Samskaras and Neuroplasticity

Burning SAmskaras

 

Dissolve Thought, Emotion and Behavioral Patterns

 

Does your family put your spiritual practice to the test? 

Have you been making leaps and bounds through your yoga or meditation practice – feeling better day to day, learning to take a breath in the challenging moments and ultimately living life more freely from a place of joy? The Yoga practice helps us move in that direction and then we go back home for a holiday gathering with our family and suddenly we are right back where we started. Why is that? What is it about family, care takers, or being in the home we grew up in that pulls us back into our old patterns of thought, emotions or behaviors? According to the yoga tradition its because of Samskaras.

What ARE SamskaraS?

A samskara is often translated as the groove or pattern of the mind and directly relates or corresponds with our actions or behavior. Samskaras begin forming at the very moment we step into our body. Our parents, or the ones who raise us are largely play a major roll in the forming of our Samskaras. When we were children our lense of perception was colored for us, we were taught to see the world the way our parents, teachers, and society saw it. At some point in our journey we woke up and began to self reflect, recognizing that perhaps the lens we’ve been looking through is not the truth. Lets look at this lens of perception as a window – the window has a lifetime of dirt and grime, and the yoga, meditation and self inquiry practice help to clean the window little by little, allowing us to see life more clearly so we can experience it as it is rather than as we believe it to be. 

The analogy I use in the video below is another way of understanding Samskaras. I explain that Samskaras create grooves in the mind like the groove of a river in a mountain side. The river carves out the earth little by little though repetition and time and eventually becomes powerful. Our mind  (thoughts, emotions, beliefs, perception) is exactly like the river. Starting when we are young it begins to look for like and unlike experiences and collecting them  as beliefs and perception. This helps us to determine safe and unsafe situations, and forms our communication: “when I cry, caretaker brings me food”, or perhaps “when I cry, no one responds”. Through repetition these observations become our perception, or the grooves of our mind. We may then form the opinion that it is good or bad or effective or ineffective to express ourselves a certain way. We form beliefs about others and the world we live in. 

Now that you have began your yoga practice you have likely begun the process of burning away your Samskaras, How do you know? If you are behaving differently: more patient, kind, respectful, loving, emotionally stable or vulnerable, light hearted, joyful, etc. Burning Samskaras or old patterns allows us to live in the now, where the magic of life exists, and the world feels exciting and new again. 

WHY DOES BEING AROUND FAMILY MAKE ME FEEL LIKE I HAVE NOT GOTTEN ANYWHERE?

Because the vast majority of Samskaras were formed at a very young age they have had a life time to get stronger. Like the river that has been digging its way into the earth, the longer it has been flowing, the deeper the groove. The samskaras that were formed as a child are triggered by experiences that are closest to the ones that formed them in the first place – typically your parents, siblings or caretakers. Or you might be most triggered by people in your life that most resemble them which could be your boss, teacher, in-laws, friend, etc. You may have been working on yourself for quite sometime, burning away the outer layers, only to show up at a family gathering or holiday dinner and notice your blood boiling, ready to argue, run away or just plain give up. There is an old saying that goes something like “if you think you are enlightened, visit your family”. How perfect that statement is as a reminder that yoga is a practice not a one time product purchase to solve your issues – we need to continuously stoke the fire of transformation to experience freedom from our Samskaras. 

Burning Samskaras

Burning Samskaras means is recognized in modern psychology as Neuroplasticity – our brains capacity to change our neurological patterning. While much of our childhood patterns are formed without our awareness, it is awareness that allows us to burn what no longer serves us. Awareness is also what allows us to choose how we want to feel, act, think and exist in this world. Awareness is a state of being that floods our conscious mind when we are present in the here and now. Have you ever watched yourself think a thought, or witnessed the sensations of your body, or decided to take a breath instead of react? The part of you that is aware of thoughts, emotions, and actions is awareness and Awareness is something you can strengthen just like a muscle. How do you strengthen it? The 4 main practices are Yoga, Meditation, Breath Work (pranayama), and Self Inquiry. Self Inquiry is also the result of the first three practices, as it is our “awareness” that creates the inquiry. Self inquiry is the process of asking your self questions, observing your thoughts, emotions and behavioral patters, and reflecting upon your actions and reactions. Through repetition, your awareness builds strength and awareness slowly burns away old patterns – literally the brain forms new neurological “wiring” which changes the way we act or react in any given situation. 

Anchoring

There is much that is beyond our control such as life circumstances, and outcomes of our actions, but what we do have control of is the inner landscape of our mind and our actions. That might seem like a large task, and it does take time an routine practice of yoga and meditation (see Elements of Mastery for both), however there is one thing you can do right now to help you maintain your ground when you step back into the all too familiar family dinner or holiday celebration. 

“Create and Anchor” This is what I call having an intention, but I use the imagery of an anchor so when the seas get rough, you hold tight to the ocean floor and stay deeply grounded in your intention. The questions to form your intention are

  1. How do you want to feel?
  2. How do you want to Act? 

Anchor your self into the answers of these questions by asking yourself how you want to feel/act the moment you start to feel your blood boil under the surface of your skin, or when you just want to run or hide. When you notice yourself falling back into your old patterns hold tight to your anchor and do not let go. You may need to excuse yourself and take a few breaths or do a quick sun salutation, and that is ok! Be compassionate, the river is incredibly strong but you are indeed stronger. 

Elements of Mastery

The most in-depth online yoga immersion offered by Matt Giordano. This immersion contains several full length workshops focusing on how the body relates to nature’s elements : Earth, Water, Fire, Air, & Space. In addition to deepening your physical practice you will learn anatomy, adjustments and the approach to Mastery!

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find your seat

Find Your Seat

3 Ways to Sit without Knee, Hip or Back Pain!

Find Your Seat

While the deep benefits of seated meditation are known to and have been experienced by many, there are people the world over who find the practice to be inaccessible for the simple reason that they can’t find and maintain a comfortable seat. This is true for me, even to this day, no matter how open my hips are, or how strong my core and back are. If I try and sit on the ground for an extended period of time one of my legs will fall asleep, or I will at the least just be uncomfortable. If you have the same experience you will find these particular postures to be very supportive!

THE CHALLENGES

Why is it challenging to sit? There is a host of reasons why we might find it difficult to sit on the ground – perhaps primarily because we just don’t do it. Sitting in a chair does not allow our hips to go through their full range of motion each day, and as a result our back and hip flexors don’t develop the strength needed to keep us upright. Yoga can serve as an amazing practice to redevelop the capacity to sit more efficiently, although it won’t happen over night – which is why its necessary to check out the 3 postures in the video and photos below, so you can sit comfortably on the ground while you are working on the long term hip opening journey.

Trying to re-pattern our body takes repetitive practice. As with any other skill, you can only learn from doing it. That is why I created Hips: Rock and Unlock Em  – I wanted to support you in feeling good in your body (low back in particular)  on a daily basis. 

Is meditation Calming?

When Most people begin a meditation practice they expect it to have the results that everyone preaches; calm mind, relaxing, stress reducing. While some people do experience these results right away, others may experience the opposite. In weight lifting you must build a foundation of strength before you can move on to heavy compound movements, and establishing this foundation can at times be challenging and discouraging. Meditation is very much the same, the practice of it might feel like you are lifting heavy weights for your mind and as a result you might initially only experience the challenge of it. With repetition your mind will get stronger, you will be able to focus longer and the results will come faster!

Is meditation Calming?

When Most people begin a meditation practice they expect it to have the results that everyone preaches; calm mind, relaxing, stress reducing. While some people do experience these results right away, others may experience the opposite. In weight lifting you must build a foundation of strength before you can move on to heavy compound movements, and establishing this foundation can at times be challenging and discouraging. Meditation is very much the same, the practice of it might feel like you are lifting heavy weights for your mind and as a result you might initially only experience the challenge of it. With repetition your mind will get stronger, you will be able to focus longer and the results will come faster!

Assess your hips

Each of us has our own movement patterns which cause some muscles to be stronger, some weaker, some are tight, some are not, etc. We also have different bone structures that will make some positions easier than others. Finding a comfortable seat is one of the most important aspects of a seated meditation posture. If you are uncomfortable it is very hard to move the mind beyond the discomfort of the body. This is why I have provided three options for seated meditation postures. Go through each and ask yourself which one is most sustainable. Keep in mind there is no perfect seated posture for meditation, there is only the best one for you and that is the one you feel most comfortable in, and that also allows you to stay awake and present.

Assess your hips

Each of us has our own movement patterns which cause some muscles to be stronger, some weaker, some are tight, some are not, etc. We also have different bone structures that will make some positions easier than others. Finding a comfortable seat is one of the most important aspects of a seated meditation posture. If you are uncomfortable it is very hard to move the mind beyond the discomfort of the body. This is why I have provided three options for seated meditation postures. Go through each and ask yourself which one is most sustainable. Keep in mind there is no perfect seated posture for meditation, there is only the best one for you and that is the one you feel most comfortable in, and that also allows you to stay awake and present.

Option 1 - Bhadrasana (Hero's Pose)

My personal favorite seated posture for those who have tighter outer hips and inner thighs as it requires little flexibility in these areas. It presents a challenges for those with tight quads, and shin muscles. Using blankets and blocks can help alleviate these challenges. I would suggest warming up and stretching the thighs and ankles prior to working on this posture. In the above video I go over a twisted thigh stretch and a seated posture on heels. If these postures prove to be too challenging after a warm up, then this posture is likely to cause discomfort during a seated meditation.

Option 2: Cross Legged

The so called “easy seat” – an ironic title, as it can be incredibly misleading. For those with open inner thighs, hip flexors and outer hips this can be an easy posture indeed, but if that is not the case for you then you’ll definitely want to use props. Using the right amount of blankets and block support can make this posture easier and more accessible.

Option 3: On Chair with Blocks

In the video I show a seated option call sidasana, however I wanted to offer one other one here – Sitting in a chair can seem like cheating, as it can be incredibly easy to get too relaxed in. Here you will notice how I prepare the chair with blocks and a blanket and I sit on the edge of the seat so that I still used my back and hip flexors to keep me upright. Some level of muscle engagement is important to stay awake and present when meditating.

How to Start Meditation

The best way to practice meditation, like anything else, is to have guidance. When I was younger I struggled for years to meditate without the support of a teacher, and mostly I became frustrated and lost in my thoughts. This is why I created the Elements of Mastery online program – to provide a way for you to begin practicing yoga and meditation together. The second workshop “Earth and Water” is the perfect Daily practice for both hip openers and meditation! Can’t afford EOM? Dont have access to a teacher? meditation is still possible but you have to start easy. I suggest a 1 minute meditation practice daily for 2 weeks. Set a timer for yourself and narrow your attention to your breath. Try to feel as it enters your body and feel as it leaves your body. After 2 weeks,  do this same thing for 5 minutes daily , with a timer set. Work your way up to 17 minutes a day, but don’t try and do this all at once as you you will likely become discouraged. Focus is like a muscle that needs strengthening and it takes time to develop.

How to Start Meditation

The best way to practice meditation, like anything else, is to have guidance. When I was younger I struggled for years to meditate without the support of a teacher, and mostly I became frustrated and lost in my thoughts. This is why I created the Elements of Mastery online program – to provide a way for you to begin practicing yoga and meditation together. The second workshop “Earth and Water” is the perfect Daily practice for both hip openers and meditation! Can’t afford EOM? Dont have access to a teacher? meditation is still possible but you have to start easy. I suggest a 1 minute meditation practice daily for 2 weeks. Set a timer for yourself and narrow your attention to your breath. Try to feel as it enters your body and feel as it leaves your body. After 2 weeks,  do this same thing for 5 minutes daily , with a timer set. Work your way up to 17 minutes a day, but don’t try and do this all at once as you you will likely become discouraged. Focus is like a muscle that needs strengthening and it takes time to develop.

From Body to Mind

One thing I noticed early on in my meditation practice was the discomfort of my body. I couldn’t focus my mind on anything when I was seated because I was distracted by my back, my knee, my neck, and so on. This realization led me to the physical practice of yoga. Through the yoga practice I gained a heightened sense of awareness of my body. At first this was almost a curse, because I could feel everything – including my discomfort! Over time and practice I gained a bit of mastery in my body, in that I could feel the discomfort and choose postures to better accommodate myself and release it. The seated meditation practice became so much more enjoyable when I could extend my attention beyond the physical, knowing that I wasn’t causing damage by forcing myself to sit through knee, or back pain. While I do believe that some pain in the body can be a result of mental projection, I also know first hand that placing love and attention on the body can support the health of the mind.  There really isn’t a divide between brain and body – the mind is a collective of all our physical and emotional experiences. For sound mental health to be our primary state of being we must get to know ourselves on all levels and develop our awareness. 

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When You Subscribe You Will Instantly Get Access To

  • The Technique Pack: 15 Yoga Pose Breakdowns
  • Exclusive Online Course Discounts 
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