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Changing The Soil Of The Mind

Last week I spoke about the relationship between mind and the disease of anorexia as a mental misperception of reality. I described the practice of yoga as a sahavasa guna - qualities that one develops through good companionship - or as a tool to acquire good companionship in the form of good thoughts.

This week I am going to focus on three of the five Klesha’s or five types of thoughts.

Vritti sarutyam itaratra

At other times the Self appears to assume the forms of the mental modifications.

Vrittatah pancatayyah kilista aklistah

There are five kinds of mental modifications, which are either painful or painless.

Avidya, asmita, raga, dvesa, abhynivesah klesha

These five mental modifications are ignorance, I-ness, attachment, aversion, clinging to life.

Avidya is ignorance. In this specific case, manifested as a lack of being able to see the truth, or of interpreting reality as it is, due to ignorance. Wisdom is hence covered by the veil of ignorance in form of thought formations that mislead one away from truth. Avidya is the ground on which all the klesha’s thrive off of.

Asmita is the state of Being. When this pure state of Being feeds it self off of ignorance one experiences pride and egoism. I-ness, which is experience of I from without instead of within. Anorexia feeds off of this separation of mind/spirit. It relies on the Ego mind to thrive on and to anchor it’s diseased thought processes in. The person becomes attached, proud of existing through this thoughts, to the point it identifies with them as a permanent form of who I am, the thoughts shape the person.

Raga “literally means ‘that which colors’. Attachment. In the context of this blog, attachment is secondary to ignorance. The two have a very close relationship to one another. They create a loop cycle, and feed off of each other. This is a great relationship to identify because, as we will later see, this is the relationship we can infiltrate through with the practice of yoga.

Without ignorance, attachment cannot exist - people suffering from anorexia cling to the idea of being able to control the body out of fear change. The individual needs to find a sense of identity in order to feel like they are in control - this is usually due to unstable exterior conditions. Fear comes from the deep inner awareness that everything is temporary, fear pushes one to attach to something that is mistakingly seen as permanent, hence inevitably create suffering, because the ultimate truth is that nothing is permanent, other then spirit.

That is exactly what anorexia is: attaching to an idea of the body and the suffering that the fear of loosing one’s control over it causes. Without attachment, ignorance cannot survive.

The work therefore is to create a ‘side folder’ in one’s brain with a new set of ‘right information’, so that eventually the ‘right knowledge’ takes over. This reminds me of my Guru’s favorite sutra ‘yoganganusthanad asuddhi ksaye jnanadiptir avivekakhyateh’ 2.28 or in Sharath’s words…“By practicing all eight limbs of yoga, the impurities of the mind and body will be destroyed. These impurities are obstacles that prevent us from realizing the true nature of the soul. Once these obstacles are cleared by practicing the eight limbs of yoga, the true wisdom, or jnana, is understood and will glow. Only then will we be able to distinguish between what is true and what is untrue.”

Ashtanga Yoga is a breath practice. Breath and thoughts are very intimately related. Have you ever noticed how when you are anxious or stressed the breath is really short? The mind is shooting thoughts allover the place, offsetting a disconnected crazed behavior. Contrary to that when one is calm and relaxed the breath is slow, with a steady quality to it. Yoga is learning to access the breath in a way that calms the mind and the nervous system. The vinyasa system of coordinated breath and movement brings circulation to areas of the body that would otherwise be stagnant. Healing comes from reviving those stagnant areas, bringing circulation to them so they can release what they are holding on to. This eventually perpetuates positive change.

Which brings me back to the concept that learning to control the breath ultimately allows one to have a grip on the mind, having a grip on the mind means there is less attachment to it's content, which in turn means ignorance has no place to anchor it’s belief system. By practicing yoga you are essentially changing the soil of the mind.

I say this because anorexia comes with a deep fear of the body changing, a strong and constant concern over a possible loss of control of one's body weight (raga); weight being a number in which the person invests it's sense of safety and self identity (asmita), a number at which one allows itself to exist. One becomes so attached to this identification with the body that it lives in a state of constant anxiety over the possibility of losing that which gives a sense of self, security or temporary happiness (avidya).

These fears are based on a deep attachment to the physical, and give a deep sense of anxiety when the physical doesn't match our expectations. As one practices yoga, and becomes more aware of the breath, and can begin to relax in the body, the attachment to these diseased thoughts softens, and there is more space between the thoughts and their intensity, or their grip on the overall emotional state. With devotion and faith, the attachment slowly softens, and a deeper inner, subtle awareness - true wisdom- begins to shine through. The more asana is practiced, the more the breath has a change to create pathways for this light to come through more and more…eventually so much so that healing is possible.

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