Yoga practice assists us to develop new patterns and pathways for our mind and body.
I talk a lot about yoga meaning connection, and often mention the components of ourselves we connect to:- body, mind, breath.
Yoga also helps us connect to that part of ourselves that always knows just what to do in any situation. There are many names to describe this; awareness, our essence, witness consciousness. I like "compassionate wisdom in action", as this to me captures that this is an active as well as a reflective state of being. What we practice, and call yoga are all tools to assist us to allow this state to naturally unfold within us.
Yoga is therefore a state where we can freely act in the most wise and compassionate way in the moment.
The question arises of why we need tools and practice to find this state of compassionate wisdom? Traditional Yoga psychology describes a process of Samskara, that prevent us from accessing this state. These are habitual groove like patterns of thinking and acting that we develop over our life. Some of these patterns may be helpful to us, and some aren't. Think about any addictive behaviour for example, or any unconscious behaviour that is triggered by past hurts, or even the tendency to round your shoulders when working over the computer while furrowing your brow – eventually when you think about work, your brow tenses and your shoulders round. These are all examples of Samskara.
Modern Neuropsychology also recognises these patterns, and describes the ways brain neurons connect like paths through a forest. Feelings thoughts and actions often fire together in brain and the most trodden paths are easiest to find. Our brains love short cuts- it’s a very useful tool -not to have to relearn things like riding a bike, or driving a manual car each time. But perhaps these paths take us somewhere that no longer serves us, ways of thinking that are unhelpful, patterns of movement that create tension for example.
Yoga Practice assists us develop new patterns and pathways for our minds and bodies. It gives us tools where we can begin to skilfully chose what we need, based on our own compassionate wisdom. This means we can over time release unconscious patterns that create physical, emotional and mental tension, and create new habits and patterns that better serve us.
Just like forming a new path in a forest though, repatterning the body and mind takes time, and repetition. Initially it might seem exciting, but it can be challenging - and the old pathways seem more inviting and familiar. Practices that seem to work at first may not have the same effect.
Perseverance is the key to changing these samskaras and meeting yourself at that place of compassionate wisdom in action. The yoga sutras describe a need for dedication and persistence to the tools of yoga, and a cultivation of the attitude of patience. One of my teachers, Hareesh, describes three things that are required to help re-pattern samskaras:
Committing to group yoga classes is great because these classes create an environment which supports openness in all of these areas. Physical practices help re-pattern muscle tension. Breathing and meditation practices can make us aware of emotional patterns, such as holding the breath when anxious. Self enquiry practices give us permission to explore these patterns safely, and to come to our own conclusions about the practices that are most suitable and helpful.
This is also the reason why I emphasise being able to smile in any given practice, so that our body can tap into the state of compassionate wisdom in action- when you can smile without forcing, you know that you have accessed your compassionate wisdom.