by Sorsha Anderson
Most of us have an idea how to detox our bodies: eating right, exercising and juicing or fasting. But how do we detoxify our thoughts and thought process? In much the same way: by choosing which thoughts to feast on and which to pass up.
Think of your mind as a giant store that is stocked with unlimited food. Further realize that this store is stocked in part by the world outside which is filled with unhealthy influences. No matter what our intentions, our store is not always the health food store we would like it to be. The good news is that no matter what state our store is in, we can examine carefully each item that we take off of the shelf and choose whether or not to put it into our cart.
- Understand that you are not your thoughts.
Just as the food in your cart may belong to you, it is not you. The same is true with thought. Thoughts are a product of the mind, the mind is a tool of the self, but it is not the self. As Sri Dharma Mittra explains, “the mind is powerful, it loves its pleasure. It will throw you down! But you are not the mind.”
He continues with this analogy: the higher self resting in the body is akin to a driver in a car. If you are driving the car and the brakes fail and you are having trouble with the electrical system, you are having trouble with the car, but you are not the car. Next:
This can be done very simply in a short period of time. Pick a quiet time during the day, or even as you lay down before sleep at night. Close your eyes and observe the thoughts that come into your mind. Do not engage the thoughts, do not dialogue with the thought or practice arguments in your head…just watch the thoughts come up and then let them go. Even five minutes at a time will help introduce you to your thought patterns and begin to give you the sense of the ‘observer,’ your higher self watching the thoughts. It will give you an excellent idea of what shape your store is in. Is it a health food store or a 7-eleven?
- Don’t fear your thoughts.
Even if after some observation you notice negative patterns, keep calm. Everyone experiences negative thoughts. You cannot help the thoughts that float through your mind. Remember, they are thoughts only and they are not you. You can begin to control your thoughts by using your discrimination. You do not have to validate every thought that comes into your mind any more than you have to buy unhealthy food every time you enter the store. If a troublesome or unhelpful thought arises, ask first, “Is this thought compassionate? Is it compassionate to myself, to my friends, to the world?” If it is, engage the thought and let it tell its story. If not then let it go; leave it on the shelf. Leave room in the mind for something worthy. As Sri Dharma Mittra says, “Cultivate compassion, the rest will come.”
Try tree pose, with the eyes closed. No matter how observant and vigilant we become, all of us have trouble at times releasing negative thoughts. If the mind is stuck in a difficult place, give it something else to concentrate on. Vrksasana, can be done almost anywhere, any corner of any room, even a bathroom stall at work. Stand in tree, feel your standing foot on the ground and close your eyes. Tell your mind, ‘Nothing changes here; I am simply lowering my eyelids.’ The mind may fight; it may panic as the eyes close and it loses the visual horizon; but remember, you are the driver. Use the breath, feel yourself in space; imagine you are simply a tree in the dark. The mind will start to understand that it does in fact know where it is in space without visual reassurance. It will begin to settle. The worrisome detail the mind would not relinquish may suddenly dissolve in the moonlight!
- Count to ten – upside down.
In addition to the physical benefits of inverting the body, the mind greatly benefits as well. One of the elements of inversions that hooked me early on was the instantaneous quieting of the mind. If the mind won’t stop, if it becomes filled with obsessive thoughts and won’t let go, dump it out! Turn your cart upside down, empty it out and start again. The mind will begin to concentrate on not falling over and start to let go of everything else. Something about going upside down is also reminiscent of being a kid again. We physically recall a time when we felt fearless and invincible and our mood instantly elevates.
You are not your thoughts, but thoughts are energy and the vibration of that energy affects our mood, our state of being and our physical body. Next time you are revamping your diet because the body is calling out for a change, also take stock of the contents of the mind. Choose to leave those uncompassionate, un-helpful thoughts on the shelf, and over time, your store may stop stocking them altogether.
Sorsha lives and teaches in Vermont. She has been practicing since 1991 and worked with very gentle and restorative yoga until her 30’s when she wandered into a hot and sweaty, but meditative vinyasa studio. Neither a dancer nor gymnast as a child, and after having had two children, she surprised herself by balancing in crow for the first time at 36. She never looked back. Sorsha approaches each new pose with a sense of optimism and adventure and delights in encouraging others to try what only seems impossible at first glance. She particularly enjoys teaching older women who are trying to find their way back to their bodies after a sometimes very long absence. Sorsha is thankful to have found her way to the Dharma Yoga Center and makes the trip from Vermont as often as she can. She offers gratitude for the beautiful physical and spiritual teachings of Sri Dharma Mittra.