Understanding our thoughts and beliefs can only truly be possible if we are able to awaken another intelligence in ourselves other than the ego. As a Yoga practitioner for the past 7 years, I’ve come to slowly witness my patterned behavior and reactivity, both on the mat and in daily life.
Yoga has continually offered me an opportunity to concentrate on developing my mind, through meditation, stillness, and inquiry. I’ve discovered that change in my being is available through a conscious effort toward a certain quality of thinking and feeling, which brings a new ability to see afresh and to love.
Reflecting upon my life so far I have observed the challenges of processing many notable situations. For example: being bullied in school, starting my first job, arguments with family members, the loss of a loved one, and relationship roller coasters.
These types of situations can shape our behaviour and mental ability. Often I have witnessed my mind associate itself with things of the material world, which in the end only brings suffering and attachment. However, I can testify to the experience of releasing this identification with that very ordinary level of mental functioning, and in turn opening to a new understanding.
The mind, or manas, is the controller of the senses (indryas) in our body. Importantly, it consciously or unconsciously determines whether these senses are used to revive and enliven our life, or to devalue it. Despite our soul always subtly guiding us towards perfect wellness, we often make choices that only appear to be rational. But these choices are, in reality, not conducive to our physical, mental or emotional health.
In today’s world, we can commonly witness a disturbing state of mental well-being in others and ourselves. This may be due to stress, loss, anger, or fear in any area of our life. The ancient health science of Ayurveda teaches us that not only can our quality of mind be disrupted by external circumstances, but also through diet, exercise, and our own conditioned mental patterning. It is significant to note, that in Ayurveda we can consider the diet to help bring the three states of mind (gunas) into balance and coordination. All foods have a notable impact on the body and mind, so eating according to our constitution and the season plays a key role in this case.
Reflecting on one’s sleeping habits can clearly point out an area for lifestyle improvement, as good quality sleep creates ojas (essential energy). Yet, most significantly, a lack of sleep creates a build-up of ama in the body, which results in the channels of the body becoming blocked, and therefore mental communication will be dulled.
The three gunas – Sattva, Rajas, and Tamas – reflect various states of living. Sattva is associated with purity and creativity. It is the ultimate state to attain. A sattvic state of mind enables us to gain clarity, purpose, imagination, and innovation. Rajas is reflected in action through organization. A rajasic mind will display enthusiasm toward initiation and implementation, with a very motivated disposition. Lastly, Tamas in its highest quality invites a sense of completion. However, it is often connected to dullness, depression, and destruction – something we all observe recurrently in our prevailing society.
In regards to the Ayurvedic approach to a disturbed mental condition, a practitioner or doctor will promptly consider one’s state of mind to design a suitable treatment plan. This plan is often based on the three principles of Dhi, Dhriti, and Smriti:
1- Dhi – Quality of Knowingness
2- Dhriti – To bring knowledge into action
3- Smriti – Enhancing awareness
Dhi, Dhriti, and Smriti are mental abilities. Ayurveda describes these abilities as: acquisition and learning(Dhi), retention of information (Dhriti), and recall or long term memory (Smriti).
In view of all the distractions and demands daily life offers, it is often the case that many people are lacking the ability to handle stress effectively. This can be due to a deficiency of balance between the three mental functions. Misuse or overuse of the mind can disturb these functions quite easily, particularly for Vata types. Strong emotions, often from the Pitta dosha, can contribute to an imbalance very quickly.
Living one’s life according to Ayurvedic principles can help to coordinate balance between the three mental abilities. When these abilities are in balance one will be less reactive, less stressed, more creative, and experience a more sattvic state of wellness. It certainly is worthy to consider that the different doshas are noticeably different in their capacity to handle stress. For instance, Kapha types can handle the most mental stimulation or challenge, whereas Vata types can very easily become overwhelmed and anxious.
Understanding one’s constitution, and the current season can lead to a more consistent and stable mental character. Meditation, pranayama, and yoga are instrumental in offering us all some time and space to quieten the mind. When repeatedly performed safely and correctly, these practices ultimately leave us feeling centered, calm, and coherent. As a result, we are able to function more peacefully and confidently in our mysterious, uncertain, and ever-changing world.