How yoga supports rewiring the thought patterns that are keeping you from feeling peace of mind.
True and lasting freedom comes from changing patterns, otherwise we are caught in the endless spiral of beliefs that block us from knowing who we are. If we want to change patterns (thoughts, reactions, beliefs), we must do the work of acknowledging, identifying, and then planting new seeds
The belief “I’m not good enough” is planted deeply within all of us. Its twin is “I am unloveable.” Together they drive our behaviors until we do the work to release them. At times, these beliefs are gaping wounds that drip over all aspects of our lives. Other times these wounds are held together by tenuous stitches. Paraphrasing Rumi, “these wounds are where the light shines through.” This is because they offer the chance for salvation if we are willing to do the healing work.
In yoga, we call a wound a samskara (sum-scar-ah), a pattern in the mind installed by an experience. Any experience can create a samskara. We suffer from the painful ones. When patterns are repeated frequently, the samskara become deep, so deep that it forms our unconscious reactions. A profound experience may be enough to create a deep and everlasting samskara driving all our behaviors and interactions. The first samskara, that we all carry, is the mistaken belief that we are separate, that we are alone. This painful pattern is so important, it is given a name: avidya (ah-vid-yah). This pattern in the mind drives our actions. It is another way to say, “I am not good enough,” or “I am unloveable.”
My first memory of feeling unloved comes from when my mother was pregnant with my brother. I wanted to sit in her lap, and she said no, there was no room for me. I felt so angry, upset, and rejected. My mother did not want me anymore. Of course, there was no room, she no longer had a lap because there was a baby in her belly! But I was two and a half, I did not understand, and so the seed was planted.
The child’s mind does not yet understand cause and effect. Being told you cannot squish the baby in your mom’s tummy means that you are unloveable. A parent not congratulating your scribble artwork means you are not good enough. No matter how ridiculous the belief may be to a reasoning adult, the child’s mind makes its own connections (this is not limited to children, adults make connections that have no basis in reality; these connections are driven by unconscious patterns in the mind planted during childhood). That repeated experience drives the message even deeper into the subconscious mind, called citta (chi-tah). The intentions of the parent do not dictate the samskara. A scolding parent might be raising their voice as a means of protection and still the child’s mind hears “you’re not good enough.”
The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali outline a pathway to clear the mind of these patterns that keep us in the darkness of pain. Psychotherapy is a process of uncovering and clearing these patterns. In essence, all healing modalities are a process of identifying and clearing the patterns of the mind. Below you will find a basic process and then how we use the tools of yoga in the practice of LifeForce Yoga to change patterns in your mind.
We must first identify the discomfort. This goes beyond labeling it or giving it an origin story. To identify your discomfort, you must allow yourself the experience. When you find yourself triggered, feel your feelings. Most often, we try to ease the pain of the experience by lashing out, becoming defensive, correcting others, providing education, punishing others (“I’ll NEVER go there again!”) and other behaviors that serve as a means of not feeling what we are feeling. In the beginning, we are unaware that we are in reaction-mode. Only through practice, do we develop the capacity to see our reactions, ourselves in a trigger.
Stop the Story
When our samskaras are triggered, we must interrupt the pattern. We must stop ourselves in our tracks. Anything that shifts the attention is a pattern interrupt. You could use a breath, sound, movement, etc.
When these reactions occur, we are no longer in the present moment. We are back at the origin. Someone saying no to you could trigger the feeling of “I’m not loveable” from when you were three and your mom did not give you a hug because she was on the phone. As an adult, we might look at this memory with disdain because we understand that mom was focused on the phone call and of course she loved us. But remember, that is not how the child’s mind works. A wound is still a wound. Instead of hearing “no,” the feeling of “I’m unloveable” is awake within us. If we do not do the work to unwind this samskara, every time we hear no, it will stop us from sharing our wisdom until we are bound tight within the box of our pains.
Install a New Samskara
When the samskara is awake, we have an opportunity to create a new samskara. In other words, the only way to create new and healthy patterns is when a wound is reopened. Your current suffering is the opening to create healing. The new samskara is the pattern you want to install. For example, when someone says no to the wisdom you have to offer, they are saying no to themselves, no rejecting you.
How Does This Work with LifeForce Yoga?
Yoga is not an isolated practice. What we practice on the mat informs our lives. There are moments where we bring up the experience of fear through a posture like a heart opener. While we are in the pose, we take deep breaths, maybe chant a sound, make minute adjustments in the physical body, all while a teacher keeps us on track. This installs a pattern in the mind and nervous system of what to do when we feel fear. The repetitions tones and fortifies our minds for future stressors, while changing the brain with an increase in things like GABA (Gamma aminobutyric acid) and Oxytocin (to name a few).
Intention Setting – Sankalpa (sahn-call-pah)
This is the desired pattern we wish to instill.
Visioning – Bhāvanā
The best way to “lock in” this new pattern is by connecting to it. This could mean picturing it in your mind, feeling it in your body, or imagining it as though it is already happening.
Breath – Prāņāyāma (prah-nah-yah-mah)
When we take long, slow, deep breaths, it turns on the Calm Brain Effect (the parasympathetic nervous system). When our brain is calm, it helps our minds in resetting the patterns.
Sound – Mantra (mahn-trah)
Using sound, like a nice long “ahh” as you exhale, increases the length of your exhale and creates a vibration in the body. These combine to increase the Calm Brain Effect.
Movement – Āsana (ah-sah-na)
Yoga poses seek to put the body into different positions that strengthen and stretch the body. The strengthening serves to fortify the body while creating a stronger container for emotional and energetic experiences. Stretching releases endorphins (which make us feel good) and also activates the Calm Brain Effect.
Savasana / Yoga Nidra / Meditation
Every class ends with a savasana (sha-vah-sah-nah) at minimum, a yoga nidra (nih-dra) and/or meditation at most. This is the integration of the entire practice. Here we practice relaxing or focusing the mind while we invite the body to relax. It is hard, which is why we need to practice it.