Practicing Mindfully vs. Mindlessly

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In the Yoga Sutras, samskaras are defined as ‘deep impressions, imprints in the unconscious & subliminal activators.’ In everyday vernacular, we most commonly refer to them as habits. Habits can be positive, negative or somewhere in between. Brushing your teeth every morning is definitely in the positive category, while procrastinating on schoolwork would be considered negative. Some “neutral” habits might include starting each day with coffee, taking the same route to work every morning or eating the same meal for lunch every day.

You’ve most likely also developed some of these neutral habits in your yoga practice without even realizing. Try to identify some next time you’re on your mat. What patterns do you consistently fall into? Some of my samskaras include always leading sequences with my right foot, clasping my hands behind my back with my left thumb over my right & using blocks under my head & back in savasana.

At this point, you might be wondering, “But what’s the big deal? What does it matter if I always lead with the same foot or use the same props during my savasana?” & you’re right. In the grand scheme of things, nothing bad will come from sticking with the familiar. But nothing new & good will come either! When we stick to the same routines every day, actions become rote, mindless. How many times have you flowed through your Sun Salutations without really thinking about it? Or gone into your Warrior II automatically without consciously bending your knee & raising your arms? Or practiced jumping into handstands over & over with the same, stronger leg leading?

In addition to bringing more mindfulness to your practice, identifying & upsetting your habits can be a fun exercise in creativity & flexibility! Next time you’re on your mat, try to notice the familiar & make it unfamiliar.

How can you switch up your down dog today? Notice how it feels to take your hands so wide that they’re off the mat.

How can you approach your Warriors differently? Try starting with one knee on your mat & coming up into the poses rather than settling down into them.

Did you set up your mat in the same spot today? See how it feels to find a new perspective. Go outside! Get off your mat entirely!

Practicing mindfully versus mindlessly isn’t always easy, but being aware of your samskaras & consciously choosing to switch things up is is the first step to bringing more intention into your practice. Your mat holds so much that you have yet to discover. Explore a little! Approach a sequence from a different angle. Sit up during savasana instead of lying down. Be open to change. You just might be pleasantly surprised by what you find.