Saturday, September 28, 2013

Cleansing Samskaras

I am currently doing an ayurvedic cleanse. It consists of two weeks of eating simply, participating in ayurvedic rituals to cleanse and heal, and steering clear of some of the most difficult foods for us to handle – coffee, alcohol, and dairy. Ayurveda is often called Yoga’s sister science because it is the ancient healing modality from India. There is so much to Ayurveda, and perhaps my next post will cover those issues, but today I want to focus on what it means to cleanse and let go.

This is the beginning of autumn in the northern hemisphere. Here in the United States, we often call this season fall. It gets that name because it is when all the leaves fall off the trees. Of course, that barely happens here in the Tucson desert, but it is my favorite time of year and one thing I miss from living in places that actually have four seasons. (Of course, come January, when I’m not wearing a parka, I stop my whining.)

But the point is that autumn is a time to let go of that which no longer serves us. It is a time to slow down as the heat of the summer begins to dissipate. We begin to crave warming and grounding foods. And this is the reason to cleanse in autumn. It is a time to reset after the summer and move forward into simpler times. It is also one of the two times of year where we are closest to equal parts light and dark in our days because it is right after the equinox. This major shift in the Earth allows us to make major shift within ourselves.

Certainly the cleanse is about releasing internal, physical toxins and calming the digestive tract to help it better digest our food. And as Hippocrates said, “Let food be thy medicine, and medicine be they food.” Food has the power to harm and to heal and be a beacon for our overall health. But there is something more to this cleanse than simply cleansing physically.

Cleansing is an opportunity to release old patterns that no longer serve us. I have written before about samskaras. A samskara, while it sometimes has a negative connotation as a “bad” pattern we hold, is nothing more than a pattern. The word itself is neutral. If we act in a certain way often enough, it simply becomes a pattern, and we no longer have to think about what we are doing. It simply comes naturally.

To be clear, this is required in life. We have to be able to turn off our brains at times and run on autopilot. If we had to think about everything every time we tried to do something, we would get very little done. And we know physiologically, this is how the brain is set up. Babies are born with many more neurons than adults have. As time goes on, they go through a process called “pruning,” whereby they create synapses, or pathways in the brain, that lead to modes of being. This is why it is so much easier for babies to learn than adults. Their brains are more malleable because they have very few synapses but a lot of neurons to create them (though new research suggests adult brains are more malleable than previously thought). 

Therefore, patterns we develop in childhood lead to the patterns many of us carry into adulthood. These can include anything from good study habits to driving on the left side of the road to craving unhealthy foods to negative self-talk. While the neurosciences call these synapses, yoga philosophy calls them samskaras, and Buddhism calls them samsaras. So, some samskaras are uplifting and help us get through our days, while others of them bog us down and can eventually create dis-ease.

And as fall begins and we think about letting go and slowing down for winter, it is important to notice the patterns we hold that no longer serve us or might be causing us some disease. Louise Hay, who wrote, “You Can Heal Your Life,” talks about the power of affirmations to overcome all disease. And as I mentioned a few months ago, the medical literature is beginning to agree. What we think matters to our health, and what we think can shape our health perhaps more than some of us would like to admit.

So, what are some negative samskaras some of us hold? Simply read these statements and ask yourself if any of them resonate with you.

I’m not good enough.
I’m not loveable.
I deserve to suffer.
I will not succeed, so I will not even try.
I do not deserve happiness.
There is no joy in my life.
I am scared.

Can you think of others you bring into your life? There are so many ways we inhibit our greatest good from coming forward. But we can begin to overcome these negative patterns. There are several emerging psychological techniques specifically designed to reframe these negative patterns, including Somatic Experiencing, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, and Tapping/Emotional Freedom Technique.

But the first step is simply noticing what we do to create this self harm. I see it so often in the work I do. It comes up everywhere to people in healing professions. It is so much easier to see when other people do it than when we do it ourselves. But I know very few people who do not do this, and therefore noticing is the first step.

The next step is to reframe the pattern. As Robert Frost said, “Two roads diverged in a wood, and I – I took the one less traveled by, and that has made all the difference.” When we leave our old patterns behind, we can begin to create new patterns. We have to make the choice to do that. And we begin to create new patterns by reframing our self-talk. When we notice a negative statement coming, state a positive one. There are literally thousands of affirmations we could say, but I want to leave you with one in particular.

No single blog post is going to help you overcome all your negative samskaras.  But a friend of mine gave me one of my favorites, “I love myself. I forgive myself.” And I add to that, “I am safe.” I figure this covers the vast majority of negative self-talk so many of us use. So I hope you are able to look in a mirror every day and say to yourself, "I love myself. I forgive myself. I am safe." 

How do you notice your self-talk? Is it causing you dis- ease? What helps you reframe the talk?


© Rebecca Stahl 2013, all rights reserved.

The post, Cleansing Samskaras, first appeared on Is Yoga Legal.


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