One of the main aims of yoga is to create and cultivate sattva—a state of peace and harmony within oneself. Our sense of inner peace is most often challenged when we activate an unconscious mental and emotional pattern, or samskara. These are subtle impressions or energetic imprints in the unconscious mind left behind by past actions, thoughts and emotions. They are karmic seeds that take root in the subconscious mind that grow and affect our future actions. Yoga has many tools to help us recognize these unconscious imprints and transform them into healthy behaviors through mindfulness, inquiry, and self-awareness. Learning how to remove samskaras will reduce suffering, increase inner peace, and make it easier to reach higher states of consciousness.
Benefits of removing samskaras
There are many benefits of removing, breaking or dissolving your negative habit patterns. Samskaras are the root cause of much of our human suffering. If we want to live happy lives, we must learn to let go of our old habits and replace them with more positive ones. Here are some of the benefits of dissolving negative habit patterns:
- Remove negativity. When you have fewer samskaras, you feel happier and more peaceful. You’ll notice less stress and anxiety and you won’t need to worry about what others think of you. By dissolving behavioral patterns you have more opportunities to choose to respond to life events with positivity.
- Increase happiness. When you’re not living out of guilt, shame and fear, you have more space and time to experience joy and love. By removing negative behavioral patterns you will find more moments to experience happiness.
- Reduce pain and suffering. When you’ve removed your samskaras, your body, mind and heart feel lighter and healthier. You can let go of any pain and suffering you have been carrying around and find more ease in your life.
- Have more energy. Being caught in a loop of negative thought and emotion drains the body, mind and heart of energy. When you’re free of samskaric imprints, there’s more space, time, and energy in your life for creativity, expression and inspiration.
- Become more confident. When you get rid of your samskaras you’ll stop worrying about what other people think of you. By removing chronic negative thought patterns you’ll begin to trust yourself and feel better about who you are.
- Feel better about yourself. When you’re no longer carrying around burdensome memories and painful experiences, you’ll start to believe in yourself again. You’ll see yourself as worthy and deserving of respect.
- Be more open-minded. When you’re not holding onto samskaras, it becomes much easier to accept change and embrace new ideas and opportunities. By removing your habit patterns you are able to see situations from different perspectives.
- Be more mindful. When you’re working on dissolving your samskaric tendencies, you have more freedome to choose to act differently. You’ll be more conscious of your actions and reactions and therefore more likely to make good decisions instead of habitually responding to life events.
- Attain higher states of consciousness. When you’re free from samskaric imprints, the ego recedes and your awareness expands to the deeper subtle layers of the body and to the higher aspects of mind.
How to remove samskaras
The process of removing samskaras begins with understanding their nature, function and purpose. Knowing the yogic philosophy behind them will enable your removal of samskaric imprints to be more effective and fruitful.
The first step towards removing your samskaras is to acknowledge their existence. Once you accept that they exist, you can then decide whether you’d like to keep them or not. It may help to write down your list of samskaras and the reasons why you want to remove them so you can refer back to it later.
The primary way yoga practices helps you overcome samskaras is by bringing awareness to your thoughts and unconscious actions. Once you identify your habit patterns, you can also use yoga to soften them and eventually let go of them. By practicing yoga regularly, we can shine light and clear away these imprints and replace them with new positive samskaras. There are many practices and techniques in yoga that help disolve imprints and cultivate deeper awareness to our unconscious. Experiment with the ones that sound interesting to find the best techniques to bring you freedom.
15 yoga practices to dissolve and remove samskaras
- Dhyana (meditation) – Meditation is a powerful tool for the mind that helps you connect with your inner self and increases awareness, focus and insight. Meditation is one of the most powerful ways to free yourself from the bondage of samskaric imprints. A meditation practice will help you to notice how your thoughts and emotions are activated and influenced by deep-rooted mental impressions. Most importantly, regular meditation helps create new neural pathways to physically change your brain. The established neural pathways that make you feel anxious or stressed can be decreased and new pathways can be formed which can keep calm and level-minded even in challenging situations.
A meditation practice can teach you how to control your mind and emotions and stop deepening your negative samsaras. Through regular meditation practice, you can learn to recognize your thoughts and emotions before acting on them. This awareness can be used to break the cycle and slowly soften these habit patterns.
- Svadhyaya (self-reflection and self-study) – Inquiry and reflection are tools that helps you understand the deeper meaning and source of your habit patterns. They help you uncover and get rid of the stories that cloud your perception and judgment. When you question your habitual way of thinking, you can begin to detach from it and move towards freedom. Asking questions like “Why am I doing this?” “Where does this impulse come from?” and “What is my intention here?” can help you see what is going on inside you. This kind of questioning helps you look back at your past experiences and analyze your current situation. When you reflect on your past decisions and actions, you can begin to understand where they came from. You can also examine your present feelings and thoughts and try to figure out if there is any connection between your samskara and your current state.
- Pranayama (breathing exercises) – Pranayama helps you control your breath both on and off your yoga mat. Controlled breathing creates deep states of calmness and equanimity. Consciously invoicing a state of calm helps you observe your thoughts and emotions without reacting and being caught up by them. In addition, slow deep breathing makes us slow down to become more aware of ourselves. Samskaras are subconscious and instinctive. They often happen as a reaction before we even notice. Using the breath to slow down provides more opportunities to think about what we do before we habitually react.
- Asana (yoga poses) – Yoga poses teach you how to focus your energy and help you release stress and anxiety. The asanas help you develop strength, flexibility and balance—physically, mentally and emotionally. A consistent asana practice helps build a strong container to witness and contain strong energies and emotions, which helps dissolves negative samskaras and create and reinforce positive ones.
- Vairagya (detachment) – The yogic practice of detachment helps you disengage from your desires, drives and unconscious needs. When you learn to detach from external influences and internal reactions, you are less likely to act out and reinforce negative habit patterns. Detachment also allows you to step back and see your situation from a broader or different perspective. This helps you gain the clarity, wisdom and insight to let go of behavioral thought patterns.
- Mudras (gestures) – Mudras are hand gestures that help you direct your attention and focus your energy. These gestures are used to create and symbolize positive ideas, concepts and emotions. For example, lotus mudra symbolizes openness and growth, and anjali mudra represents peace, love, and compassion. Mudras are a potent tool to shift your energy from a negative state to a positive one.
- Mantra (chanting) – Mantras are sounds that are repeated to clear your mind of distractions. This meditative practice helps you develop concentration and focus. The repetition of these sacred sounds helps you strengthen your connection with the divine and it creates new neural pathways in your brain. Chanting can also help you cleanse yourself of negativity and bring positivity into your life.
- Karma yoga (yoga of selfless action) – Karma yoga teaches you to do good deeds and to live a life of compassion and kindness. Learning to shift your attention away from your ego to helping other people and living your dharma (life’s purpose) will help dissolve negative samskaras and create positive ones.
- Niyamas (personal codes of conduct) – The five internal practices of niyama are the ethical codes of conduct of a yogi’s internal environment of body, mind, and spirit. The practice of niyama helps us maintain a positive environment in which to thrive and gives us the self-discipline, humility, and inner-strength necessary to progress along the path of yoga. These practices include purity, contentment, honesty, humility, truthfulness, gentleness, patience and non-violence. Consciously practicing the niyamas in your daily life will help you cultivate self-control and discipline so you don’t fall victim to your own impulses.
- Yamas (ethical guidelines or vows) – The yamas are rules of conduct that govern all aspects of our external lives—from relationships to diet to daily activities. The yamas are the foundation of Patanjali’s teachings on ethics and morality. The five yamas are: ahimsa (non-harming), satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing), brahmacharya (celibacy), and aparigraha (non-possessing). Consciously practicing the Yamas in your daily life will help you overcome the common samskaras of anger, greed, lust, jealousy, pride, envy, hatred, and fear.
- Pratyahara (withdrawal of senses) – The active practice of drawing the energy of the senses inwards helps you disconnect the triggers from the outer world and brings equanimity and focus to your inner world. As most samskaras are triggered by external stimuli, by withdrawing your senses you can reduce or remove the charge and intensity of these reactions. Pratyahara also increases the self-awareness and consciousness needed to understand samskaras by connecting current emotional reactions to past events. This practice will also make you more grounded and centered to be less likely to get knocked over by intense behavioral reactions. This process of introspection cultivates our ability to control our emotions and behaviors.
- Tapas (austerity) – Tapas is the fiery intensity of will power that ignites our psychological processes and sustains the discipline required to change and overcome samsaras. Any time we manage to refrain from engaging in a negative behavioral pattern, that effort of self-control retains a concentration of inner-strength inside of us. This energy fans the flames of awareness, bringing our internal wisdom to light. One of the best ways for developing and maintaining tapas is by practicing the yoga poses and techniques we dislike or find challenging. By cultivating grit and willpower, tapas helps you purify and cleanse your body and mind of any unwanted habits and unconscious imprints.
- Bhakti (devotion) – Devotion helps you open your heart and expand your awareness beyond yourself. We usually respond to negative samskaras by closing ourselves off emotionally. When we do this, it limits our view of reality and makes us feel small and insignificant. In contrast, bhakti yoga opens up our hearts and minds to new possibilities, allowing us to see the bigger picture. It inspires us to act out of love rather than fear. Bhakti yoga is a powerful technique to create positive samskaras because it dissolves negative thoughts and feelings with love, compassion and devotion.
- Sankalpa (intention) – Sankalpa means an intention or vow made by the practitioner. Clear and focused intentions are very helpful when trying to change unconscious habits and behavioral patterns. Intentions act as a guide for how to move forward and stay focused during your practice. They can also be important reminders about what you truly desire, so you can continue the journey of transformation when you become overwhelmed with the process.
- Sadhana (practice) – The daily practice of yoga is called Sadhana. You begin a sadhana by setting an intention, committing to it, and following through with diligent practice. This dedicated daily practice helps strengthen positive samskaras while cultivating the tools and techniques needed to dissolve negative ones. If you want to change bad habits, you must regularly practice the new ones you wish to replace them with. Also, having time to concentrate daily and intentionally on spiritual practices will deepen your understanding of how your past actions affect your present life. Choose yoga practices that work best for you, so that they don’t become an automatic or obligatory routine. Varying the activities you use for sadhana helps you stay committed with ease.
Other methods to work with Samskaras
- Start a journal
Journaling is a great way to reflect on the events of the day and to see how they have affected you. You can use journaling as a tool to identify your samskaras. If you notice an event triggering a strong emotion, write about what happened. What was going through your mind? How did you react? Did you think about the consequences of your reaction? Was there anything else happening at the same time?
- Professional counseling
Working with a counselor or therapist is an effective option to support you through the process of working with unconscious negative patterns. It’s important to find a therapist who values meditation and yogic practices and understands the yogic philosophy behind samskaras. They can help you bring awareness and insight into your subconscious patterns and help you replace them with healthier patterns.
- Connect with others
Connecting with other yogis and conscious decision-makers is a great way to find support and motivation when you decide to change an unconscious negative pattern. You need to surround yourself with people who will encourage you to stay strong and continue to make positive changes. You also need to be around people who will challenge you to grow and encourage you to become a better human.
- Lead a healthy lifestyle
One of the best physical methods to weaken and dissolve samskaric imprints is to live a pure and healthy yogic lifestyle. This includes abstaining from alcohol, drugs, sex, violence, gossip, lying, etc. Living a pure life will prevent new negative imprints and will also give you more energy to focus on your sadhanas.
- Practice gratitude
Gratitude is the key to happiness and is a practice that cultivates good feelings towards others and oneself. Gratitude is the antidote to negativity and is a powerful tool to shift your perspective away from the small ego mind towards the larger Self. You can engage in gratitude as a separate practice or incorporate it into your yoga practice.
The key to becoming free from the endless cycle of samskara is learning how to break the karmic chain of cause and effect. Once we realize that every thought, word, and deed creates an impact on our life, we can take responsibility for our own choices. In order to do so, we must be able to identify the samskaric imprints that keep us trapped in the same old patterns. Through dedicated and regular yoga practice and reflection, we can gain insight into our own minds and hearts. Only then can we change our destiny.