Yoga Sutra 1.11: Humans Have a Memory Virus

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ANUBHŪTA VISAYĀSAMPRAMOSAH SMRTIH.
When a mental modification of an object previously experienced and not forgotten comes back to consciousness, that is memory.

Memory is the last of the vrittis, and it’s also possibly the trickiest. After all, the things we remember are real to us, even though they only exist in the past. How many times have you been sitting quietly, minding your own business, when some memory pops up in your mind for no clear reason? The memory may make you feel sad, or you might cringe with embarrassment. Maybe it makes you long for some happy time in the past or starts you wandering down a winding path of tangential thoughts. Suddenly, you’re not in the moment at all. You’re in the past. That’s memory.

If your computer randomly pulls up items from its memory regardless of their relevance to the current task, it’s really annoying, right? It crashes your game, slows down your work, and generally frustrates you. Same thing for human memory.

Like all the vrittis, memory has its place. We learn from it — I remember the only time I burned myself on a hot stove, so I don’t have to repeat that lesson! But I can’t keep thinking about that one time I burned myself when I was a little kid every time I try to cook something. If I get too distracted with that thought, I’ll wind up setting something on fire or just never trying to cook again. So, we do better when we moderate this vritti like all the others.

And how do we do that, you may ask? Well, that’s what we’ll start discussing with next week’s sutra! In the mean time, here’s a little bonus practice for you!

Bonus!

This week, practice being in the present. Keep an eye on your thoughts as you go through your days. Whenever a memory comes up or you find yourself lost in thought, pause, let the thought go, and bring your awareness back to the present moment. This sounds pretty simple, but you’ll soon find that the mind really likes to wander more than we usually realize. Make some mental notes or write in your journal about what kind of recurring thoughts you encounter and what happens when you let them go. Next week, we’ll delve more into practice and non-attachment.

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Be Imperfect Together

Bridging Nature

I have to be reminded quite often about the importance of Patanjali’s first sutra: Atha yoganusasanam. Now begins the practice of yoga.

Now.

And now.

And now.

Begin again.

Every time I think I have it all figured out, I have to begin again. In fact, I think that believing you know what you’re doing is a sure sign that you need to start from the beginning.

Our practice begins now. And now. And now again.

Right now, I’m in my hometown with my husband. We’re staying at my parents’ house and spending time with my siblings and their kids, and as tends to happen every time I visit home, I’m reminded of the strangeness of family, our weird patterns, our imperfections, the assumptions we make about each other, and the unreasonable expectations we cling to. The hardest part is that I love these people and this place, and I just want everything to be perfect. I want us all to be the best possible version of ourselves 24/7 and make the best of this limited time we have together. And I get attached to that. Attachment creates suffering. I get upset when it doesn’t work out the way I want. I get hurt when my loved ones prove to be imperfect. I feel bad because I’m unable to make everyone happy.

So I begin again. Atha yoganusasanam. Because this is yoga, too.

Today, my sister brought me to a yoga class where the teacher turned out to be a high school classmate of mine — a really sweet person who I hadn’t been close to, but who I always thought was pretty cool. I was thrilled to see that she had become a yoga teacher, too, and a really good one! But my high school mentality crept in a little bit, and I caught myself comparing my practice, my class, my body, my strength and flexibility to hers. When I teach, I always remind my students that we are all in a different place on our unique paths, and that no one’s path or progress is better or worse than the rest. When I teach, I see my students striving for their personal best, and I feel honored to witness them doing this beautiful work. But it’s harder to apply that same appreciation to myself, my practice, my struggles. Ain’t that just the way it is?

Begin again. This time, with compassion.

It was an absolute blessing today to practice with my old classmate. She looked beautiful and happy and healthy, and I was so grateful to share that moment. Likewise, it’s a blessing to be here now with my family. We are imperfect, but to be imperfect together can be so beautiful.

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