I have this habit of going to bed at midnight. That is not necessarily a bad thing. It wouldn’t be a problem at all if my alarm didn’t go off at six o’clock in the morning to get ready for work. Or five o’clock. Or even four o’ clock some days.
It isn’t that I particularly have to go to bed so late, but if I changed when I go to bed, I would have to change my entire evening routine. I have had this routine since I was a brand-new yoga teacher teaching late evening fitness classes to make-ends-meet! And my routine involves going to bed at midnight.
This is only possible because I binge sleep on Sundays. Mondays and Tuesdays I feel pretty good. Wednesdays and Thursdays I start to feel a bit tired. Fridays I’m so exhausted I’m a basket case all afternoon. Saturdays require copious amounts of coffee. And then I do it all over again the next week.
We all get stuck in our habitual patterns. We repeat behaviors and have tendencies that once served us on our journey but now cause us to suffer. It isn’t that we particularly like suffering, but we are so used to being or doing things a certain way, it may not even occur to us to do things differently! According to yogic psychology, our mental impressions and conditioned responses are our samskaras. Our samskaras can be positive, negative, or neutral, but as yogis the ones we notice and work with the most are the ones that disturb our peace and cause us pain.
If we are paying attention, we might begin to notice our samskaras show up in our yoga or meditation practice early on. If our samskara is that we tend to push ourselves too hard and see everything with a competitive eye, the result may be that we injure ourselves trying to force our body into a pose it is rejecting. Perhaps our samskara is we are obsessively fixated on our children and this distracts us in our mediation practice. As painful or annoying as these experiences may be, the disturbances that arise during our practice give us incredible insight into what our samskaras are so that we might address them in our everyday lives.
For example, if my tendency is to push myself so hard that I injure myself practicing yoga, it is safe to say that this carries over to my personal and professional habits as well. This could lead me to become burned out in the office, grumpy at home, and otherwise just not enjoy the gifts that the work I do in the world brings. Or if I am so concerned with my children’s well-being that I neglect my own self-care and personal development, not only will I unnecessarily miss opportunities that could bring me and my family joy, but I risk unfairly resenting my children for all of the “sacrifices” I made for them.
Thinkin’ like a yogi!
Practicing yoga and meditation can help us cultivate self-awareness. As we do, we increase the likelihood that we become aware of our samskaras. However, we do not have to limit ourselves to these two methods of self-discovery. There are many tools we can put in our yogi-tool case to assist us in learning about the places where we self-sabotage. Tarot, journaling, astrology, psychotherapy, the Twelve Steps, depth psychology are all wonderful additions to our yoga and meditation practice, and all speak to the modern Western psyche.
Our samskaras usually develop from relatively harmless thoughts and behaviors. It is fine to go to bed late and get up early once in a while. Sometimes we do need to push ourselves to meet the demands of a task. And there is nothing wrong with making difficult decisions and sacrifices on behalf of a child’s well-being! Our attachment to our particular way of doing things is what takes an ordinary thought or action and causes us to suffer. Our yoga practice offers us a way of seeing not only our samskaras, but also relieving our attachment to them. As we deepen our practice, we can begin to loosen the tight grip we have on the way we do things and the way we think things should be, creating space for the way things are and opening ourselves up to new, and perhaps more joyful, possibilities.