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Watch Your Thoughts

Beware the whirling fluctuations of the mind…even after booking a lush summer yoga retreat! By Victoria Jackson

I’ve started dreaming of the summer. The approach of springtime always puts me in a looking-forward frame of mind. I start planning. I feel full of optimism and see exciting possibilities everywhere. In January I fight with myself not to make a series of strict new year’s resolutions that I know will simply oppress me by their dull worthiness. But by March the turn of the seasons and the lighter days magically frees me from any such self-improvement obsessions and instead, I find I’m naturally focusing on what I really want to do — not what I think I should do. What a relief, this is so much more fun!

So I’ve just booked myself onto a yoga retreat in late summer. It’s perfectly timed so that just when back to school gloom settles over the UK, I’ll be flying off somewhere warmer and sunnier and immersing myself in yoga practice for 10 days or so. I’m already looking forward to like-minded company, good food and beautiful surroundings. In fact, I’m wearing out the retreat centre’s website studying the photos and picturing myself there. What luxury to be able to devote myself to my asana practice each day without any worries about how to juggle yoga into my day (or try to juggle my day around the yoga!). And when practice time is over I’ll have the leisure of each evening just to sit and watch the sun set over the ocean. I can’t wait, it all looks wonderful.

But my mind has slightly different ideas. It likes to play tricks on me. No sooner have I completed the forms and sent off my deposit, instead of basking in the joyful anticipation of this little yoga adventure, all sorts of nagging anxieties start queuing up for attention. What if I don’t get on with the teacher or I don’t like the food? What if I injure myself, miss my flight, or randomly decide I hate yoga and quit my practice in the interim…?

I know that this is just some crazy safety mechanism my brain has, thinking it’ll keep me out of danger by pointing out every conceivable difficulty I could ever encounter. So it’s not so much back to the drawing board to revise my plans, rather it’s back to the yoga mat where I practice slow mindful movements, all the while watching the thoughts that arise as a steady stream of distractions. Yoga teaches me that I don’t have to heed all these ‘helpful’ messages, they are just the whirling fluctuations of the mind, the citta vritti-s that Patanjali talks about.

And clearly, if Patanjali was aware of them more than a millennium ago, they’re nothing new or unique to me. That in itself is strangely reassuring. So alongside my suitcase, my ‘emotional baggage’ and all those whirling thoughts will no doubt also be coming on retreat with me. You can’t retreat from yourself, after all

Victoria Jackson lives and teaches in Oxford. She is registered with Yoga Alliance Professionals as a vinyasa yoga teacher. Read more of Victoria’s OM Lite columns.

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