You probably have heard the word Karma and the concept of rebirth and liberation from rebirth.  Here is an interesting take on the subject, a view of what Karma is and how to break free from it.

Samskara in Sanskrit is translated as deeply ingrained patterns of behavior which have become unconscious to the point that we react to events, people, ideas etc. automatically, without thinking.  Samskaras are pre-programmed patterns that are deeply ingrained, like train tracks, into our synapses, left there by our upbringing, culture, and personal experiences.  This is easily observed in family dynamic, especially during the holidays, when family members get together after being apart for some time.  Don't you ever find yourself engaging with your parents and siblings exactly the same way as you had when you were ten?  Mom says something like "you need to lose a few pounds, my dear," get the ball rolling, and you are immediately on the defensive, and the dance begins.  You say something back, it escalates, and before you know it, you are wondering how did she manage to get you all riled up again, when you promised yourself time and again to never play these games anymore.  Those are your samskaras playing themselves out.

Sometimes even after we become aware of them, it is still hard to resist them - you just watch yourself go through the motions, realizing while it is happening that you have no control over it.  Many of these samskaras are passed down generation to generation.  These patterns are highly contagious, and once established, are very difficult to break.  So if you look at the samskaras that way, you can say that it is Karma - paying for something that originated long ago, with your great-grandparents, and now you are carrying it in your body, passing it onto your children.  Just as some genetic diseases are passed down, so are the energetic diseases.  And we tend to become defined by them by ourselves and others - we expect and are expected to act a certain way.  We become slaves, so to speak, to these samskaras, and instead of making informed choices, we are simply reacting.  But disease or bad behavior need not to define us always. 

Now think what would happen if instead of reacting mindlessly, you could take mindful action/inaction with compassion/maitri (your mom, after all, is also in bondage to her samskaras and she is suffering from it as well), friendliness/karuna (look at each event as if it is brand new to be discovered, without the "here we go again" attitude), delight/mudita (by appreciating the humanity and the humor in it all), and discernment/upeksha (withholding judgement until all the facts are in).  Instead of saying "well, she started it!", you take responsibility for your end of the vicious cycle, and you stop this train in its tracks.  How much more fulfilling and delightful family gatherings can be!  Because we have changed a lot since we were ten.  We are different now, and we can act differently, with maturity and responsibility.  These attitudes can be powerful tools to help us break free from the bondage of old habits.  Instead of passing them on to our children, we can set these samskaras free from rebirth in their lives.

Now you may say - all of this is good and well, but how do we break free from samskaras if they are as powerful as you say?  Even realizing that we are slaves to them is often not enough to become free.  Well, Yoga to the rescue.  It has long been known that the mind and the body share a powerful connection.  Sometimes a good psychotherapist can help one break free from these bonds, but I would say a steady Yoga practice can achieve the same when practiced for a long period of time.  Partly because as some samksaras are released, new ones are forming all the time and the process needs to be ongoing.

Every thought and emotion has a physical reaction in the body.  If you think the same thought (I am unworthy, I am ugly, I am unlovable), or have the same emotion (rage, grief, shame, fear), the same physical reaction in the same place occurs.  If you ask yourself "where does my rage live?"  or "where does my guilt live?", you will feel the body part where this emotion is being stored in the form of tension, dullness, emptiness, or pain.  Yoga Asanas/postures, breath and movement allow us to explore areas of the body that are often "under the radar."  By introducing awareness into areas of "holding" we are able to release the feelings held there.

Now, group classes are all good, because in today's society we are often isolated and group classes can help bring people together.  But to really feel the power of Yoga and its capacity for deep personal transformation, one needs to have an individual practice, because when we are in a group setting we are often reluctant to release stuff like that.  In the safety and privacy of your home, you are much more likely to process these issues instead of repressing them.  It takes courage, yes, but Yoga is very gentle, and these emotions are so deeply held that rarely do they come out all at once in an avalanche, but it is extremely healing when they do and we are able to release them.  Little by little, as our body opens up, we feel better, sometimes not even knowing why.  Yes, it takes a long time, but in the end you all of a sudden notice yourself enjoying the company of people you never did before.  Your "difficult" relationships heal and become fulfilling and enriching.  As your awareness grows, you begin to understand what triggers these samskaras and overtime become immune to them.  As new powerful experiences happen in life, you learn to embrace them and process them in the moment, as they happen, instead of suppressing them and allowing them to become new samskaras.  By the the process of Svadyaya (Self-Study), a Yoga practitioner learns about the Self.  By studying Yoga scriptures, one gains an understanding about the properties of the mind, the energetic body (the Chakras).  Practice makes perfect, and in the end, we are made whole again by reconciling ourselves with ourselves.

Feeling whole again, my friends, is what I wish for everyone.

Happy Holidays!


December 2011