How Yoga Transforms My Mind, My Life

Katharine Egli Class in session at Taos Yoga Therapy with Monique Parker on Jan. 29.

Photo by Katharine Egli for The Taos News

Article by Monique Parker

To say that the practice of yoga has transformed my life would be an understatement. The truth is that it weren’t for yoga the long shadow that follows my life would never get illuminated.

You may know me or have heard my name (I own a yoga school and yoga therapy studio here in Taos). But what you don’t know is personal and close to my heart. And that is that yoga has and continues to help me understand and, more often then not, cope with the obstacles (physical, psychological, emotional, energetic—real and imagined) that trigger destructive behaviors that keep me stuck. In short, yoga saves my life—daily.

Early infant abandonment and domestic violence that included constant belittling and physical abuse left emotional and psychological scars in my mind— what are called “samskaras” (latent impressions or conditioning) in Raja Yoga.

As a result, I, like many adolescent girls, suffered from a lack of self-worth, chronic low-level depression, and negative body image. These issues persisted into adulthood, morphing into a myriad of forms: bulimia, unaccountable fear, anxiety, anger, shame, unhealthy relationships, insomnia, and high-functioning workaholism.

While not everyone who has endured a traumatic experience is scarred, everyone is shaped by our life experiences—for better or worse. These memories and experiences (samskaras) are stored in our minds, shaping our beliefs, habits, and behaviors. Thus, creating our reality.

Our conditioning afflicts our mind even if we’ve never personally experienced trauma. From a yogic perspective, our cumulative storehouse of life experiences on our subconscious and unconscious minds gives rise to a host of vrttis—thoughts and emotions such as desire, fear, negativity, greed, doubt, prejudice, sorrow, arrogance, jealousy, and self-delusion—that while are essentially part and parcel of being human, constantly give us false assumptions about ourselves and the world around us.

These false assumptions (e.g. “I am unworthy”, “so-and-so doesn’t love me”, “this situation will never change”, and “I am not fill-in-the-blank enough”) impact our health and well being on all levels: physically, emotionally, and psychologically. They reinforce our conditioning, which gives rise to similar thoughts and behaviors that contribute to our feeling “off” and somehow lacking.

Think of samskaras or latent impressions as bindweed, those invasive climbing vines that tightly wrap themselves around plants and other objects. Left uncontrolled, a single plant can spread out to 18 feet, their hardy roots penetrating a depth of 20 feet!

Your thoughts and behaviors, left unchecked, have a similar effect. Negativity, fear, contempt, envy, worry, and desire not only cover or veil our perceptions, they literally distribute more: more thoughts that keep us wanting or feeling stuck, more stress, more symptoms of dis-ease, more suffering.

Its no wonder bindweed is referred to as “Morning Glories”. For a majority of the population, upon waking in the morning, the mind is already rushing, worrying, feeling depressed for no reason, and bombarded with seemingly uncontrollable and incessant thoughts.

Luckily, these vine-like perennials bloom beautiful pink and white flowers. When the sun is out, the flowers open in the morning and close at dusk. But if the sky is overcast and gloomy, the blossoms remain closed, like the mind.

The mind is capable of rising above the clinging, suffocating qualities of delusion. Yoga, as one of the oldest tools of personal development, offers a myriad of practices, such as japa meditation (repeating a mantra or sacred words), pranayama (breathing exercises), and pratipaksha bhavanam (looking at thoughts or situation from another perspective) that weaken habits of thought and behavior and bring us closer to our best, most authentic self.

Published March 10, 2016 “Taos Woman” supplement in The Taos News