When the mind is silent and peaceful, it becomes very powerful. It can become a receptor of bliss and wisdom, enabling life to become a spontaneous flow and expression of joy and harmony. However . . . this inner silence cannot arise while there is a continual stream of disturbing thoughts and emotions. All this inner noise has to be removed before one can truly experience the soundless sound of inner silence.
-Swami Satyananda Saraswati
The aim of all yoga teaching is to help our students unfold their potential and become relaxed, strong, and integrated beings. In order to achieve this, we must teach them to manage their minds. This is because the mind is potentially a vast, luminous, creative power. However, when most people come to a yoga class, they have not worked with their minds. Indeed, many people find that their mind is their biggest problem, because it is undeveloped and undisciplined. In my experience, the majority of students are seeking methods to calm and manage their minds.
Taming the Animal Mind
It is because the mind is so powerful that it is difficult to manage. The untrained mind has been likened to a wild horse. Once tamed, it is a great friend; but untamed, it is a wild animal that can turn on us.
Our mind can be the solution to our problems or the source of all our problems. An untrained and undisciplined mind is a jumble of chaotic thoughts and feelings that can lead to poor perception, confusion, and destructive emotions. A trained and disciplined mind, on the other hand, is a powerful tool that can think clearly, creatively solve many daily problems, and work to realize its desires and dreams.
We need to teach our students methods by which they can discipline but also enlighten the mind. In this way, they will gradually become the masters of powerful, happy, compassionate, heart-centered minds.
The Twofold Mind
The first step in teaching students to face and manage their minds is to teach them that the human mind has two major divisions. The first is a "lower" mind, which is connected to the senses and allows us to operate in the world. This is our thinking mind. The second is a more subtle part of the mind that links us to higher consciousness. This is our intuitive mind.
The lower mind has three main components: a rational, thinking mind (manas), a memory bank (chitta), and an ego or sense of individuality (ahamkara). Manas measures sense impressions and stores these in our chitta, or memory bank. The build-up of these impressions creates our ahamkara, our sense of who we are as human personalities. The higher mind is called the buddhi. It is connected to consciousness and, when activated by meditation, it has the characteristics of intelligence, intuition, knowledge, faith, generosity, compassion, and wisdom. Otherwise, it tends to remain dormant, dominated by the louder and often more compelling lower mind. In teaching the student about the mind, the yoga teacher must use techniques that foster the buddhi and allow it to regulate the other elements of the mind. Otherwise the lower mind will rule.
The Monkey Mind
An undeveloped mind is dominated by tamas, darkness and selfishness. It is a mind often preoccupied by worry and such lower emotions as insecurity, greed, rage, and petty judgments. This is the monkey mind, which does what it wants when it wants. Emotions and desires can erupt at any time, compelling us to act and react. In this situation, the buddhi is asleep.
It is very easy for the lower mind to become a problem if we do not exercise our minds through self-discipline. Using meditation, however, we can forge a luminous, cohesive force, with each of the mind's elements working in support of each other and of our life as a whole.
Exercising the Mind
There are many methods by which we can pacify and tame the lower mind and activate and awaken the higher mind. One of the best ways to do this is to focus the attention of the student at the eyebrow center, also called the third eye or ajna chakra. This is the point that controls all the levels of the mind, both lower and higher. When it is stimulated by yogic and meditative processes, it calms the thoughts and emotions and allows the deeper and subtler intuitive elements to manifest.
The eyebrow center is the first psychic center that students should focus on, as it safely links us to higher intuitive consciousness. Two simple methods of working with the eyebrow center are Chanting Om and Alternate-Nostril Breathing.
As class is beginning, get your students to sit in a comfortable posture and let go of as much of the day as they can, so as to come into the present moment. Then direct their attention to the eyebrow center and ask them to visualize a point of light or a candle flame at this place. Instruct the class to chant the mantra Om as a group for as long as their breath allows. Repeat the mantra three times and then sit in the silence for as long as feels appropriate.
Repeat this process at the end of your teaching session as a way of directing the energy generated in class to awaken higher consciousness.
This practice also works as a meditation during class. Students initially chant Om three times together and then begin the practice at their own pace. Continue chanting the mantra Om at your own pace for about five to 10 minutes. Afterward just sit and notice the sense of deep relaxation and peace that this wonderful yet simple process cultivates.
After completing asana practice, sit quietly and focus your students' attention on the eyebrow center. Observe the breath moving in the nostrils, up on inhalation and down on exhalation. Then direct your students only to observe the breath rising in the left nostril on inhalation and falling in the right nostril on exhalation; then rising in the right nostril on inhalation and falling in the left nostril on exhalation. Continue this for a few minutes and notice how the mind has calmed down.
By working on a daily basis with these practices, students will gradually learn to calm their minds when they need to, to relax and sleep more deeply, and to experience less wear and tear from an unruly, undisciplined monkey mind.
Dr. Swami Shankardev is a yogacharya, medical doctor, psychotherapist, author, and lecturer. He lived and studied with his guru, Swami Satyananda, for 10 years in India (1974-1985). He lectures all over the world. Contact him at www.bigshakti.com.