June 2013

What happens when your tires get stuck in the mud? I’m not talking about your 4×4 vehicle, but rather your body and soul vessel. Ever feel stuck in a rut? Uneasy with routine or maybe even full on stagnant? I get it. I arrive at that point several times a year in different ways; in my personal practice, my teaching practice, in my relationships, my diet, my mindset. Feeling stuck is not a highly desirable spot to be. It sucks my energy, brings me down and is, in general, the ultimate buzz kill. However, recognition of these repetitive patterns can prove a goldmine on life’s learning journey, so don’t despair. Discovering that you are stuck in the first place is often the most challenging part of the work; the with-it-ness to tune in to that deeper piece of yourself. Where do you find yourself easing into familiarity and comfort to a fault? And how can you begin the process of one foot in front of the other, heading toward change? This is key in continuing to feel challenged, fresh, creative, inspired and innovative in life. In turn we feel renewed confidence and independence. We reclaim our zest for living. And let’s be real, who doesn’t want to connect more with THAT feeling?

Samskaras are our “impressions”, the scarred grooves of our being; finely softened over years of repetition like the wrinkles we earn over time. Literally translated samskara means “subliminal activator”. These are our triggers, our routines, the smack dab center of our comfort zone. They are the force behind “oops, I did it again” and the ensuing self-loathing that inevitably seems follows.

Samskaras don’t always have to be bad though. They’re the force behind our healthy routines and habits, too. When we see a yoga mat and feel the drive to begin asana; when we remember the breath, when our body slips easily into a challenging pose based on years of repetitious practice and patterning. In some cultures we kiss on the cheek at hello, say “buen provecho ” or “bon appetite” at meals, pray or meditate before bedtime. These are all samskaras, too. But not the kind that work to dim our light or bring us down, rather these samskaras are subliminal activators working toward a deeper connection to well-being and bliss.

How do we initiate a change of direction away from our less-desired samskaras then? How do we get those tires pulled up out of the deep, comfortable tracks? I’m constantly asking myself this question. I watch myself fall down the same slippery slope time and again; my expectations were too high and I spiral into disappointment. I bite off more than I can chew and then battle with the overwhelming sense of failure. I let the “little stuff” affect me. It’s like being a silent participant in a slow motion train wreck. I can’t stop it, and worse yet, I am definitely a willing passenger. But what happens when we decide that we’re no longer the passenger at all, we are actually the driver? We can reclaim our role in this whole process.

Stephen Cope describes this train wreck more as a chain of separate events: appraisal, impulse, action. The issue is it all happens so quickly in our mind that oftentimes we can’t distinguish even being in the chain of events until we’re already deep into the phase of action. By then we’ve already made the nasty leap. We blur it all into one very messy cyclical drama with the end result being: whoops! I ate the cookies…again! I let my anger get the best of me…again! I stepped back into judgment…again! Whoops, whoops, whoopsie-do! Now time to clean up the resulting mess of guilt and remorse.

In The Wisdom of Yoga Cope describes the work of cognitive psychologists who can now scientifically map out this process (because we all love when thousands of years of yogic study gets backed by science, right?). According to clinical studies the entire process of appraisal, impulse and action takes place in a matter of nanoseconds. That means we have to rely on a “highly trained awareness” in order to intervene so that “action does not tumble inexorably out of reaction, like the falling of so many dominoes” (Cope, p.103). Basically we need to be really on the ball. Aware. With it. Mindful. And remember that everything we practice over time becomes stronger. The asana that at first we hated, but for some reason kept going back to…well now it’s easy breezy, maybe even comfortable when at first it felt sloppy, clumsy, undesirable. The practice of gratitude that began as a thoughtful exercise and then became so routine that now we deeply, truly feel it daily; these are not accidental end results. They are the ripe fruits of labor; of practice, practice and then some more practice sprinkled on top.

Our minds organize our thoughts into predictable patterns. With around 60,000 thoughts passing through on any given day how else could we function efficiently? We compartmentalize, we organize, we make trails. It’s natural and for the sake of our sanity, it’s necessary. These patterns are formed based on experience and deep conditioning over the span of an entire lifetime. Changing patterns cannot happen overnight, just imagine asking the Colorado River to change course and forge its way up and out of the Grand Canyon? Yes, we have our work cut out for us. And a big part of this work (and a large part of yogic strategy) is to begin by radical self-acceptance and observation without judgment.

Yoga teacher and psychologist, Bo Forbes breaks down a pattern improving method into a seven step path (From the article Stuck in a Rut):
1.) Sankalpa (Intention)
2.) Tapas (Intensity)
3.) Shani (Slowing)
4.) Vidya (Awareness)
5.) Abhaya (Fearlessness)
6.) Darshana (Vision)
7.) Abhyasa (Practice)

Remember that samskaras which are positive additions to our well-being will not provoke agitation of our consciousness. Tapping into our bliss helps us form more of these beneficial samskaras, which in turn help to further enhance our connection into bliss. Doesn’t sound too bad, right?

Slow down. Try to step aside from judging yourself. Try, try again. When you lose sight and find yourself in the passenger seat for a moment, remember you have the right and the power to be the one driving. Buckle up! When finding our way up and out of the ruts that we’ve forged our entire lives, we might be in for a bumpy ride. Hold on tight. And remember to breathe.