The practice of classic yoga, which requires aspirants to initiate and pacifistically protest against corruption of the mind, is arguably the oldest form of activism on the planet.
For centuries yogis have consciously worked to oppose stimuli and thought waves that not only vie for attention, but also uncontrollably enter the senses and mind by the millions.
While ancient yogis didn’t have the endless bombardment of modern day technology, they did battle with an equally demanding foe: the restless mind. In today’s modern world, we continue to be slaves to the mind, and to the thousands of advertisements that come from any number of technologies: TV, radio, computer and cell phone.
Marketing = Mindshare
Internet has just about replaced television and its predecessor, radio, as the stimulant of choice. Like most kids growing up in the 70s and 80s, I was weaned on television and a smorgasbord of popular sitcoms. On any given night of the week my family tuned in to our favorite TV shows: The Love Boat, M.A.S.H., Happy Days, Taxi and The Cosby Show.
Ask any American over the age of 35 and they will likely remember an episode from one of these sitcoms. For this reason TV has left an indelible imprint on the collective consciousness, much as the Internet and cell phone apps are doing today.
Although I have not watched TV in over 20 years, what enchanted me most about it were the commercials. The clever jingles. The 60-second storyboards. The unforgettable characters: Spuds Mckenzie and the Energizer Bunny.
Because of commercials, I had aspirations as a teenager of working in advertising. On Sunday mornings my mom used to cook a big breakfast, and I would use my captive audience to try out commercials I had created while my family ate together. “Pan in. Voice over,” I would say, peering at them through my finger framed camera.
I dreamt of moving to New York City where I would become a TV commercial writer. That fantasy ended when I realized that I didn’t want to sell dog food at the sixth grade comprehension level.
So instead I became a high tech copywriter in Silicon Valley and wrote about technology I never quite understood. If I thought writing at the sixth grade level was bad, this was worse. Tech writing is suffused with acronyms, annoying buzzwords and overused jargon, such as “seamless”, “cutting edge” and “solution”. As in TV advertising, the end goal of Internet marketing is to capture mindshare in the consumer’s psychology.
During this time I came to practice yoga, seeking relief from long hours sitting in front of the computer in a position I came to call “computerasana”.
It was not uncommon for me to experience backaches, eyestrain, tight psoas muscles, poor posture, headaches and digestive issues. Although I began studying yoga for its physical benefits, it is yoga’s contribution as a psychology that kept me committed to the discipline all these years.
Pratyahara: Taking Back Your Mindshare
Yoga recognizes that the external world is not in our own hands. That the only thing that we can change is what happens inside of our own minds: how we think, what we say and what we do.
Most of the time we don’t understand the source of our problems. But we react to them. We perpetuate them. And then we wonder why we are getting the same results.
Advertisers recognize that we are a slave to our senses. That is why they spend millions of dollars to dominate our psychology and congest our mind space with the presence of products that we don’t want or need, hence the term “mind share.” This mass manipulation is happening on an even larger scale today with the prevalence of the Internet and the 1,000,001 stimuli vying for our attention.
This stimulus overload can lead to compulsive thoughts (I want more, better, different!), a chronically stressed state, and a perpetual seeking for something that will gratify us, if only for a little while.
The 5th limb of ashtanga yoga (meaning 8 limbs or eightfold path) is pratyahara, or the practice of withdrawing the senses. You don’t need to be on a yoga mat or in front of an altar to do this practice. It begins with where you put your attention.
How to Unplug
If you suspect that you spend too much time in front of the TV, on the Internet, connected to an android phone, or in an environment that leaves you feeling depleted and agitated, than take some time to unplug.
Draw your attention away from objects outside of yourself. To do this stop what you are doing, close your eyes and watch your breath. When thoughts arise, simply allow them and re-direct your attention to your breath. Do this several times a day. This is the first step in reoccupying your mindshare.
Monique Parker is the director of Svastha Yoga Institute, the US-affiliate school of Svastha Yoga and Ayurveda in Chennai, India. A yoga practitioner for 17 years, she also co-founded and directs the Yoga Teacher Certification Program at the University of New Mexico-Taos. Recently Monique was named one of the “Remarkable Women of Taos”, a year-long celebration honoring outstanding historic and contemporary women of Taos, NM, where she lives and teaches. Her blog, “Meditate on This”, regularly appears in the Taos News. Visit her website: www.svasthayogainstitute.com or email her at: [email protected]
Editor: Hayley Samuelson.