The concept of samskara (a Sanskrit word) is important in Yoga because all the practices of Yoga are designed to train the mind, to clean the mind, to enable us to experience our truest, deepest Self. Samskaras are often visualized as grooves or ruts in the mind caused by habitual thoughts, speech, and actions. The more we repeat specific thoughts, words, and actions, the more deeply they become imbedded in the psyche — and the more difficult they are to change. All of this reminds me of a quote often attributed to the Buddha or to Lao Tzu (and repeated by luminaries such as Mahatma Gandhi and Ralph Waldo Emerson):
“Watch your thoughts; they become words.
Watch your words; they become actions.
Watch your actions; they become habits.
Watch your habits; they become character.
Watch your character; it becomes your destiny.”
How does Yoga help change this sequence? Yoga teaches us to become fully, calmly observant of the present moment — each and every moment, one after the other. In this way, we become the Witness of our own thoughts, emotions, speech, and actions, thereby beginning to see that we are something More than all of these. We begin to notice we always have a choice about the kinds of thoughts, etc. we cultivate. When unhelpful or unhealthy samskaras come to the surface of the conscious mind (after continuing to exist for some time in the unconscious or subconscious mind), we learn to watch and breathe through them as we practice responding in new ways rather than rolling along through the old familiar ruts. Yes, this takes a lot of practice! This is also an example of the many ways Yoga can revolutionize our daily lives from the inside out.