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Samskaras – understand and break your bad habits

A vast part of our life is dominated by habits and patterns of behaviour, the yogis call these patterns “Samskaras” a behaviour that is cultivated in this or one of our previous life’s. An interesting thing is that for most of these habits we don’t even know that we have them, let alone that we are aware of them. For example; you waking up and with a very sleepy head walking to the kitchen to turn on the coffee machine… or maybe a better example, every time you go to the toilet you flush right? And you don’t even think about it, it’s like you do it on automatic pilot. And that is exactly what a samskara is something you do or think on automatic pilot. A samskara can be good: it benefits you and the world around you in a positive way or bad; It only benefits your ego and is negative for the world around you.

When we want to learn something new, we need to practice this, and when we do this for the first time the neurons in our brain make a connection, we call this connection a synaps. When you do a new thing only once this synaps will not stick, however when you repeat and repeat it this synaps will getting stronger and stay, it’s like making a groove in your brain. It’s similar to how the Grand Canyon was formed, if it would only have rained once in that area, it would still be very flat, but over millions of years all that water that formed rivers cut themselves through the very strong stone and formed amazing canyons…

So back to habits, I could say that my work is a samskara, being a yoga teacher for over 20 years, I practiced and studied a lot, and I still do. In the beginning of my yoga career, I wrote down all my classes, paying attention to what could happen in class of who would come: someone pregnant, someone injured? Now after so many years of study and teaching I don’t need to write down the names of the poses anymore, I know what they look like, what their name and function is and how to teach them.

I could say that this is a very positive samskara, its beneficial for my life and for my students’ practices. But these Patterns of behaviour can be not so nice or unpleasant to: if you have the habit of lying, or stealing, or having to use drugs to make your life “better”. Those are a view of the big negative habits that people can have, however they could be very small and internal too but still having a big influence on your life. Think about negative thoughts about yourself and about others. In this time of social media and seeing everybody’s more than perfect life on Instagram, you could think that your life sucks, and if you keep thinking this day after day over a longer period, well…. Your life will probably suck because now you truly believe this and you react on it, so basically you are sabotaging your own life because of a thought that you had which now is a (false) truth.

But Habits can be changed, it’s a long and conscious process, and you have to put energy and effort into it. But it could be more than worth it. So, a simple one: you have the tendency to “snooze” every day until it’s too late and you either hurrying out of the house or is always too late… If you want to change this, you have to jump out of bed the moment your alarm clock goes off. You probably really want to snooze but hey its effort and energy that you have to put in this. Then after a while and sometimes after days it’s not that difficult anymore and at one point it’s the new normal.

So now we know we can change our habits or even cultivate new ones, let’s work on it! Make it a habit to say hello or smile to the cashier at the supermarket, pick up trash you see on the street and throw it away. Start to meditate on a daily base, or just think about a not so nice habit you have and see how you are going to change this! Mine? Well my latest one is not turning my phone on the first two and a half hours after I wake up, so I have time to study and not being distracted by whatever nonsense the world tries to show me!

- Written by Marcel van de Vis Heil

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