Our minds are incredibly powerful. Our thinking impacts our bodies physiology, such as our heart rate, our stress response, and our relaxation and tension. The way we think and what we choose to believe can shape our life in healthy or hurtful ways. Just as we might be mindful of what we choose to eat and put into our bodies, we can be intentional about the nourishment we also provide in our minds.
For thousands of years, yogis taught that our true self observes our thoughts, serving as more of a witness to the mind than the actual mind itself. One of my first yoga teachers taught me a helpful mantra to solidify this concept for me. She shared that we could repeatedly tell ourselves, “I am not my thoughts, my thoughts are not me”.
With this understanding came a sense of freedom. Instead of getting pulled into the drama of the fluctuations of our minds, I could still the thoughts and learn to let them go. Instead of focusing on things that happened in the past or ruminating and worrying about what might happen in the future, I could learn to be in the present moment.
Once we gain the knowledge that we don’t need to believe everything we think, we can begin to recognize the ability to shape the thoughts arising for us. We can choose what we believe and let go of the unhelpful things that come up to us.
Through a committed yoga practice, we become more aware of how our consciousness constantly fluxes. The Yoga Sutras share Patanjali’s teachings (1.2) of “yogas chitta vritti nirodha”, often translated as:
Yoga is the stilling or controlling of the fluctuations of the mind
Our curiosity can help us to become more aware of how our own unique minds work and the storylines we constantly create for ourselves. With this information, we gain the ability to shift any long-held patterns or belief systems. We might then have both the knowledge and the know-how in order to begin to nourish the mind with helpful thoughts instead of hurtful ones.
We can use Patanjali’s first Yama (or ethical guideline) of Ahimsa to assist us with this practice. Ahimsa often translates to “nonharm” or “nonviolence”. After you begin to notice the chitta vritta, or fluctuations in your mind, you might then begin to note the harmful nature of your thoughts towards yourself. When you start to listen and pay attention to what you allow in your mind, you might find that you say things to yourself you would never say to a friend, or even your worst enemy.
As I process these ideas, a myriad of questions come into my mind:
Why do we allow ourselves to be so unkind and hurtful in our thoughts?
What happens when we continuously speak to our inner selves in this way?
How can we shift and change this unhealthy pattern for the better?
What if we only allowed nourishing, helpful, supportive thoughts to live in our mind?
The answer to these questions might be as individual and unique as you. Yet, we can all benefit from taking the time to be curious and learn new ways of relating to our mind and thoughts arising within. We know nourishment can help our bodies grow and become healthier. If we nourish our minds in the same way, we cultivate a healthier relationship to our whole self. In this way, we might begin to still the fluctuations of the mind and gain clarity about who we really are, and what matters most to us.
Because; I am not my thoughts, and my thoughts are not me anyway.
Nicole Lovald is one of the co-owners of Spirit of the Lake Yoga and Wellness Center and is a master’s level counselor, certified life coach, master reiki healer, and registered yoga teacher.