Unleashing the silent mind
Yesterday’s yoga class was a bit different. After our standard 3 “Oms” to begin the class our instructor gave us some theory on the mind.
I have always enjoyed the theory side of yoga. Although I have attempted numerous times to brush up on yoga theory (my latest effort being the Hindi sacred scriptures, Bhagavad Gita), I find the old texts a bit dense. So it was a welcome change to have some concepts spelled out to me. After all, gaining an insight to the more philosophical and spiritual side of yoga can in the long run benefit our understanding and practice.
So what is the mind? Our mind consists of our endless thoughts, worries, dreams and passions. From a yogic point of view, it comprises of two main components: the “thinking mind” and the “silent mind”.
Most of the time, our minds are in thinking mode. Thinking about what you ate for lunch, thinking about what to do on the weekend, thinking about the cute guy you saw on your way to class…
During yoga and meditation we need to try and switch on the silent mind. This is something I often struggle to do. I am compulsive worry wart and have to admit, I have sometimes found myself sorting out my thoughts during yoga or yoga nidra. To make it worse, my thoughts are erratic and never-ending. Thoughts jump from an issue about work to an unrelated subject like cake which will then flow into a thought about dinner.
On the other hand, the silent mind is more of a passive observer. It is silently aware and observes and acknowledges the passing thoughts. However, it does not give them significance and so it does not get dragged into a further succession of thoughts.
So how do we silence the mind? Breath meditation is particularly beneficial for this. Focusing on every in and out breath allows the mind to be centered. However, it’s natural for your mind to wonder and for a thought with absolutely no relevance to suddenly pop into your mind. The silent mind will acknowledge this and by staying focused on the breath, will help the thought pass.
But how can this actually benefit yoga practice? After theory, our instructor took us into a warm up and then into a series of poses such as warrior one and two and other twisting postures. We were then told we would have to hold each of these postures for 25 breath counts.
When it comes to yoga, I have always preferred a vinyasa, flow style technique. I’ve never been a fan of holding postures for extended periods of time. In the past when I’ve tried to hold postures it doesn’t takes me long before my legs start shaking as I’m pushed out of my comfort zone. I then usually have to pretend I have an itch so I can momentarily rest my arms and all the while, inside I’m cursing to myself and thinking “how much longer?!”
However, armed with the knowledge of the silent mind, this time I go into the postures more confident. Into the tenth breath count of warrior two and with the silent mind switched on I’m not thinking, “This is uncomfortable” but rather feel centered in the posture. My mind is clear and being in the pose for this long also allows me to become more aware of my body. I am then able to make adjustments to the pose, making sure my spinal column is straight and that my arms are properly aligned.
I’ve heard of how postures such as the warrior series can help cultivate inner strength and stamina and up until now I was never entirely sure how that worked. I may have been practicing yoga since I was 17, but it’s never too late to learn something new.