In my last post, we talked about the importance of Buffer Time—those moments of space in our day that help us transition from one event to the next so we can have a clear mind and energized presence. Today’s post is related to Buffer Time: what we can think of as Bank Accounts.
We are all familiar with the metaphor of bank accounts—build up our deposits so that when we do withdraw, we have already banked what we need and will still have some left over. Ideally, we deposit regularly and before we spend, as tempting as it is to do the opposite. This makes depositing a primary habit, a good practice that we just do, without internal debate or rationalization or excuses.
We can think of our life practices as deposits or withdrawals on our human bank account, the sum total of our mind, body, and spirit. These regular practices can form positive or negative impressions, what yoga calls samskara-s, described here by Nicolai Bachman in The Path of the Yoga Sutras: A Practical Guide to the Core of Yoga:
“Every time we register an event (receive a sensory input or produce a thought, word, or deed), a subtle impression is recorded in our memory. The more intense the event or the more it is repeated, the stronger the impression. Eventually, the impression forms a deep imprint, called a samskara, which becomes part of who we are and influences our actions.” (p. 51)
B.K.S. Iyengar defines a samskara as an “ingrained pattern of behavior” (Light on Life, p. 131); essentially, a habit. Take a minute and think about your repeated practices or habits, your positive or negative samskara-s, and how they lead to deposits or withdrawals on the bank account of your life. What do you do on a regular basis that strengthens, energizes, or uplifts you, and what do you do that detracts from or compromises your best self in some way?
For me, the most consistent, regular “deposit” is daily exercise. While the nature of that exercise varies, it’s rare that a day goes by without me doing something. This positive samskara has shaped not only my days but also my view of movement as fundamental to who I am, and it supports my physical, emotional, and mental readiness for what life brings. Taking a walk before the work day begins or practicing yoga as a buffer between other responsibilities acts as a regular deposit into my human bank account, empowering and energizing me for good work and a clear mind. And when life happens, and my “withdrawals” start to deplete my bank account, I can rebuild it by going back to this or other positive samskara-s to recalibrate.
There’s something about good practices, particularly early in the day, that send a signal to the brain that our self-care and overall wellness are fundamentally important; that we have already accomplished something of value and with that momentum, we can do more of the same as the day unfolds, whether in our work as conductors or our relationships with those around us. When we start with good practices, the daily annoyances or challenges that might have bothered us seem less stressful (less of a “withdrawal”); if technology doesn’t function well or the ensemble didn’t retain what we did yesterday, no one can take away the morning workout or breathing practice we did—it’s banked!
Withdrawals from our account can be caused by negative samskara-s, whether unhealthy habits or negative self-talk or ingrained emotional responses to particular triggers (like abrupt emails from a colleague you find challenging to work with). Negative samskara-s are powerful but can be weakened with time if we direct our attention elsewhere. Planning buffers in our day moves us toward a more mindful presence, even for only 15 minutes—a deposit which may help us release the grip on our work as be-all-end-all or our to-do list as emergency. With time and dedicated practice (abhyasa), we can replace negative habits with much more beneficial ones. But when negative samskara-s become addictions or are trauma-induced ways of thinking or behaving, seeking professional help to unpack and weaken these behaviors, moving toward freedom from them, is essential to a balanced life, personally and professionally.
“You’ve got to go from bad samskara to good samskara to freedom. It’s a logical progression. It’s doable. . . . It simply becomes second nature to be free.” (Iyengar, 135)
As we enter this new month, with spring looming and change in the air, may we take a mindfulness break, a buffer, to observe our “ingrained patterns of behavior”— the positive and the negative, the helpful and the harmful. Then let’s see how we can adjust going forward, building up our human bank account and maybe for the first time in a long time, getting a glimpse of our best selves.
Disclaimer: This blog is conversational and not intended to diagnose or treat any medical or psychological conditions. Always consult your medical practitioners who know you and your needs and can advise you accordingly.
Dr. Ramona Wis is the Mimi Rolland Endowed Professor in the Fine Arts, Professor of Music, and Director of Choral Activities at North Central College in Naperville, Illinois and the author of The Conductor as Leader: Principles of Leadership Applied to Life on the Podium. Dr. Wis is a 500-hour CYT (Certified Yoga Teacher) with training in yoga history, philosophy, meditation, energetics, pranayama (breath work), anatomy, Sanskrit, and the teaching, sequencing, and adaptations of asana (posture-based) practice. Reach her at:
Nicolai Bachman, The Path of the Yoga Sutras: A Practical Guide to the Core of Yoga. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1604074299/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_2AVAZ9XG8PB8JX4B0R8J
B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life: The Yoga Journey to Wholeness, Inner Peace, and Ultimate Freedom. https://www.amazon.com/dp/1594865248/ref=cm_sw_em_r_mt_dp_BRW3Q2F6992J13758FX7