In the journey to a more authentic, joyful and abundant life, one of the most important processes is to shift our conditioned patterns, limiting beliefs, and reactive tendencies, to patterns, beliefs and tendencies that are supportive and helpful to our well-being. We all develop patterns very early on in our lives in direct response to the environment we grow up in, and often we are completely unaware of just how powerful those patterns are in our lives. Most of the conditioning and limiting beliefs are stored in our subconscious, so we just don't have easy access to them.
In yoga philosophy these patterns are called Samskara. One of the deep reasons why doing the physical yoga, or asanas, has such a powerful effect on our state of being is because on the mat we easily see repetitive behaviors and we witness our deeply ingrained habits. But beyond the mat, in the Sutra, it is explained that our patterning over-rides our true self until we can recognize and start to change those patterns. Repeating Samskaras reinforces them, and creates well worn paths that are difficult to resist. The Sutra were written thousands of years before the advent of neuroscience, but science today has confirmed what the great sages have always known: the brain develops neural pathways in direct response to our thinking patterns. These pathways become like superhighways that are easy to connect, send messages, and function. The problem comes when the superhighways are created from damaging and limiting beliefs.
Take abundance for example. If you heard lots of messages of lack and poverty consciousness as a child (ie, "money doesn't grow on trees", "wealthy people are bad", "you will always have to struggle") and saw parents who were fearful about money, or parents who had issues such as substance abuse or mental issues, you picked up poverty consciousness beliefs early on. Over time those thoughts were repeated in your own mind, to the point where your brain can now easily accept negative thoughts about abundance, your ability to be wealthy, and the difficulty required to be financially secure.
With those well worn paths in place, hearing that "it is easy to earn money", or "being wealthy is something wonderful" or"wealth brings you so many opportunities to your own life and to help the lives of others", you resist it. You may "believe" it intellectually, but these thoughts will have little to no effect on your actual life because the brain filters out any idea that seems inconsistent with it's pre-established beliefs.
ACTIVATING THE WISDOM IN YOUR LIFE
Yoga Sutra II.16 states, “Heyam duhkham anagatam,” or “Future suffering is to be avoided.” Wonderful, right? But how exactly are we supposed to actually DO that? There are some very clear steps you can take right now to reduce the power of these old harmful patterns and begin to create new highways, new paths, and new neural circuits to more joy, abundance, authenticity and health in your life.
ONE: INTENTION (Sankalpa)
Set your intentions to change whatever pattern is appearing in your life as negative. For example, I recently spoke with a client who tends to be very hard on herself and her expectations for getting an unrealistic amount of things done are painfully high. She is aware of the pattern, but it often creeps up on her when she least expects it. When it happens she begins to feel stressed and overwhelmed. We have worked on having her recognize the "symptoms" of this pattern (stress and overwhelm) so they can be clues for her to immediately stop what she is doing and redirect a new pattern. We set an intention to go easier on the expectations, let go of the model of "perfection" being a standard, and being more patient with time.
TWO: SLOWING DOWN (shani)
Old patterns are often reactive. That means that we often react so fast in old predictable ways, that before we realize it, it's already too late. There is an instinct level that develops with our samskaras which is why we have to maintain diligence in order to reverse them. When we slow down our "reaction time" to events, situations, comments etc... we create a space between thought and action. In this space is where we can actively choose a different response. In the physical practice of yoga, how we move through our poses is often a clear mirror for how we move through our lives. It is true that "how we do anything is how we do everything."
I remember many years ago when I first got into the physical aspects of yoga (I had begun studying yogic philosophy in depth many many years before ever doing the physical poses), I had great strength in my quads, glutes, and calves, and wonderful flexibility in my hamstrings. My upper body strength was weak in comparison, and most of the tension I was holding was in my neck and shoulders. So every time I moved through poses that were lower body, I gave it my all, listened to my body, and put in significant effort to improve those poses. I was so happy about the success I was seeing on the mat in my lower-body based poses. When it came to the upper body poses I relied as much as possible on my lower body, and "coddled" my upper body because it was so challenging. Mentally I justified this because in the balance of things, I was really gung ho about the lower body work so I figured it was fine to half-ass it on the things that were not fun.
The teacher I had at the time was not in tune with the actual depth of yoga philosophy so she always just praised me on the "greatness" of my lower body poses and never offered advice or recommendations for the upper body poses. But over time I realized that my lower body was getting stronger and more flexible, while my upper body remained tight and rigid. I began to slow down my practice and stop myself before moving into the upper body poses. I reflected each time on where my body was tight, what it was saying to me, and what I needed to do to move past the discomfort. Slowing down and changing my patterns on the mat helped me see areas in my life where I was dedicating consistent energy and effort (things that really were already going quite well in my life), and areas where I was avoiding moving past discomfort levels.
THREE: FEARLESSNESS (Abhaya)
Abhaya is our ability to face our patterns with courage. It is so much easier to stay where we are at, and to remain in comfort. This is true of relationships, jobs, physical health, and any other area of life. But with courage and fearlessness we are able to get out of the crippling question of “why is this happening to me?” and move to “what does this pattern have to teach me?” We move out of victim mode into empowerment mode. Our body is a massive storehouse of our emotional intelligence and our life history, including all traumas and life experiences. So a physical practice ofyoga, or a dedicated practice of meditation, can bring us to a place of awareness of the body itself.
Courage helps us face the unknown, and change always require a move into the unknown. For example, when you end a relationship, a fear comes up that you will "never find anything better". However, in the space of being truly by yourself and with yourself, you are given a powerful opportunity to examine the deepest issues of underlying why you may have been in or remained in an unfulfilling relationship to begin with. Issues perhaps of an unstable childhood, abandonment wound, mother wound, lack of self-esteem and no belief that your life truly can be magical. Abhaya allows us to gracefully move through difficult and painful emotions and realize they are not going to kill us. In fact, we can only be truly whole and healed when we have moved through all of the repressed emotions and cleared our "vessel" to receive the joy that life has in store for us all.
FOUR: PRACTICE (Abhyasa)
The early stages of creating new patterns is the most precarious - it is then that we are most likely to succumb to old patterns. It takes some time to wear down new paths, and so it is vital to keep a practice up with serious commitment and dedication. Whatever that practice is for you. I have practiced daily meditation and chanting for decades, and eventually added yoga practice as well. All three work incredibly well for me in moving forward, increasing my flexibility to be in flow with life, clearly looking at my patterns, and undoing anything that is causing me harm. Committed practice helps us recognize any triggers we might have, and we will instantly see what brings us to a place of true clarity and what (or who) seems to bring us into more negativity and confusion.
Ultimately - the choice is yours whether you wish to shift your samskara or give birth to the authentic you. Try out these steps consistently, and watch your life transform in magnificence.