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How I used Yoga Philosophy & HALT To Stop an Anxious Thought Spiral




I want to tell you a story!


Yesterday I decided to go to my friend's Yoga class.


I was exhausted - I had had about five hours of sleep - and I showed up a bit late.


I texted him before the class and asked him to save me a yoga mat. Then, when I arrived, I saw that a yoga mat was free at the front, so I jumped on the mat and did the practice.


I noticed that there was a little chip on the mat, which typically, are often given to the yoga students for their class. The yoga teachers don't get chips. But I didn't question it. I thought that maybe he was using the chip to save the spot for me.


When I left the class, I realized he hadn't seen my message about saving me a spot. As I rode my motorbike home, I started thinking, maybe I had accidentally taken someone's yoga mat?


Then, when he saw the message, he sent a laughter emoji, and I thought to myself...maybe he was laughing because I took someone else's spot by mistake and he thought it was funny?


By that afternoon, there was a fake scenario in my head, where I'd taken someone's yoga mat who had got up to go to the bathroom, and they came back and since their mat was taken, they left. And everyone in the class thought I was a horrible person, and selfish for taking their mat. (When I look back on this in hindsight, I see how ridiculous this scenario is...obviously my friend would have told me if I took someone's mat! And obviously the person would have told me if they came back and I was on their mat!)


I (thankfully) had plans to go for a walk with my friend that afternoon who was teaching the class, so I asked him if that was the case...and he said no! A girl had left the class early because she wasn't feeling well, so the spot was empty, which I just got lucky and took.


I've been thinking a lot about how my thoughts took me on this journey...and the frameworks I used to guide myself out of it.


The Five Vrittis from Patanjali's Sutras:

In classical Yoga philosophy, there are five Vrittis, which are fluctuations or modifications of the mind. They are described in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. They are in Yoga Sutras 1.5 - 1.11, which I refer to as the "Architecture of the Mind." They refer to:

  1. Pramana (Right Knowledge): Pramana is in Yoga Sutra 1.7. This refers to the right perception, understanding, or knowledge. It's about seeing things as they are, without distortion. So for example, I arrived at the class this week, and I correctly saw that there was an empty yoga mat.

  2. Viparyaya (Misconception): Viparyaya appears in Yoga Sutra 1.8. This is the opposite of Pramana. It involves incorrect understanding or knowledge, seeing things wrongly due to misconceptions, biases, or prejudices. My misconception was thinking that my friend had placed this mat for me, when really, what had actually happened was that someone had left class early and the mat was empty, but I didn't know this.

  3. Vikalpa (Imagination or Conceptualization): Vikalpa is from Yoga Sutra 1.9. Vikalpa is the formation of mental constructs or concepts not based on reality. It includes imagination, daydreaming, or creating mental images that may not correspond to actual experiences. My imagination was then me worrying that I had stolen someone's yoga mat and that everyone hated me.

  4. Nidra (Sleep): Nidra shows up in Yoga Sutra 1.10. Nidra refers to the state of mind during sleep, where there is no consciousness of the external world. While sleep is essential for rest and rejuvenation, in the context of Yoga, it is considered a state of unawareness. This was a state that I didn't experience yesterday.

  5. Smriti (Memory): Smriti comes into play in Sutra 1.11. This is the memory or recollection of past experiences, which can influence our present perceptions and actions. It encompasses both conscious and unconscious recall. My smriti or memory was then me constantly coming back to the thought that I had upset someone, stolen their yoga mat, or was a bad person. This constant negative thought process was my smriti, or memory.

These Vrittis are seen as obstacles to achieving a state of mental clarity and tranquility in Yoga practice. The aim is to quiet these fluctuations of the mind through techniques such as meditation and concentration. This framework becomes a very useful skill for identifying your thought spirals.


Then, once I noticed my thought spirals, I was able to reflect on them. What had caused me to be feeling this way, I wondered? I used a therapy tool that I learned from someone...at some point in sober communities...called HALT.


HALT is an acronym commonly used in various forms of therapy and self-care, especially in addiction recovery and mental health contexts. It stands for Hungry, Angry, Lonely, Tired, which are considered common triggers for difficult emotions. The HALT technique helps individuals recognize and address these triggers before they escalate into harmful behaviors or negative emotions.

Here's how HALT works:

  1. Hungry: When you're physically hungry, your blood sugar levels drop, which can affect your mood and decision-making abilities. You may feel irritable, anxious, or fatigued. HALT encourages us to recognize when we're hungry and eat something nutritious.

  2. Angry: Anger is a powerful emotion that can cloud judgment and lead to impulsive or destructive behaviors. HALT prompts us to identify when we're feeling angry or frustrated and to take a step back to cool down before reacting. This might involve techniques like deep breathing, mindfulness, or talking to a friend or therapist.

  3. Lonely: Feelings of loneliness or isolation can exacerbate negative emotions and increase the risk of unhealthy coping mechanisms such as substance abuse or overeating. HALT encourages us to reach out for social support when we're feeling lonely, whether it's through spending time with friends or family, attending Sober Girls Club with us, or engaging in activities that promote connection.

  4. Tired: Fatigue can impair cognitive function and emotional regulation, making it harder to cope with stressors effectively. HALT reminds us to prioritize rest and self-care when we're feeling tired or exhausted. This might involve taking a nap, practicing relaxation techniques, or simply allowing themselves to unwind and recharge.


As I thought about it, I realized that the reason I was so worked up was probably because I was so tired! I had barely slept the night before, so I wasn't thinking clearly. The solution was to rest, and today I was feeling a lot better (and thinking alot more clearly).

Do you use yoga philosophy and other tools from therapy to discover when you're in a spiral? What tools do you use?


My courses often touch on a mix of Yoga Philosophy & Self Help to help you support yourself through healing in both sobriety and mental health. Join us for the next program.


You can also listen to a podcast episode about this here!










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