Thousands of years ago a person or persons going by the name of Patanjali wrote some sutras about Yoga. These short sutras inform us that our “essential nature is usually overshadowed by the mind”(sutra 1.4)
What does that statement evoke in you?
The mind is a tricky customer. The mind can be our ultimate nemesis or a flowerbed of self-compassionate thoughts, two polarities but on the same sliding scale of mind-stuff that we might encounter day to day.
How does Yoga relate to the mind?
During my 10 years of practicing yoga I have learned a thing or two about how to tame the unruly mind, but of course my mind still tries to play me, such are the ingrained patterns that yoga can slowly help us to unpick! My mind tells me daily that I should be more tolerant because yoga people should be nice, I should be more driven to hustle in my business because if Adrienne Mishler can do it why shouldn’t I, that an independent business woman should be earning big bucks damn quick. For the record there are no shoulds about yoga, only that we choose to be willing to come back to noticing the fluctuations of the mind by coming back towards the stillness of the body, this moment and the flowing of our breath.
When I get on my mat and play with yoga shapes (aka poses or asana) my mind commentates- urgh, you still can’t get your heels to touch the mat in down face dog OR your tummy spills over when you fold forward, you don’t have a yoga body Sarah! These thoughts reside on the nemesis end of the mind chatter scale. My experience of teaching yoga poses has showed me that these thoughts/mind fluctuations are not unique to me, but they come up for many yoga students when they come to practice. Gee, thanks society for implanting disempowering ideas about the human body! Let’s remember that yoga is not all about physical practice. Asanas are only mentioned once in the whole four section text of Patanjali’s sutras. Everything else is about the breath, the mind and freedom:
“Mental activity can be settled by the practice of yoga and the freedom it bestows”- sutra 1.12
Our Thoughts Are Unoriginal
The mind chunters along doing its thing, running its program of mainly disempowering thoughts, the wily creature that it is. We have around 60,000 thoughts per day. Around 90% of these thoughts are the same ones we had yesterday! Really let that statistic in.
The mind is repetitive. It does not matter that in my heart I do not give a f**k if my heels never reach the mat in downward facing dog, but I do give a f**k about the sensations that arise in my body which I can breathe into and observe. Part of my personal practice has been about releasing the physical ideals that modern postural yoga has led us to believe are the ONLY way to be on the mat, and to lean into the validity of my own unique body. And the tummy thing, newsflash! Women are not supposed to have flat tummies because or wombs need space. It does not matter if rational Sarah knows these things though, the mind still wants to run its unoriginal stories.
Here in lies the very human beauty of the shifts which can evolve during a consistent yoga practice. Yoga can help us to develop the invisible muscles of concentration, focus, contemplation and self-compassion which prime us to be able to ride the fluctuating waves of mind chatter. All our mind mumblings, whether we are stressing out about our bills or worrying about wobbling over in a yoga balance, can either cause us suffering or offer us a path, wait for it…to liberation. Yes, a little glimpse into the truth of who we are as whole, enough beings. The bills will still be there, we may still topple out of tree pose, but the stillness that our breath and bodies can experience when practicing yoga will absolutely still the fluctuations of the mind; anxiety, depression, not enoughs, shoulds, future predicting freak outs, fear.
Yoga means union and in this unified connection between body, mind and breath we touch the calm waters of peace. And then it goes away again, until the next time…