We have a 1000 thoughts per blink of an eye according to Yogi Bhajan, Master of Kundalini Yoga. The yoga sutras state that we practice yoga to cease the fluctuations of the mind. With 1000 thoughts per second to choose from we can see why it is easy to change the mind constantly. The mind is our control center for how we act in life. Each choice is created within our mind. Whatever our age we might self reflect, self inquire and ask ourselves how the choices we have made have worked for us thus far. However, we judge that we can be sure that through our choices we create the direction of our life.
Some of us are more scattered in our mind, the vatta dosha in Ayurveda, some of us more earth bound and constant, (kapha) and some more fiery, having a mind that seems to forge ahead like a fire (pitta).
Having not grown up in the information age, it appears to be that our mind has so many more options for distraction than when I was growing up. I could fall in to watching too much television if not monitored by my parents, and I have had parents today tell me that it is challenging to monitor their children, who have the constant distractions available in the information age. Our mind has opportunities to constantly shift directions as we surf the web, text and drive (please don’t) and switch music around on our ipod.
At the same time I observe people taking the time to self observe, self analyze and become more self-aware. When we go in this direction our mind and actions can change, but they don’t always. Results can be slow, instantaneous or somewhere in between. It may be subtle. We step in to our first yoga class, maybe looking to get some exercise or relaxation, and start awakening to our breath. Our mind feels different too as a result. Without even realizing it we may have changed our mind, choosing healthier foods, healthier lifestyle habits and even healthier relationships.
Norman Vincent Peale and others have known and shown the effects of working with our mind. Everything can change. The small stuff may change and the big stuff – getting impatient in traffic, for example, or transforming your relationship with the negative tapes in your mind or a person. Destructive habits that are a reflection of our not tending to ourselves can be replaced with self-talk like “I am deserving of treating myself well. I am willing to do the work. I will go to yoga class or set aside time to meditate on breath or mantra and observe the workings of my mind.”
When you challenge your mind, you can find your emotions changing too. By self observation something that once frustrated you or made you angry can be replaced with a better understanding. In Kundalini Yoga we speak of having three minds – the negative, the positive and the neutral. Knowing this, we can look at our feelings, thoughts, our words, and our actions and say “Aha, that was not so good. Maybe my negative mind did not serve me in that conversation; I was not kind. I was judgmental” or “Wow, my negative mind really protected me in that situation; something told me to create that healthy boundary, and I did.”
I don’t think the mind is the same thing as the brain. The brain is still a complex frontier that we are exploring and discovering. But science has proven that different parts of the brain affect our behaviors and how we think. Meditation and yoga definitely improve the outlook of the mind and the body. We know that left nostril breathing will calm the mind and cool it while right nostril breathing will warm the mind and stimulate the intellect and the rational. We know that different parts of the brain affect hearing, seeing, speaking and generating words, for example, which is a big part of helping us to change our mind. When I started yoga I had no idea that slang words could be violent. I have eliminated them from my speech.
The goal in yoga is to come clearly from a neutral mind, speaking your truth. We can feel when someone is doing this. There is a grace to it. Many people have an image of a yogi sitting in bliss calmly all day long and being that way in all situations with nothing affecting them. Keep in mind that yogis are human too. Each yoga teacher, even the Masters, are human. We are all learning, some faster than others. Some call it karma. More likely we are householder yogis, living in this fast-paced world of stress with our own stress and challenges. The biggest challenge for many minds is not to judge but instead keep working on your mind. A simple example of that would be the person who walks out of yoga class saying to a friend “I cannot believe how she… whatever… about her yoga practice” or about their teacher. We all do it. We are human. When we realize we are doing that, let us instead catch ourselves, catch our mind, respect others and their right to their life and their opinions.
Our mind has so many layers. The hardest one to change and tap into is the subconscious. Some forms of meditation are said to do that. Dreams can help us do that.
Mantra means to direct the mind. We can use mantra too. When earlier similar experiences come up in our lives they are often not so apparent. But they still trigger the old tape. Someone speaks to you with a certain tone, looks at you a certain way, says something they think is harmless and you react, as we did in the past. One of the things we can learn from the graceful yogis is to respond, not to react, to think back on what the current situation may have mirrored, even if it was not exactly the same. When I was in my internship to be a dietitian in the 1970's, I was called in and reprimanded. This had been a pattern with other teachers in my past who were harsh with me when I did not realize I was doing anything wrong or “breaking the rules.” My reaction was over the top sadness and hurt because I was not yet conscious enough to see what it was triggering, what I needed to heal in myself. If you know yourself, you cannot be taken over your strong center of who you are. As someone said to me later in life, “You have a good heart but someone did a number on you,” and so the number got played over and over again until I started the process of self-refection. Now when it plays I can see the karmic pattern.
Change takes discipline and practice, but it is worth it. Whether it is getting on your mat every day to do your practice, meditating or any other tools you use for self improvement and introspection, allow the wonderful opportunity to change the things in your mind which are holding you back from being the best you and knowing that best you more deeply.
A recommendation that can help us is The Greatest Secret of All by Marc Allen, a New World Library book.
Meditation for Change”
This is a simple meditation that can help you work on the mind.
Sit in a chair or cross-legged on the floor, spine straight.
Bend your fingers down so the tips touch the mound of the hand, except for the middle finger, which is also tucked under.
Let the middle knuckle of the middle fingers touch.
Let the thumbs touch and stretch back toward the middle of your chest (the heart center)
Close your eyes and focus between your eyebrows or have your eyes 1/10th open looking at the tip of your nose.
Do long deep breathing through the nose for 3, 11, 22 or 31 minutes to help you handle the fear and doubt associated with change, which robs you of your strength and focus.
Donna Amrita Davidge owns and operates www.sewallhouse.com Yoga Retreat in Island Falls, Maine (since 1997) when not teaching in NY City (since 1985). Sewall House welcome small groups, single guests and all levels of yoga practitioners and was chosen top ten worldwide in 2009 and 2010. Donna’s husband Kent has recently released the (vegetarian) recipes for their acclaimed food (as requested by guests!) in a recipe booklet available on their site. Open May through October and certain holidays and by pre-arrangement in winter.