Living the teachings - Samskara

Understanding yoga's everyday spiritual meanings. By Sue Pugh

Why is it that despite our best intentions of heartfelt sankalpas we often self-sabotage and fail to achieve what we set out to achieve? Our personal samskaras may be to blame. Samskaras can be likened to little grooves in our sub-conscious minds, grooves that have been formed as a result of repeated behaviours or thoughts. These grooves can be deeply ingrained, leading us to form habits; the stronger the habit, the less mastery we have over our mind and habit inevitably wins the day. They can act like unspoken mantras and reach deep into our sub-conscious mind: if negative (as they often are), they can tint the way that we see ourselves, the way that we think and keep us in a loop of suffering.

Freud used the metaphor of an iceberg to describe our conscious and unconscious mind. The tip of the iceberg that extends above the water represents the conscious mind. This conscious mind involves all the things you are currently aware of and are thinking about. Beneath the water is the much large bulk of the iceberg, which represents the unconscious. The things that are hidden from awareness, Freud believed, exerted the greatest influence over our personalities and behaviours. Our samskaras exist her in our unconscious mind and can have a significant impact on the way that we live our lives.

Spiritual author Eckhart Tolle discusses the concept of the 'pain body', in which there are lots of similarities to samskaras, and an understanding of both can significantly help to set us free. The pain body is a negative energy field that occupies our bodies and minds. Every time we experience emotional pain, a residue is left behind; it merges with all other pain or traumas from our past, including childhood pain. In the same way that samskaras cause thinking loops and habit formation, exposure to certain triggers cause us to 'feed' our pain body and keep it strong. All of this is happening sub-consciously. Awareness however, weakens the grip and takes what was unconscious into our conscious minds so we are then able to question our thoughts and feelings instead of acting them out with negative consequences.

Our samskaras are our own creation, and if negative, will cause pain just as long as allow them to. When we are aware of them, we can then begin to heal. Yoga can bring our attention to these habits, ruts or faulty ways of thinking by getting us out of our heads and into our bodies. Somatic yoga, in particular, helps by retraining the brain and the nervous system to let go of these patterns through small and gentle movements. Over time, these small, gentle movements allow time for rest and encourage self-agency and healing.

Are your samskaras sabotaging your goals or making live your life in a way that doesn't serve your best interests? Head to your mat, draw inwards and see what you can bring to your conscious mind. Remember: the truth can set you free. Yoga can be the tool to bring about the change.


Sue Pugh is a yoga teacher and founder of and


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