Yoga and the conscious mind

Our subconscious mind influences a staggering 95% of our behaviours, with only a small proportion of our daily actions led by our active, conscious mind. Do you ever find yourself responding to a situation, only to reflect later that you wished you had reacted differently, maybe more calmly, more thoughtfully or with more grace? This response is the subconscious mind at work, mirroring patterns of learned behaviour from previous exposures and experiences. It's not all bad; the subconscious mind also contains positive impressions, including love, respect and patience. So how can yoga influence the conscious mind, allow us to tap into these affirmative elements of our subconscious mind, and be less reactive to external triggers?


What does yoga philosophy tell us about the subconscious mind?

The Patanjali Yoga Sutras divide the mind into three levels: the subconscious, the conscious and the superconscious. Within the subconscious mind, all our lived experiences exist. Deep impressions of our lives are termed Samskaras - patterns and imprints left by our daily experiences. The word Samskara comes from the Sanskrit term, sam (joined together) and kara (action or doing). The Samskaras sit patiently waiting to return to our conscious mind and create commands, or threads for us to respond in autopilot mode. They also influence our thoughts, the way we see life and how we interact with the world around us. Samskaras are classified into those that lead us into ignorance, and those that lead us to be closer to our authentic being. The subconscious is everything we are unaware of, that moment when we shout instead of listening, cry instead of walking away, say yes when we want to say no. The subconscious also governs our positive habits and emotions when we wake up early, when we eat healthily, how we walk and talk with purpose. Repetition of the Samskaras is believed to reinforce them, whether positive or negative.


Doesn't this all sound familiar?


Take yourself back to the psychology lectures from med school or have a quick flick through that textbook gathering dust on your bookshelf. You might recall the iceberg metaphor of the mind credited to Sigmund Freud, showing the interaction of the three levels of our awareness, the preconscious, conscious and unconscious. With the 5% of the conscious mind sitting about the surface of the ocean. Without delving too deep into psychoanalysis, this theory informs Freud's approach to revealing the unconscious mind and unwanted thoughts and memories repressed in it. Within this model, the conscious mind holds everything that we are aware of at that one moment in time. The conscious mind allows us to be closer to the truth and develop a sense of self-awareness. With this also comes ego, but we will leave that for another blog! The subconscious mind is the past, and the conscious mind is the present.


How can yoga influence the conscious mind?


So how does understanding the distinction between conscious and subconscious, whether in the true yogi sense (the trained mind) or the Freudian sense (the untrained mind) help us to be less reactive in our daily actions and behaviours? We know that the conscious mind allows us to live in the here and now and be truly present in the world around us. The practice of yoga, either through the yoga poses, asanas or breathing techniques, pranayama enables us to apply awareness and attention, to the movement of our body and our breath. By doing so, we can keep our focus in the present moment and gently lead ourselves away from the subconscious mind.


Repetition of these moments of being present will reinforce the sense of here and now. Transforming our behaviours to be more conscious on the mat can have a positive influence on our actions off the mat. Whether it's being aware of the water on your skin when showering, smelling the flowers on your walk to work, focusing on the inhale and exhale of a breathing exercise, or moving gracefully through a vinyasa flow. As my yoga practice has developed I feel more aware of my mind and the behaviours that it influences. That's not to say that sometimes I wish I was kinder, wiser or more assertive in a moment in time, but these moments are offset by times when I know I am being truly present and can replace negative behaviours with more positive, loving, and patient actions.


By allowing yoga to influence the conscious mind we can opt to act and not react. We can genuinely choose how we move through each day of our lives, and make our footprints, both on the planet and in our minds more beautiful one step at a time. So take a minute to activate your conscious mind, take a deep breath and be in the moment as you sit reading this article. If you have time try this simple breathing exercise for the conscious mind. Start creating imprints and a new path today.


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Photo by Quinsey Sablan on Unsplash