By: Monica Ott

At one time or another, we’ve all heard of the word ‘karma.’ Sometimes karma is viewed as this imaginary boogie man that’s going to come out of hiding and grab us when we least expect it. This karmic chain of destiny ominously lurks in the vast scope of the universe. To be fair, one of the definitions of ‘karma’ is fate, but karma literally means ‘work’ or ‘action.’ Our daily actions direct the paths we take in life. For instance, some actions or karmas are positive and lead us on a path of enlightenment and some negative actions/karmas can lead us down a path of self-destruction. There are also karmas on a grander scale, which are beyond our control. They can affect the outcome of our time here on earth, but for now, we’re going to focus on what we can change on a smaller ‘grass-roots’ level.

There are reasons why we believe certain things, make decisions, and ultimately take the actions that we do in our daily lives. These reasons all stem from the impressions of the mind, also known as ‘samskaras.’ Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, spiritual head of The Himalayan Institute, defines the meaning of ‘samskara:’ “The prefix ‘sam’ means well planned, well thought out, and ‘kara’ means ‘the action under-taken.’ Thus, ‘samskara’ means ‘the impression of, the impact of, the action we perform with full awareness of its goals.’ When we perform such an action, a subtle impression is deposited in our mindfield. Each time the action is repeated, the impression becomes stronger. This is how a habit is formed.” These habits are what create our bigger actions and our karmic destiny.

Samskaras can be formed by many different experiences in our life: Our childhood, past traumas, daily interactions, etc. Sometimes we can get so caught up in the cyclical ferris wheel of samskaras that our mind sees the world through many different colored lenses. An example of the way samskara works can be seen in the justice system. Let’s say you get called in for jury duty and you report to the courthouse. Once the legal teams learn a little more about you, they may dismiss you from service. They may conclude that your particular life experiences have formed certain impressions in your mind that bias your opinions and decisions.

Small habits like drinking too much coffee or hitting the snooze button over and over can even become so ingrained in our routine that they affect our thoughts, our actions, and our view of the world. Larger impressions like a past trauma can close us off from new experiences and feeling love from others. In order to begin to change our samskaras we have to start to recognize the patterns that aren’t serving us. The first step is allowing ourselves to pause, look within, and find meditation. In the practice of meditation, the thoughts rise to the surface in order to show us what we need to change and where our energy can be redirected. The more comfortable we get with watching the thoughts, the more we start to learn how to change these thought patterns and control the actions that we take. This consistent practice burns up old, negative karmas and creates new, positive karmas. The evolution of the mind towards higher consciousness allows us to see the reality of other people’s situations and samskaras. When we become attuned to this, our actions will come solely from the heart, freeing the mind from restraint.

Practice: In the asana practice, observe how the mind can tell us stories about our bodies and the pose. Try to discover the curiosity and exploration of each pose as if it were brand new to your practice. Practice 10-20 mins of silent meditation everyday for 30 days. At the end of the month, begin to notice how the mind starts to quiet.