By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed
Teaching Yoga students about samskaras can be complicated. The term “samskara” is a Sanskrit word that refers to an individual’s habitual way of thinking, believing and acting. The way we act in relationship and in the world is largely determined by our thoughts and beliefs. Most samskaras are based on our personal experiences and cultural backgrounds. Our thoughts and beliefs can also be determined by the health of our brain chemistry. If we suffer from depression or anxiety, our beliefs about what is possible or impossible for us will be clouded by a sense of hopelessness and powerlessness, due in part to low levels of serotonin and dopamine.
The internal freedom that a regular practice of Yoga offers to us is founded on the ability to unearth and bring to conscious attention our own thought patterns, beliefs and the actions that arise from those samskaras. Yogic breathing techniques and postures are wonderful tools for easing anxiety, depression and balancing neurotransmitter levels in the brain. Over time and with a committed Yoga practice, a Yoga student will be able to quickly identify thoughts, beliefs and actions that undermine his or her ability to truly thrive.
When a Yoga practitioner identifies dimming and constricting samskaras, he or she is free to choose more life enhancing thoughts. Frequently, we limit our own potential by believing that we are not capable or talented enough to create the life of our dreams. Although some of these limiting thoughts may have a degree of veracity to them, often our ability to achieve our desired goals is far greater than we may initially believe. As we begin to gently encourage our thinking to take on a more positive hue, we begin to truly believe that more is possible in our lives and act accordingly.
Teaching Yoga students about samskaras will help them to be able to become aware of the bundle of thoughts, emotions and experiences that either uplift them or dim their life possibilities. When you are teaching a Yoga class, you may wish to introduce this deep Vedic concept during the beginning of a session, so that your students will be able to practice witnessing the thoughts and emotions that arise during asana practice. According to Yogic philosophy, the way to internal freedom is to witness these samskaras without overly identifying with them and from a place of deep self-compassion.
When painful emotions and limiting thoughts arise during a Yoga class, encourage your students to bring them to conscious awareness, so that the validity of the samskaras can be objectively evaluated. If the negative thoughts and beliefs are valid, some personal work may be in order. For example, if a law student failed the bar exam twice because he or she was unprepared, then, yes, studying more for the bar exam would be highly recommended!
On the other hand, believing that one is inherently too stupid to pass the bar after graduating from law school is clearly inaccurate. This limiting samskara is best dissolved in the light of self-compassion, and then replaced with a more uplifting and accurate belief about one’s own intelligence. The psychological process of witnessing samskaras and replacing overly negative and inaccurate beliefs with more positive thoughts is a profound tool of internal freedom that will serve your Yoga students both on and off the mat for many years to come.
© Copyright – Virginia Iversen / Aura Wellness Center – Publications Division
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