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You Are Not Your Thoughts

What’s for dinner? What was that sound? Why are my kids always fighting? How can I get them to stop? I’m hungry. I want chips. With guacamole. I should go to Mexico on vacation. I love margaritas. Oh yeah, I’m supposed to be meditating. Follow my breath. Follow my breath…

Does this sound at all familiar? These thoughts (and many more) are what many of us, myself included, hear as inner dialogue as we lay on our yoga mats.

Calm your body and quiet your mind is what I tell my students on a daily basis. But, how exactly do you calm your body and quiet your mind? That seems to be the million dollar question.

I had two separate clients ask me today if they were doing their meditation “right” because their minds are so busy that they have a hard time quieting them or coming back to focus on their breath. They both wanted to know why it was so hard for them to do and what the answer was to why their minds didn’t want to play along and find that blissful emptiness that their yoga teachers where telling them was readily accessible.

Research shows that we have anywhere from 42,000 to 60,000 thoughts a day. I read recently that of those thoughts, 90% of them tend to be negative in nature.

What am I doing wrong? Why can’t I lose weight? How am I going to get that job? Who would want to date me? Where do I belong?

That’s a whole lot of negatively directed at ourselves, by ourselves.

Yoga teaches us that our thoughts are not our true nature. Our true nature resides within us, I like to believe within our hearts, and not within our minds.

When I was going through my yoga teacher training program, my teacher taught her students to use the sanskrit word “neti” anytime we were trying to quiet our minds. The word neti translated means, “not this”, or from her definition, “I am not my thoughts”.

But why would you want to actually quiet your mind (other than to release your constant grip on negative self-talk and to stop worrying about what’s for dinner)? Because when we become quiet we open ourselves up to experiencing a state of oneness with all, a state of bliss, what us yogi’s call samadhi or what buddhists refer to as enlightenment.

Sounds great, right? So how do you do it? The answer is simple: find what works for you.

The sacred text, The Yoga Sutras, provide some great advice on how to attain a state of oneness or samadhi. Here’s a modern day adaptation on how we can relate to and use the advice Patanjali provided in the Sutras as he passed down the practices of yoga (please forgive me for my attempt at interpreting such a revered text).

  1. Focus or concentrate on an object until your awareness merges with it and everything else around it becomes a blur. It’s best if said object is inspiring in nature.

  2. Cultivate a sense of love and devotion to that place within you that feels peaceful.

  3. Think back to a peaceful experience, feeling, or dream and lose yourself in the remembrance of it.

  4. Dedicate yourself to something that lifts your heart and is of higher good to others.

  5. Receive blessings from a divine whom you admire and respect.

But, above all, nurture these qualities;

Kindness to those who are happy

Compassion for those who are less fortunate

Honor for those who embody noble qualities

Equanimity to those whose actions oppose your values

In other words, be a kind and compassionate person who sees the light in others, even when we disagree with them. Then, learn to find that same sense of kindness and compassion towards yourself. Once you’ve achieved those two (enormously difficult) tasks, you might be able to find a few moments of quiet as your mind lets go of its constant striving and criticism to simply dwell on the good that is within you and around you.

This is easier said than done, of course. My advice to the two clients who asked me today about why they still couldn’t completely quiet their mind: keep practicing. You don’t learn how to play the violin overnight, yet when you do it’s the most beautiful music you could ever imagine.

The Yoga Sutras 1.22 states, “Spiritual Consciousness develops in direct proportion to one’s dedication.” Your commitment and dedication to your practice of yoga and meditation pays off in ways that you may not yet be able to comprehend. Don’t even bother to try… neti, neti, neti, you are not your thoughts anyway.

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