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We make up to thirty-five thousand decisions per day. Thinking requires a lot of energy. The brain is only 2 percent of your body weight, but it uses 20 percent of your energy. That is wild. I became good at using most of that energy watching everyone live what outwardly looked like happy lives.
The first yoga book I read was The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by Sri Swami Satchidananda. The Yoga Sutras is a highly regarded text that discusses the theory and practice of yoga.
I learned that one of the first things we must face when we arrive to our practice is our mind. It will do everything in its power to make practice difficult. The mind wants to be anywhere else but in the present moment. Right now, even as you read this, you are thinking about what you are going to do next, glancing at your phone, waiting for a notification, recalling something you need to do, or wondering where your delivery is. That’s okay; it’s totally normal.
Yoga begins now, in the present moment. Not the past, not the future, right now . . . and now . . . and now. Part of the mental discipline of yoga, meditation, and mindfulness is that we must do it consistently so that we build an impression in our mind. This impression compels us to do it daily. We create a habit.
According to yogic philosophy, these impressions are called samskaras. In Sanskrit, the word samskara is made up of the words sam (“joined” or “complete”) and kara (“doing,” “cause,” “action”). When we do something over a long period of time, it ingrains our reactions, behaviors, and habits. One example we hear frequently is this: Samskaras are like sand mounds at the bottom of a lake. Above the surface you may not even know they are there, but they are.
These mounds represent our own conditioning. For example, if we drink alcohol daily, there will be an “I drink alcohol daily” mound. If you keep adding to the mound every day, it will build and grow until eventually you’ll see a tiny mountain growing above the lake’s surface. This will undoubtably disrupt the flow of water. These impressions aren’t limited to habits, ideas, actions… almost everything can be part of your conditioning. Impressions can also be positive! For example, if you exercise daily, there will be an “I exercise every day” mound. However, it’s the negative impressions that hinder our healing journey. Their repetition reinforces them and makes them difficult to resist. However, these can change over time. If you stop drinking alcohol every day, then you begin to take away from the “I drink alcohol daily” mound and begin to add to the “I didn’t drink alcohol today” mound.
Samskaras are patterns and habits that generate the way we unconsciously react to the world at large depending on how deep or vast these impressions are.
When our impressions come to the surface, there are three ways we can choose to react: The first way is to avoid the experience altogether. In the second, we compound the impression by adding fuel and making it a more intense situation. In the third, we can try to become aware of it and do our best to remain objective and remain neutral.
You exhibit the same habits every day, most of which existed long before you embarked on this journey. When you decide to create a practice, like meditation, it simply serves as a stadium where you can become the spectator to all the deeply rooted impressions that exist in your mind.
From “You Are Radically Loved: A Healing Journey to Self-Love” by Rosie Acosta © 2022. Reprinted in arrangement with Penguin Random House, LLC.
Rosie Acosta has studied yoga and mindfulness for more than twenty years and taught for over a decade, and is the author of You Are Radically Loved. She hosts a weekly conversational wellness podcast called Radically Loved. Rosie has traveled all over the world leading workshops, retreats, and yoga teacher trainings. She works with a wide range of students, from those in her East Los Angeles community to Olympic athletes, NFL champions, NBA All-Stars, and veterans of war. As a first-generation Mexican American, Rosie’s mission is to help others overcome adversity and experience radical love.