Week 239: Identifying Samskara
I am super grateful for the chance to attend a workshop this weekend with Marcia Langenberg. So lucky because she only had four of us and we got to really focus on a couple interrelated topics. Topics I have a very superficial understanding of so you can imagine how interested and keen I was to learn.
The workshop was named simply Pranayama. But I'll tell you it was much more than that. We dove deep into what the breath is able to do within a yoga practice.
Relaxation - check.
Settling of the mind - check.
Changing ones habitual behaviors - what?!
I would have never thought that this was what concentrated breathing could do for me. Of course I recognize the power of the mind body connection with yoga practice but it had never occurred to me how pranayama would also influence the mind. Makes complete sense but I had never put two and two together. We dove into the topic of Samskara. A word I recognize in written form but honestly can’t say I knew what it meant.
Samskara are those ideas, thoughts and habits that we all carry. Yoga philosophy believes that we are all born with certain samskaras. Samskaras can be both positive (like good dental care) and negative (like poor self talk). Depending on the samskara, it can either keep you in a rut or move you forward in life by limiting suffering. By breaking down the sanskrit word, SAM means accumulation and SKARA means to act. Everyone builds and grows certain behaviours which dictates how we ultimately live.
This drawing demonstrates that both positive and negative samskaras exist and will always exist. It is with yoga that the quantity of each is influenced (i.e., yoga can help weaken the patterns of the negative samskaras).
Talk about a new way to self-reflect!
What are my not-so-great samskaras?
Good thing that I asked because we discussed all the “triggers” we can use to help identify our samskaras. Potentially not a comprehensive list, this is what we came up with: Body + Breath (physical self), Mind (mental, our rational thinking it out self; psychological, emotional), and Spiritual. Needless to say, they are multiple arenas where I could find some negative samskaras. But let me give you a context for the week leading up to the workshop and what I was feeling just before diving into my own samskara…
I can’t lie. It’s been a more challenging week. First and foremost, my grief encompassed me. Although, not ready to think about the anniversary of my grandma’s death, I breezed through the day back in February that she past. However, her birthday, March 14, was much more of an emotional day for me. I even anticipated it a week in advance. It is surprising how grief can come back like an ocean wave. I had been “in check” for the last six months yet, the month of March is much more difficult than I ever expected.
The physical symptoms of grief. Or what I think is the cause of my physical discomforts this month. Ya, I’m busy and yes, my body likes to react to force me to slow down. But this time was different. My GI system basically stopped working. Drink lots of water, eat fibre rich diet, exercise, get enough sleep…all done. Yet, the nausea of constipation was almost unbearable. My head went into a tales spin trying to figure it all out. Was it a problem with my pelvic floor injury? I finally realized that my emotions we on high alert as the grief rolled in.
So sitting in this workshop, I was ‘bunged up’ so to speak and only just making the connection to my emotional state and the state of my GI system. When asked what one of my samskaras was, I fought back tears and only said it was much more emotional than I thought.
However, it was probably the best example of my rut. Not the grief part, but HOW I chose to deal with life’s stresses. Keeping it all in. Not expressing my true emotions to myself and in some cases, if appropriate, to others.
Cue the mind blowing explosions!
We didn’t explore my samsara example any further. Recognizing that none of the other women in the room are psychologists, we just let it lay.
But for me, it was clear what was going on.
Not something I can solve in one pranayama practice but something to further explore with my new found knowledge of samskaras and using the breath to work through them.
Since the workshop was only four hours, we wrapped up with more useful concepts around pranayama. We even used the hand counting technique I learned in my workshop with Rosemary Jeanes Antze. I realized that a pranayama home practice would be super beneficial for me. Not just as a future yoga teacher but JUST FOR ME. Maybe a little gift to myself. Because as we learned in the workshop, “Give it up” - let the pranayama do the work! And I can’t argue with that!
Two helpful videos I found on Samskara are also listed below.
12/24/2017 11:05:10 pm
really wonderful information..loved to read about your knowledge and practice so thank you for sharing this information
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Aspiring Yoga Teacher
I've practiced yoga since I was a pre-teen and have always found it to keep me centered. I will be a teacher one day and this is my journey to discover teaching and practice.