Yoga Hero: All of Yoga Podcast – Episode 4

4: The thing about thoughts

What are thoughts? Where do they happen? Why do they happen? What do they achieve? What percentage of your thoughts are useful to you, versus useless to you?

Let’s find out!

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Your workbook includes practical, implementable steps to overcome the vritti (aka thought, also known as vortex!)
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    Books mentioned in this episode:

    The Untethered Soul, by Michael A. Singer

    Atomic Habits, by James Clear

    As always, we would love to know what you think of the Yoga Hero: All of Yoga Podcast, do leave an honest review if you can, or drop us a message @beayogahero

    Listen to ‘The thing about thoughts‘ where you get your podcasts:

    Thank you, and happy listening!

    The thing about thoughts – Transcript

    When I first started going to yoga, I thought that when we were in Savasana at the end of class, that everyone else was in a totally peaceful state, with the completely clear heads and no thoughts, while I was absolutely 10 to the dozen, planning my afternoon, working out how I was going to pay for all the commitments I’d made, mentally reviewing my to do list and so much more.

    It was only really when I started teaching yoga, that I realised that most people were the same – they had overly busy minds, and they felt like they were the only one with an overly busy mind, and that everyone else was the epitome of peace itself.

    The more I’ve taught yoga, the more interested I’ve become in the power of the mind. How much we think, how overwhelming powerful the stories are that we tell ourselves repeatedly. The things that we believe about ourselves because, why? Because we thought them? Like ‘I can’t spell / I can’t do maths / I can’t remember my left and right’. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to overcome these limiting beliefs and see our potential?!

    Ok, so before we progress on to the rest of the episode, let’s first of all be open minded about the possibility that we can, in theory, overcome limitations. We can, in theory, have a thought and that’s it, as in, it doesn’t trigger another thought, and another and another like a game of word association happening inside your very head that you didn’t even want in the first place.

    So, with that mindset that what’s in the head can be overcome, let’s have a look at thoughts.

    What are thoughts?
    What are thoughts? Where do they happen? Why do they happen? What do they achieve? What percentage of your thoughts are useful to you, versus useless to you?

    The word for thought in Sanskrit (Sanskrit is the language that yoga scripture is written is) is Vritti. The thing is, and this is mega, the thing is that vritti also translates as vortex, or whirlpool. Sanskrit, or really, the yogis are so insightful to see that thoughts go round and round and round, and not only that, but they pull us down with them. In to a vortex. Or that there’s a whirlpool of thoughts that gain so much energy that they become, in inverted commas ‘true’. Well done yoga, what incredible insight that is.

    Just have a think about that for a moment, hahahhaah. What are thoughts to you? If i said a thought is something that you can hear inside your own head, would you agree?

    Theres a wicked book, The Untethered Soul by Michael A. Singer, and I’m just going to read a couple of paraphrased excerpts from the first chapter, which is called ‘the voice inside your head’ – this book is recommended completely – if you like it, here’s a link to order it from the bookshop.org. [Please note – this link is to purchase from Bookshop.org which has a very important mission – to support local book shops. In the interests of full disclosure, Yoga Hero may receive a small payout when you use these links, which serves to support our little studio too]

    ‘The Voice inside your Head’
    In case you haven’t noticed, you have a mental dialogue going on inside your head that never stops. It just keeps going and going. Have you ever wondered why it talks in there? How does it decide what to say and when to say it? How much of what it says turns out to be true? How much of what it says is even important?

    If you spend some time observing this mental voice, the first thing that you will notice is that it never shuts up. When left to its own, it just talks. If you watch carefully you’ll see that it’s just trying to find a comfortable place to rest. It will change sides in a moment if that seems to help. And it doesn’t even quiet down when it finds out that it’s wrong! It simply adjusts its viewpoint, and keeps on going!

    The best way to free yourself from this incessant chatter is to step back and view it objectively. Just view the voice as a vocalising mechanism that is capable of making it appear like someone is in there talking to you.

    Just notice it. It’s just a voice, talking inside your head.

    There is nothing more important to true growth than realising that you are not the voice of the mind.

    Let’s just review that for a moment, so Michael A. Singer is saying that yes, there’s a voice inside our head that chatters on and on and on. But that voice is not you. To understand the power and influence behind the voice though, we need to be quiet and to objectively listen; when walking, when on the phone to someone, when doing the washing up. I feel like this is so liberating. To know that the voice can be there, chattering away, taking both sides of an argument, contradicting itself, going on and on and on, and know it’s not you. The thing is however, that if we don’t take the time to be aware of what it’s saying and just how ridiculous it is, we believe that the voice IS us,  which can be completely destructive

    There is some biology to be aware of when looking at thoughts.

    This is taken from another completely brilliant book called Atomic Habits by James Clear, which is also linked to from our shownotes, and again is paraphrased.

    James Clear says:
    The earliest remains of modern humans are approximately two hundred thousand years old. These were the first humans to have a brain relatively similar to ours. In particular, the neocortex—the newest part of the brain and the region responsible for higher functions like language—was roughly the same size two hundred thousand years ago as today. You are walking around with the same hardware as your Palaeolithic ancestors.

    Compared to the age of the brain, modern society is incredibly new. In the last 100 years we have seen the rise of the car, the airplane, the television, the personal computer and the Internet. Nearly everything that makes up your daily life has been created in – comparatively – a very small window of time.

    The mismatch between our old brain and our new environment has a significant impact on the amount of chronic stress and anxiety we experience today.Thousands of years ago stress and anxiety were useful emotions because they helped us take action in the face of immediate problems.

    For example:

    • A lion appears across the plain > you feel stressed > you run away > your stress is relieved.
    • A storm rumbles in the distance > you worry about finding shelter > you find shelter > your anxiety is relieved.
    • You haven’t drunk any water today > you feel stressed and dehydrated > you find water > your stress is relieved.

    Stress and anxiety were for solving short-term, acute problems. Today we humans face problems that have unknown endpoints. Will I have enough money to pay the bills? Will I get the promotion at work?

    James Clear then goes on to explain how habit formation can help in reducing anxiety; so if that sounds like something that would benefit you, check out the book, it’s really brilliant. [Please note, this link is to purchase the book from bookshop.org, please see note above.] DOWNLOAD

    I wanted to include this, in this episode – the thing about thoughts’, because although we are walking around with Palaeolithic hardware – we can fully take control of what we focus on. Now, we definitely don’t want to be only focusing on objectively observing the thoughts all time, crikey, we’d never get anything else done! But we do want to unearth the ongoing, repeating thoughts that when left unchecked start to become, in inverted commas, ‘fact’ – like: ‘I’m terrible at maths.’, ‘My friend has fallen out with me’ and so on.

    There’s one more evolutionary thing to bring in here, which is the negative bias. When you’re driving, walking down the street, going somewhere new and so on there’s a negative bias at play. The brain is always prioritising vast amounts of information, and because hazards, dangers need to be dealt with immediately; they’re prioritised, where as good things can always be dealt with later. Mindfulness recommends we practice loving kindness and gratitude, and yoga recommends we practice contentment; these are both geared towards pulling us out of the negative bias, out of worry, and shifting us towards a positive outlook.

    So let’s summarise what we know so far:

    • the voice inside your head is NOT you
    • evolution in and of itself is not enough to have a calm mind, we have to put the work in to 1) be aware of the thoughts; and 2) to practice gratitude or contentment or both, or you might see them as the same anyway

    So let’s look at some practical things we can do, to work towards a slightly more peaceful mind. These practices are all included in our free ‘the thing about thoughts’ workbook. You can download yours here HERE HERE

    Be aware

    Just being aware of, just noticing the voice in your head, when you can, for as long as you can, as often as you can. Yes, we can see this as a form of meditation, but there’s no need for us to name this practice or label it, or worry if we’re doing it right.

    You can do this when walking, dancing, talking on the phone, talking to your dog, watering your plants, even when watching TV. I think when we start to be aware the incessant nature of the thoughts plus how un-useful many of them are, it really decreases their power… hopefully!

    Have something to focus on

    ‘Stopping’ thoughts, i think, hahaa, is hard, maybe verging on impossible. What seems to be more accessible however, and I’ve definitely had a lot of feedback from yogis that this is more doable than just trying to stop thinking, is to place your focus purposefully on to one thing.

    So, this one thing could be a mantra that you say over and over again in your head or out loud. So, you’re sitting, standing, walking whatever. You start to say your mantra in your head or out loud, let’s say the mantra is I am calm, I am calm, I am calm. OHH I forgot to buy dog food! Right best remember to do that on the way back from the supermarket. Ah where did I put the list for the supermar- ah. i’m thinking. Back to the mantra. I am calm, I am calm, I am calm. Shhhhhugar, it’s Tina’s birthday soon, I really need to remember to send a card, can’t believe I forgot last year, she’s never forgotten mine, she’s always so organised. Why can’t I be more organis- ah. I’m thinking again! Ok, back to the mantra. I am calm, I am calm, I am calm.

    Do you see how we’re not stopping thoughts. We’re not resisting them which I worry can feel like a stressful, tense practice. Thoughts will come, we just do our best to not engage with them because we’re focused on the mantra.

    If using a mantra doesn’t sit with you, you can use a sensation in your body. Those of you familiar with the yin yoga style; this is a great technique for yin yoga!
    You can use one thing coming in through the senses – like not everything! Just one thing! So if next door’s dog is barking, rather than spiralling off ‘that chuffing dog, never shuts up, I hope they look after it ok, wonder what it’s barking at. Oh what if it’s got out… blah blah blah!!! Rather than that, you focus on the sound itself, as objectively as you can, i.e. not commentating on it, and when you find yourself thinking of something else, place your focus firmly, but kindly back on the sound.
    You can also use the breath, which is always there for you to observe, or control.


    This is probably the thing that most people associate with ‘yoga’ – the movement side, the postural aspect of the practice. Actually yoga is the mastery of the mind! So incredibly relevant to this episode! But let’s stay on track. The reason that the movement practice is such a big part of what we understand yoga to be today, is because it’s so effective at making us feel better, for many reasons, like:

    1. Stretching activates the calming response of the nervous system, which helps to decrease feelings of worry and stress
    2. Focus on putting the left foot there lift your right arm high now put it back down now step here keep breathing relax your shoulders – this is just the same as focusing on a mantra, or on the breath or on a sound like we discussed before. There’s no space for incessant chatter in your head, you’re too focused on what you’re doing!
    3. The movement helps to shift stress hormones out of the body
    4. It usually – hopefully – makes you feel good, helping to pull us out of that downward spiral we talked about at the beginning.


    Write down all your thoughts, a complete mind dump, without any editing, just write write write. Get as much as you can out of your head and on paper. You can tear it up after, no one ever needs to read it. But when it’s physical; pen on paper, or typed on to your phone or computer if that suits you better, you can see the contradictions, how just plain silly somethings are, how often one thing appears and re-appears and re-appears…

    Breathe deeply

    We mentioned before how focusing on the breath can help, but we have have have to mention breathing in and of it’s own right as a tool to manage thoughts. Slowing down the breath, consciously breathing deeper in to the lungs – not just in to the top of the lungs – positively affects our physiology and again, pulls us out of repeating thoughts, our the downward spiral; the virtti!

    These practices are all included in our ‘the thing about thoughts’ workbook, available HERE HERE and we’ve also popped in there a guide to a calming breathing practice too, which is completely free.

    Just a note here, if you’re experiencing overwhelmingly racing thoughts, scary thoughts or anything of that nature, please see your doctor, or visit mind.org.uk
    Yoga is an incredible tool, but so is western medicine, so please get any help you need.

    There’s a lot of information here, and it’s all so personal. Yoga is so personal! And so this episode might be something that you come back to again tomorrow, or next week, or when you’re having a tough time. When learning yoga philosophy – i know this isn’t technically philosophy by the way, but the sentiment is relevant – we precede the learnings with a reminder that you’ll take what you need on the day, and you can let the rest go. So, trust that what’s gone in, is useful to you today based on what’s going on in your life right today, and if and when you come back to this episode, what you take from it then might be completely different, based on what’s going on in your life then!

    I really hope this has been even 10% as useful to you as it has been to me in the past.

    You are not your thoughts.

    Thank you so much for listening you wonderful heroes, see you next time!

    Get your workbook: The thing about thoughts

    Your workbook includes practical, implementable steps to overcome the vritti (aka thought, also known as vortex!)
    *Plus* a calming breathing practice, for challenging moments.

      We won’t send you spam. Unsubscribe any time.

      All of Yoga Episode List

      Episode 1 – Yoga Nidra for Deep Sleep

      Episode 2 – Ujjayi breath – the what, the why and the how

      Episode 3 – What is Yoga?

      Episode 4 – The thing about thoughts

      Episode 5 – Self love – the what, why and how

      Episode 6 – Yoga teacher training – the what, why and how

      Episode 7 – Micro rest, midi rest and maxi rest

      Episode 8 – Ways to deepen and advance your yoga practice

      Episode 9 – Styles of Yoga – Ashtanga

      Episode 10 – Forgiveness

      Episode 11 – Styles of Yoga – Yin

      Episode 12 – The four types of people and the four ways to treat them

      Episode 13 – Align your intentions and actions

      Episode 14 – How to prepare for your first yoga class

      Episode 15 – Tips for developing a regular yoga practice

      Episode 16 –  Start Yoga in September

      Episode 17: Styles of yoga – Restorative Yoga

      Episode 18: Beautiful guided Savasana

      Episode 19: Control the controllables

      Episode 20: How to stop overthinking, according to yoga

      Episode 21: Morning Yoga Nidra for a great day!