Samskara is a Sanskrit word that refers to a pattern of behavior or thought, a psychological imprint. In English we might refer to this pattern as a “habit”. I’ve also heard Samskaras likened to the grooves in the vinyl records I played in my childhood and early adulthood. Whenever we repeat an action — or a thought or an emotion — we reinforce it. And the more we repeat it, the more it becomes a habit ingrained in our behavior.
Another analogy I once heard involves a wheelbarrow. Let’s say you’ve decided to create a garden in your backyard, and you have to spade up part of the yard to create a planting area. You shovel dirt into your wheelbarrow and move it to another section of the yard. Every day you dig a little more, and you transfer the dirt to the new location by pushing your wheelbarrow along the same route.
Eventually, the wheelbarrow wears a path in the ground, and the wheel naturally gravitates toward this channel or groove every time you haul dirt. It’s almost as if you don’t have to think about where to go. The wheelbarrow finds the groove worn into the yard. This is the kind of patterning we do frequently. We establish habits without even realizing it.
Good habits, Bad habits
Some habits are good. Eating healthy foods, exercising regularly, brushing your teeth. Certain actions have become so second nature to us that it would be odd not to do them. Other habits may not be so beneficial. We all have them. It can be as simple as repeating a negative thought until it becomes a conditioned response or as damaging as an addiction that destroys your whole life.
You’re in control!
But Samskaras do not control us. These patterns of behavior and thought are things we have set up, and we have the power to dismantle them, as well. If you choose to take a different path with the wheelbarrow, you start a new groove, a new pattern that replaces the old one. Sometimes it’s easy to do; sometimes it takes a huge amount of effort, focus, and perseverance. But it is possible.
Now that we are fully into the swing of summer, I had a realization about Samskaras. A summer vacation is a perfect opportunity to reflect on your own patterns and change anything that really doesn’t serve your highest good. When we go on a vacation, we’re already disrupting our regular routine. We’ve changed location, and we may also change the time we get up in the morning, the times we eat our meals, the very activities that we engage in. Why not use this vacation time to change something that isn’t actually helping you progress along the path of your life? It’s the perfect time to try!
Make a change
Take a little time to determine something you want to change. Maybe it’s as simple as cutting back on the amount of caffeine you consume in the morning or the way you reflexively speak to a family member. Practicing a more mindful approach to even simple aspects of your life can be transformative.
Reflect, redirect, reimagine. Take the wheelbarrow on a new path, and you may discover new ways of being.
Lindel Hart teaches yoga online for PerfectFit Wellness. He lives in Western Massachusetts and teaches at Deerfield Academy, a private residential high school, as well as at Community Yoga and Wellness in Greenfield, MA. Visit his website, Hart Yoga.