When you see an accomplished mimicry artist, you may realise how a famous actor has easily recognisable patterns of speech and body language. Every actor has a way he or she is “normally” on screen. All of us have these patterns. it has nothing to do with fame. That even accomplished actors have these easily recognisable patterns tells us how hard it is to escape habit!
The total of our unconscious patterns is called samskara in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. It is that which we do not see, but controls us nonetheless. We can see our own thoughts and emotions, our body sensations, other sensory inputs such us sights or sounds. But what we don’t see is the patterns that power the activities of our minds, bodies and senses. Samskara-s or these patterns exist in the form of potential that manifests whenever there is activity. The unconscious patterns shape our actions and experiences but cannot be seen as themselves until they manifest themselves as activity.
There are such baseline or “normal” patterns in all dimensions of our body and mind. Evolution has left its imprint on us. Our activities and environment create more patterns. If you frequently respond in the same way to a situation or input, that response is more deeply ingrained in your body and mind. Over time, it becomes increasingly easy to repeat that response.
Look down at how you are sitting now (or standing or lying down). Is one of your legs turned out more than the other or crossed over the other? It usually is; we don’t sit, stand, or lie down with perfect symmetry like a mannequin. Try changing the alignment of your legs. For instance, try placing your right leg over your left and compare it to placing your left leg over your right.
You will realise that some leg positions feel more natural than others. The body retains patterns down to the details we consider inconsequential — your tissues are moulded to different lengths because you sit in a certain way more than in other ways. In time, it feels “easier” or more “normal” for you to sit in a way that accommodates the patterns in your tissues. If you look at a five-year old, you may see that these tissue patterns are not strong yet; glance at a 55-year old, and you can see how patterns have rooted into the tissues.
It is easier to keep repeating our “normal” patterns. So, it takes effort to make a change. But some change is essential for — in the example above, your posture will suffer if you sit in the same way all the time and you will develop aches and pains. This principle is powerful in a positive way as well. If you make the change or re-pattern your “normal,” it will also become easy to stick to.
The power of habit swings both ways. To make a change, we must shift our current unconscious response. This takes energy. But as we continue to do the new activities, they become easy too. If you get up from your chair every hour to stretch and then sit down in a different posture, many sitting positions gradually become easy and comfortable for you. It no longer feels unnatural to stretch or sit in varied positions. The change has become normal.
“Normal” is your key to making long-term change feel easy and become natural. It need not be difficult or feel difficult. Progressively greater well-being can be your new normal. That is the power of samskara!
The writers are yoga practitioners and authors of several books