How Samskaras Color Our Choices–Breaking Away from the Familiar
- Published: Friday, February 15th 2019
- in Mindset
According to yogic philosophy, we’re born with a karmic inheritance of mental and emotional patterns—known as samskaras—through which we cycle over and over again during our lives.
The origin of the word in Sanskrit, samskara means sam (complete or joined together) and kara (action, cause, or doing). In addition to being generalized patterns, samskaras are individual impressions, ideas, or actions; taken together, our samskaras make up our conditioning. Repeating samskaras reinforces them, creating a groove that is difficult to resist. As they can be positive, they can also be negative. Negative samskara results in patterns such as those in low self-esteem and contribute to poor relationships. The negative samskaras hinder our positive evolution.
In an article on ShareCare, Deepak Chopra, M.D., explains that a samskara is a groove in the mind that makes thoughts flow in the same direction–over and over again. In other words, we all have personal samskaras that are created by our past memories. Chopra adds that rage, anxiety, depression, addiction and obsessive compulsion disorders are symptoms of how people are trapped in toxic memories and behaviors. However, it’s possible to change our samskaras with willpower and insight.
Are Samskaras our Destiny?
Yoga International asks us to think about whether a samskara is our destiny, or is it an old glove that we can’t avoid putting on? The answer? It depends on you. If you use your potential and discipline to change how you react to your samskaras, you can avoid negative effects. But if you make no effort to change–or don’t believe you can–you may be caught in your negative samskaras for life.
For example, famed psychologist Marshall Rosenberg, creator of Nonviolent Communication, believed people could learn to avoid conflict with a practical approach to peacemaking. He taught people to change their mental grooves by speaking directly about what they observe; naming the feelings that arise in response; uncovering the needs, values and motivations that underlie their feelings; and asking for what they need to enrich their lives. While Rosen did not emphasize samskaras, he believed that people could change timeworn patterns and find new, positive ways to react to frustration.
The Pitfalls of Mental Grooves
All of us perform new actions every day but not all become samskaras. Interestingly, if we are aware of our actions and intend to perform them, they are more likely to turn into mental grooves. Let’s take another look at Marshall Rosenberg’s teachings with this example. Perhaps as a child, we realized we could get a toy or piece of candy by throwing a tantrum. Gradually, we learn to be aggressive every time we want to get our own way and carry that habit into the workplace–and our relationships. Rosenberg teaches us if we examine our feelings and needs, we can reset the anger groove.
Mantras, Biofeedback and Therapy
Of course, there are other ways to change our negative habits, including meditation, biofeedback and cognitive therapy. Meditation is considered one of three pillars of wellbeing. And while there are hundreds if not thousands of types of meditation and mindfulness practices, most focus on clearing the mind or transcending the self to find calm and clarity.
Biofeedback helps people gain control over involuntary functions or reactions. Used to treat conditions like migraines and pain, it can also help people gain more control over habits that impact their health.
Cognitive therapy (working with a psychologist or mental health professional) can also be a positive way to understand your feelings and change negative habits. And if your positive samskaras include hitting the gym, taking a yoga class or getting a massage to deal with stress, we think that’s a good thing.
 ShareCare, “What is a Samskara and What Does It Do?” Deepaak Chopra
 Yoga International, “What Are Samskaras and How Do They Affect Us?” Pandit Rajmani Tigunait,”
 Greater Good Magazine, “In Memorium, Marshall Rosenberg,” Rhonda McGee, February 2015
 Global Wellness Summit, “Meditation Goes Plural,” January 2019