You don’t have to attend many yoga classes before you hear the word samskara. Yoga Journal defines it as a blend of two Sanskrit terms: sam (complete or joined together) and kara (action, cause, or doing). A samskara can be a repeated pattern of thinking or acting. The more you repeat those thoughts and deeds, the more ingrained they become. The end result? You find yourself in a rut.
It’s probably a lot easier to understand how you got into these patterns than how to break them. That’s where inspiration comes in. And, inspiration starts with clarity. Before you can look up and over the rut to find a better path, you have to clear away the circular thinking that got you into these negative routines.
As you ready yourself for practice, set an intention of practicing with a clear, focused mind. Turn your eyes inward and concentrate on seeing new possibilities for each aspect of your breath work and for each asana. Rather than directing your breath or your body, allow your physical form to “fill out” each pose—using your breath to stretch on the inhale, strengthen on the exhale. Take advantage of your teacher’s suggestions for ways to vary poses you know well and let that inspire you to try different approaches to reaching your goals.
Being creative doesn’t require a set of paints or a pen. Asking your body to do things that are unexpected, from standing on your hands to balancing sideways in Ardha Chandrasana (Half Moon Pose), changes your physical perspective. This can be a great way to break out of the “I can’t” mentality that comes with the frustration of feeling stuck or not finding an immediate solution to a problem.
Many yoga poses require you to challenge your ideas of what you can and can’t do and find out just how much more capable you are than you think. When you were starting out, every pose was exciting because it was new. With each class, you built on that foundation, using the sequences as inspiration to try more, to expand and to grow. All those poses you looked at once and thought were impossible are becoming (or are) now part of your practice. Who says you can’t balance upside down? Can’t twist into Garudasana (Eagle Pose)? At some point, either within yourself or based on a suggestion from someone else, you were inspired to attempt to fly or flip your heels over your head. Recognizing and acting on that inspiration probably flipped a lot more than heels. It flipped a switch that ignited the engine of change in your thoughts and actions.
So, when you’re looking for a way to get creative or to be the change you’d like to see in the world, try these poses to help you find inspiration:
Camatkarasana (Wild Thing Pose)
Benefits: The unusual axis your body finds in this pose helps you adapt to new possibilities. How to do it: Start in Adho Mukha Svanasana (Downward-Facing Dog Pose). Shift your weight into your right hand and the outside of your right foot. Open up into a side plank. Lift your left hip toward the ceiling. On an exhale, bend your left leg and place the ball of your left foot on the mat behind you. This will pull you into a backbend. Continue reaching with your left arm toward the ground. Stay there for five to 10 breaths, then return to Adho Mukha Svanasana and repeat on the other side.
Benefits: This pose opens your chest, helping you open your heart. How to do it: Begin lying on your stomach on your mat. Bend your knees in toward your hips, keeping them hip-width apart. Bring your hands back to grasp your ankles (you can grab them one at a time if you need to or use a strap). On an inhale, lift your feet toward the ceiling to bring your thighs and upper body off the floor. Keep your breath even. Stay for 20 to 30 seconds, then release. You can do up to three repetitions of this pose. As a variation, you can pull lightly on your ankles to start a rocking motion synchronized with your breath.
Parighasana (Gate Pose)
Benefits: This pose places your whole body off a linear grid, which can help your mind to do the same. How to do it: Start on your knees. Stretch your right leg out to the side and turn your leg out. Place your foot on the floor. Keep your left shoulder back. Bring your arms out to the side. Slide your right hand down to a comfortable place on your right leg. Inhale and bring your left arm over your head in a wide arc. Hold for 20 to 30 seconds, then release and repeat on the other side.
Play Around. In your home practice, shake up the sequence of poses or try a different pose. Think about how that makes you feel. Take your Yoga Paws and find a group of like-minded yogis who’d like to practice in the park or along the river. Go deep into the woods and inhale the sweet earthy smells as you practice. On your next walk, look around as if you had never seen or smelled anything on that before. Observe the shapes of the leaves, the contrast of the foliage with the blue sky, the fragrances around you.
Use a mantra. As you practice yoga, remind yourself that there are more options than you think. A mantra like “I can see choices” or “I am inspired” might be good ones.
As with so much in yoga, there is no one-size-fits-all answer to how you can get insired. But, taking a different approach, even to a familiar practice, can help you find your muse. You are the artist of your own life and your canvas is yours to paint as you will.