By Geoffrey Nimmer, October, 2014
The word samskara comes from the Sanskrit “sam”—complete or joined together, and “kara”—action, cause, or doing.
“All of our thoughts, words, feelings, actions, behaviors and life experiences create impressions on our consciousness that are sort of like scars, or grooves on a record, or etches on a piece of metal” (from the blog freddiewyndhamyoga.com).
These grooves or scars arise from both positive and negative feelings or behavioral patterns and effect how we move through and respond to the world around us.
Negative samskaras create negative feelings such as anger, loneliness, jealousy, and anxiety. No one likes to feel these negative emotional responses, but they are deeply embedded… and while uncomfortable, they are familiar, they are our default responses to certain situations. Even though they cause us to feel bad, we are attached to them because they are what we know.
Our yoga practice gives us the tools to burn through unwanted samskaras. One of these tools is Tapas— literally “heat” or “intensity.” We create heat in our asana practice, purifying the physical body. We can also apply Tapas or intensity to our desire to not fall back on our bad habits.
The Yoga Sutra 2.33 address this directly by saying “Vitarka badhana pradipaksha bhavanam—“When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite (positive) ones should be thought of.” When we are in the throes of our negative patterns we can actively choose to practice positive ones such as Maitri (friendliness), and Karuna (compassion).
When I feel a negative emotion, I can apply these concepts. I make a choice to think positive thoughts like friendliness or compassion and notice the negative sensations dissipate.
The practice does not keep me from having negative feelings, but as I become aware of them, and my response to them, I become more present.
Changing negative, default reactions does not come naturally, it takes practice. This action is called Abhyasa—“practice, effort, and vigilance of awareness.”
Next time you fall into the rut of anger, resentment or some other negative emotion, rather than accepting it, shine the heat of awareness on it.
Practicing this awareness is practicing yoga.