Samskaras: Time for a Shake Up?
As the school summer holidays are now upon us and I can kiss goodbye to any routine I might profess to have, I thought this might be the perfect opportunity to look at samskaras.
As a creature of habit, I love a routine and the knowledge of what I’ll be doing and when. I’m also fully aware that it is occasionally good to shake things up a bit.
Samskaras are the behaviour patterns that put us on autopilot in life. Named from the Sanskrit words sam (“complete” or “connected”) and kara (“action” or “cause”), they can be habits of mind or of body. We can create samskaras in our daily thought patterns, our habitual behaviour and even in our yoga practice.
Taken together, they make up our conditioning. Repeating actions strengthens the neural pathways that unconsciously affect our reactions, thus creating a well-trodden path that is difficult to veer away from and serves to reinforce our samskaras further.
Samskaras can be positive: such as practising loving kindness and gratititude, heading to the yoga mat every day or perhaps eating a healthy breakfast .
But they can also be negative: the internal critic that continually undermines any of our achievements, always counterproductively overstretching in a forward bend or having a glass of wine out of habit every evening (or is that just me?)!
So while I feel ambivalence towards the holidays on the one hand for the disruption caused to my routine, on the other they are welcomed, as an enforced shake up of my routine(s) and habits means they are put under the spotlight.
Come September, I hope I will be in a better position to choose which habits and routines serve me well and discard those that don’t.
But changing samskaras does not happen by accident, nor will it happen overnight.
There is is tool in yoga philosophy that can help us to face our samskaras. Commit to change, by setting an intention (sankalpa). When you recognise a pattern or habit that isn’t serving you, you can create an intention – or sankalpa – to create a new one.
But is having an intention enough?
Clearly you need more than will, or intent, to change. Rewiring your system takes dedication, determination and compassion, but you can do it.
Here’s a few suggestions:
- Recognise your intention to change and set your sankalpa.
- Practise observance daily, either through meditation, through observing your practice or simply living mindfully.
- Slow down. Because samskaras are instinctual, we often find ourselves in them before we realise it. If we slow down we become able to respond clearly rather than react impulsively.
As always, it’s easier said than done. But once you understand you can break the patterns that are not beneficial to you, you can create new ones that lead to a healthier way of living. Whether you require those to be emotional or physical or in your yoga practice is up to you.
Exploring samskaras can be interesting and therapeutic – and ultimately empowering.
Do you have any samskaras you need to address? Perhaps this summer is a good time to do so – I know it will be for me!