Sunday, January 11, 2015

Making Friends With Your Mind

I don't think we can calm the mind--I believe the best we can do is learn to live with it. -Judith Lasater

What do you think? Do you find it easy to shut off your thoughts and restrain your mind? When you have a drink or smoke a joint or pop a Xanax or do your deep breathing exercises, are you calming your mind specifically? Is it your mind you are calming, or is it your body? When your body is calm, do you perhaps notice your mind a bit less or find it less offensive? How do your mind and body work together to create your experience of what it means to be calm?

In working with the discipline of Yoga to improve our mental and physical health, we learn about the inter-relatedness of the parts of ourselves we may otherwise think of as separate. Yoga philosophy looks at five main aspects of our being that interconnect and cooperate to form our human experience. We can read about these five aspects in the Taittiriya Upanishad, the foundational source of the pancamaya or five dimensional model of the human being which includes the physical, mental, energetic, intuitive/innate and spiritual aspects of the self. Everything we do to affect one of these parts has an impact on the other parts; for example, eating a wholesome, delicious meal not only feeds the physical body, it also helps our mental clarity, heightens our awareness, increases our energy and uplifts us spiritually.

Some people speak about the five aspects in the pancamaya model as layers or sheaths moving progressively from the outside in, like the parts of a Russian doll. One of my teachers said to think of the five aspects as blended all together, like ingredients in a smoothie; each part is present with the others at all times, in every experience, so you can't really take one part of the Russian doll out and play with the remaining ones; you have to play with the whole doll.

In Judith Lasater's quote about the mind above, she seems to be saying something similar to the smoothie or "whole doll" (that's my quote) proposition--we can't single out the mind and lock it down--instead, the best we can do is find a way to make friends with our mind so it plays nicely with the rest of us.

In the five dimensional model just explained, our mind or mental aspect is referred to as manomaya, and includes our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, judgments and reactive tendencies. Disturbances in our mind impact our whole being, creating health imbalances such as eating disorders, anxiety, chronic depression, insomnia and addictions.

Our Yoga practice makes us more aware of our mind and its fluctuations so we can accept it with compassion and get along with it better. Yoga helps us learn to live with our mind. When we move our physical body through yoga postures, this has a particular effect on the other parts of us. Because we are moving and breathing mindfully, our energy is honed and our awareness is heightened, making our thoughts clearer and more conscious, rather than unconscious. We may then experience more spacious stillness in our meditation, where we greet the mind with acceptance and compassionate presence. When every part of us begins to harmonize, we're no longer resisting our thoughts and trying to clamp them down, instead we're observing them and consciously integrating them into the whole of our being. We're not only living with our mind, we're getting to know it better and making friends with it, bringing harmony to our whole self. A harmonized being is a healthy being.

As you do your postures, breathing and meditation, invite your thoughts and feelings to join in, just as they are. Notice how your movements, breath, thoughts and emotions interconnect in your practice; sometimes you'll notice tension and resistance, other times harmony and fluidity.Try to keep your practice varied rather than repeating an automatic routine, and notice how your mind reacts. Appreciate and play with the whole experience.Yoga is meant to be practiced holistically, so remember to invite your mind to the party.

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