Dharma Talk: Check Yo' Mind-Stuff

Musings for Advanced Teacher Training

Whether it comes in the form of books, movies, or television, storytelling is an important part of not just entertainment, but also the preservation of a culture.  Storytelling is as much as about cultivating creativity as it is crystallizing moments of history and cultural values.  In fact, storytelling is so important that the acclaimed writer Rudyard Kipling wrote, “If history were taught in the form of stories, it would never be forgotten.”

Stories are so important to the human experience that we have evolved to tell stories of our own. Our brains have a magnificent ability to tell us stories.  The narrative brain that each of us has serves an important function.  According to scholars and scientists, the reason humans have a narrative brain is to help remember important things for survival.  For instance, our brain might tells us a story about falling from a great height because we need to remember that if we fall off Mt. Everest, it might hurt.  Our narrative brains offer us cautionary tales.

Some stories are fact.  However, other stories are fiction.  The trouble starts to brew when we tell ourselves stories that aren’t true.  And trouble is imminent when we begin to identify ourselves with our thoughts—our stories.  In Sutra 1.2 in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Patanjali states, “The restraint of the modifications of the mid-stuff is Yoga.”  In other words, the goal of yoga is to refrain from identifying with the thoughts and stories of the mind.

What we believe on the inside manifests itself in external reality. As Sri Swami Satchidananda explains in his interpretation of the sutra, “The entire world is based on your thoughts and mental attitude. The entire world is your own projection.” If you think the world is a dark and scary place, it will be just that.  If you think the world is beautiful and kind, it will be.

Often, in our asana practice, we attach to our thoughts.  For instance, many people identify with tales of fear: “If I kick into handstand, I’m going to flip backward and fall” or “If I move into an arm balance, I’m going to face plant and break my nose.”  The stories that we tell ourselves during the asana practice become real.  We listen to the stories and allow them to prevent us from expanding our practice, which keeps us further from reaching our Truth. 

If we identify with those thoughts we prevent ourselves from becoming the fullest version of the Self.  Sri Swami Satchidananda writes, “Yoga does not bother much about changing the outside world…If you feel bound, you are bound.  If you feel liberated, you are liberated.  Things outside neither bind nor liberate you; only your attitude toward them does that.”  In other words, if we want to experience the world differently, we have to think about it differently, both on and off our mats.

This sutra is so important that Sri Swami Satchidananda states that it is the only one a yogi truly needs to know.  To detach from the internal dialogue and refocus the mind-stuff is the goal.  If one can do so, he or she “has reached the goal of Yoga.” With that in mind, during your practice, I offer you the goal of refraining from attaching to the mind stuff.  Let go of fear by coming back to the breath.  Or tell yourself a different story—one that captures your practice in the truest version of your Self—not the self made in the mind.

Rebecca Warfield