus attention and create space to observe one’s thoughts.
Start by taking a few minutes, intentionally reducing the distractions around you, and find a place to sit still. One trick to reduce the distraction of watching the clock is to set a timer for the number of minutes you intend to meditate.
Find a position where your body feels supported and comfortable, preferably some place where you can stay awake. Close your eyes or gaze softly at a single object to reduce visual distractions. As you settle in, bring your attention to the present moment – maybe notice your breathing or feel your body. If – or when – your mind fills with thoughts, just notice that you mind has wandered and gently redirect your attention to your breath or body in the present moment. Don’t be too hard on yourself. This is a practice, taking time to retrain your brain to be present. The tricky part, for most of us, is not to be attached to the idea of successfully meditating. Just give it a try!
Join me for a special practice at Dragonfly 360 on Friday, January 12 at 11:30am to explore your habits of movement, breath, and thinking.
Jati Desa Kala Vyavahitanam Apy Anantaryam Smrti Samskarayor Ekarupatvat