If you do what you’ve always done, you’ll always get what you’ve always got. -Henry Ford
Have you ever had a habit that you couldn’t break?
In yoga, we have a word for that. Samskara is a Sanskrit term that literally means “planned action.” Samskaras are the impressions created by our consciously chosen actions.
Let me give you an example. Every morning Jill begins her day with a cup of coffee. One morning, she went to the kitchen only to find her coffee maker was malfunctioning. That’s okay, she thought. I’ll skip the coffee today.
Jill hopped in her car, groggy and grumpy, but ready for work. However, halfway to the office her head began to ache. Her eye was twitching. Jill couldn’t stop yawning. Desperate for some caffeine, Jill pulled into the nearest gas station and bought a cup of the most mediocre coffee she’d ever had. Despite the rather foul flavor, the caffeine gave Jill the mental boost she was craving and her withdrawal symptoms subsided.
Jill never set out to create a caffeine addiction. It was created as the result of her consciously choosing to drink a cup of coffee every morning. Eventually, Jill’s mind and body reacted violently when she was unable to have her coffee. This is how samskaras work…. As our consciously chosen actions gradually become habits, we have less and less control over them. The longer we choose to act on the desired created by these samskaras, the harder they become to break.
The good news is samskaras can either spiral up or spiral down. We are usually unaware when our samskaras begin to spiral down. We are just going to have one drink, one cookie, one cigarette. One indulgence becomes two, three, and more. Our indulgences become cravings and our cravings become more and more intense. Our lack of awareness is key to the development of samskaras.
When we become aware of the samskaras we have created, we have the opportunity to change. When it comes to samskaras, change is NOT easy. In fact, for many people, it is the most difficult thing we will ever do. However, there are ways we can gently release downward-spiraling samskaras and create upward-spiraling ones.
Here are some tips for letting go of negative and creating positive samskaras:
· Become aware. Awareness practices such as yoga and meditation help us cultivate presence. We are less likely to simply drift through our lives when we have practices that ground us in the present moment.
· Uncover what triggers the craving for something or someone. What were you feeling or doing right before the craving began?
· Instead of putting a lot of time and energy into giving up a negative samskara, focus on building positive ones. For example, if you are attempting to spend less time soothing feelings of loneliness through social media overuse, try sending a text message just to tell someone you love them when the urge to scroll arises!
· Choose new habits you would like to create. Would you like to drink more water? Perhaps reach for a glass when you are craving a sugary soft drink. You can even dab on some Peppermint essential oil for an energizing, all-natural boost! Or maybe you are trying to give up smoking. Perhaps enjoy a five-minute meditation practice when you get the urge to smoke? Remember, these things take time. Be kind and patient with yourself!
· I recommend the book Recovery by Russell Brand for anyone who is facing any form of addiction at any level. Be warned, however. As clever as the writing is, I’d give the language in this book a R-rating!
· I’m also a big fan of Dr. Gabor Mate when it comes to addiction. Learn more about his work and discover resources at his website: https://drgabormate.com/
· Addiction is incredibly complex, complicated, and poorly understood. If you are suffering from addiction, please reach out for help! The National Alliance on Mental Illness is a great place to get started finding resources in your area. Learn more here: https://www.nami.org/Home