How to Stop Overthinking | Four insights from Yoga

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For most of us thinking is happening. We are supposed to control our thoughts, but instead, we are being controlled. The undesirable outcome of it is overthinking. One after another negative thought takes over us and we lose the complete control of our mind. There is a possibility to overcome this and there are immense benefits to it. In this essay, we will dwell on the 4 insights of Yoga that will help us to stop overthinking.

As per psychiatrists and psychologists, overthinking is problem-centric thinking. Instead of focusing on solutions, we get in the habit of thinking as what could go wrong. For, e.g. a Few years back someone said unkind words to you and you felt hurt. Today during your free time, you remembered the incident and then in no time you get into the cyclone of all the negative thoughts around it. Why that person was unkind to you? How hurtful you felt and what will you do now if that person repeats it?

Our mind is compared to a lake. Currently, the bottom of the lake is not visible due to turbulent waves and dirty water. Our mind is not calm because we lack stillness and purity in our thoughts. Stillness and clarity of mind are needed to make our thoughts objective. This is a simple equation of the yoga. The mind is equal to thoughts plus consciousness (the soul). If thoughts are silenced then our mind becomes aware of our consciousness. If you are able to control the thoughts, you can reach awareness and can calm the mind.

The way of Yoga

Inwardness – It means preoccupation with the inner self. This alone can resolve many of our issues. In an effort to get a physically comfortable life, we have lost the connection with our inner self. The outside world may look luxurious but the inner world is devastated. Yoga means the connection with the self.

To do that, we need to spend some time to explore the inner world. We should examine what we are thinking about during the whole day and what emotions we are feeling. We have accepted that what goes inside is the result of what happens to us outside. All the external factors are responsible for our feeling of misery. Yoga teaches us to control our thoughts without requiring to change the external world. This is how we can stop the overthinking, by going inward.

We all agree that we can control something that we see as an object. I see a book as an object and I can move it from one place to another. Some big objects might need a bigger machine to move but we can still establish some control over it. Similarly, we should look at the thought process as an object and not as an automated behaviour.

Spend some time in a day where you are not involved in external activities and observe your thoughts. Do not try to control it, just become an observer. Over a few days, you will notice that the intensity of these thoughts reduces. Now become aware of your thoughts while you are performing the external activities. Many times you will notice that those thoughts are completely unrelated to the task at hand.

This way you are becoming more focused on what is going inside. Most of the time your thought process is not an automated job now. You have some control over it. Simple awareness will change the way you think. You will no more indulge in any particular negative incident. You are more aware of how you feel and that is a big win in stopping overthinking.

Goal-oriented life – Once a man on a horse asked a passerby about where the road is going. The passerby asked the man where he wants to go. The man said he does not know. The passerby said then it does not matter where this road goes. We are living our life like a man on the horse. We don’t have goals and hence we don’t know where we want to reach in life.

I can’t insist enough on having goals in life. It is not always about creating big empires. What is needed is life with some guidance and that is what goals provide us. The way to stop overthinking is to become solution-centric. If we are committed to our goals, then the mind gets busy in finding ways or solutions to achieve them.

Based on Wikipedia, Sankalpa means an intention formed by the heart and mind — a solemn vow, determination, or will. In practical terms, a Sankalpa means a one-pointed resolve to focus both psychologically and philosophically on a specific goal. In Yoga, the highest goal is to get enlightened. All the thinking and effort of a yogi are directed towards achieving that Sankalpa. Yogi’s will has become so strong that he has completely stopped overthinking, or for that matter thinking.

Stillness – When the mind is still, it is in our control. This requires the efforts of many lifetimes. The first thing we need to do is still the body. This in many ways affects the mind. Try to sit in a comfortable position by keeping spine, neck and head in a straight line. The goal is here is to still the body for a fixed amount of time.

Ensure that you don’t move any part of your body. Don’t even attempt scratching on hand or leg. You will feel many sensations to address but use your will and be still. Do it for 5 minutes in the start and slowly increase the time. To still the mind you need yo practice meditation every day. Guided meditation helps you in the starting. Stillness in Body, Stillness in Mind will stop the overthinking.

Purity – In spirituality, there is a great emphasis on purifying the mind. Yam and Niyam practices are mentioned in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali act as a great help to stop overthinking. When the water of the lake is pure we are able to see the bottom clearly. Similarly, we need pure thoughts to calm our mind to experience consciousness. Below is a brief understanding of Yama and Niyama. If you want to understand them in detail, then refer to Swami Vivekananda’s Raja Yoga.

Yama refers to moral codes that shows us the way to live our daily life.

  • Ahimsa (non-harming or non-violence in thought, word and deed)
  • Satya (truthfulness)
  • Asteya (non-stealing)
  • Brahmacharya (celibacy or ‘right use of energy’)
  • Aparigraha (non-greed or non-hoarding)

Niyama refers to duties or observances.

  • Saucha (Internal & external cleanliness)
  • Santosha (contentment)
  • Tapas (discipline, austerity or ‘burning enthusiasm)
  • Svadhyaya (the study of the self and of the texts)
  • Isvara Pranidhana (surrender to a higher being, or contemplation of a higher power)

All these practices might sound old fashioned and impractical. We may not be able to do everything with full intensity but we should try to introduce them as a part of daily life. Even though we cannot practice them all the time, we should aim for it. Disappointment may come but where is the fun without having few failures on the road of success.