Within the intricate landscape of our minds and hearts lie imprints that shape our thoughts, emotions, and actions. In Eastern philosophy, two terms—vasanas and samskaras—illuminate the profound influence these imprints have on our behavior, beliefs, and actions. These concepts offer insights into how our past experiences and conditioning mold our present reality.
Let's delve into the realms of vasanas and samskaras, understanding their similarities, differences, and impact on our personal evolution.
Vasanas: Seeds of Desire
The term "vasana," refers to the subtle impressions left by desires and experiences. Vasanas are the seeds planted within the depths of our consciousness, waiting to sprout when triggered by circumstances. These imprints carry the residue of our desires, likes, dislikes, and past actions, shaping our preferences and tendencies. Vasanas are not the full memory of an experience, but the sense of pain or pleasure from something or someone-it is the imprint that is left.
Formation of Vasanas
Vasanas arise from the interplay of our desires and experiences. When we engage with the world, our desires leave behind subtle imprints that influence our future perceptions and decisions. Vasanas are stored in our subconscious mind; our subtle body. They are not formed by our experiences, rather they are formed from our past lives and our experiences while in-utero.
In addition, individuals with ovaries are uniquely influenced by the ancestral imprints of the women that came before them. The very egg from which you developed was formed within your mother while she was carried by your grandmother.
Pause to reflect upon this fact; the imprints you carry might trace back three generations or more.
Impact on Mind and Heart
Vasanas influence our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors by creating a lens through which we perceive the world. They can generate both positive and negative tendencies, guiding us toward joy, growth, or attachment and suffering. These imprints often drive our actions without our conscious awareness; a subtle force that molds and influences how we show up in the world.
Samskaras: Impressive Imprints
Samskaras encompass the impact left by experiences, thoughts, and emotions. They include both positive and negative imprints, representing the accumulated patterns that guide our responses to life's events.
Samskaras are imprints that we are consciously aware of, it's hearing a song that brings forward feelings of joy or sadness, or a scent that takes us back to a moment in time. Samskaras are created and brought forward from any experience (postive or negative).
Formation of Samskaras
Samskaras are formed through repeated experiences and reactions, creating deep grooves in our consciousness. These imprints result from various sources, including childhood experiences, trauma, cultural influences, and familial conditioning. Samskaras are broader than vasanas, leaving a wider range of imprints that shape our overall outlook.
Since returning to Ashtanga, after a 10 year hiatus, I've noticed certain samskaras influencing my Yoga practice in a negative way, leading to feelings of apprehension and a belief that I cannot or will never. Preventing me from even trying. Once I brought awareness, self-inquiry into my practice, and allowed myself the space for detachment, I moved into the pose with ease, patience, and compassion.
Comparison between Vasanas and Samskaras
While vasanas and samskaras both involve imprints that influence our minds and hearts, they have distinct characteristics, Vasanas predominantly focus on desires and inclinations, whereas samskaras include emotions, experiences, and learned behaviors. Vasanas center on the residue of desires, while samskaras include our reactions to previous conscious experiences. Not every imprint will be easily categorized as a samskara or a vasana.
I was once asked "why do you feel the need to always stand up for yourself?" I had difficulty truly finding the why?
Is it because of how I was raised?
Was it a specific experience that left it's imprint?
Is it because, as a woman, we have always had to stand up for ourselves?
Or is it all 3?
Vasanas and samskaras offer a profound understanding of the imprints that mold our minds and hearts. Both concepts emphasis the importance of self-awareness, recognizing and understanding these imprints empowers us to navigate our personal journey, learn from our past experiences, and let go of what we no longer need to be carrying with us. By embracing mindfulness, reflection, and offering ourselves the space for patience and forgiveness we can transcend how vasanas and samskaras influence our present moment.
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Feuerstein, G. (2003). The deeper dimension of yoga: Theory and practice. Shambhala.
Govindan, M. (2016, March). Working with samskaras and Vasanas. Sutra Journal. http://www.sutrajournal.com/working-with-samskaras-and-vasanas-by-marshall-govindan