While yoga will do a pretty good job opening your hips and stretching your hamstrings, the main point of the practice is to quiet things down in the mind. The great 20th century Bengali saint Ramakrishna said “The mind is like a drunken monkey that’s been stung by a scorpion.” And from my limited experience, I’d have to agree with the guy.
Yogash Citta Vritti Nirodha, the second, and most famous sutra of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras means: yoga is the cessation of the fluxuations of the mind. So there it is, that’s the practice – getting that monkey to quiet itself down – put away the mental to-do lists, cut off the “he-said, she-said” conversations, elminate the negative self talk, stifle the planner.
But here’s the thing: according to yoga philosophy, the very nature of the mind is to think. In fact, the mind cannot even exist without a thought. Well then, what’s the point of stopping it? Truth is, you can’t. But you can divert it, you can assuage it and you can use it’s energy for personal transformation. The real question becomes: what do I think about?
If we can remember that we are not our thoughts, that thoughts are something that we have rather than something that we are, we can create enough distance from them to eliminate some of the pain they may cause us. Another important technique is to release the thought from the tentacles of judgment. If the thought is not me, it’s just a thought, then I don’t have to invest in it. I don’t have to beat myself up for having it. It’s a thought, it will come and go, I have the choice of whether or not I will integrate it.
After gaining some ground in the separation of self and thought, then the practice of intention can be very useful. So what would be the thing that would dissipate a challenging thought? What if every time you had the thought, you used it as an opportunity for alchemy? What if you could take the energy that you use up in the negative thought and apply it to a transformational thought? Say you can’t stop feeling like you have a fat, unattractive body. What if every time that thought came up, you replaced it with “I love my strong, healthy body and I appreciate all that it does for me.” That would mean that every time the negative thought appeared, you had the opportunity to create something new.
This is ancient stuff, this is what the Tantric yoga masters taught. Every time a “negative” thought arises, you have an opportunity for growth.
I’ll talk about the next practice, Guru Vandana, or offering the colors of your mind, in the next post.