What is the problem with identifying with your thoughts, anyway? Look at it like this. If you say, “I am a loving person” or “I am a terrible person” or “I have no patience” or “Everyone is always mean to me”, you are making loving-ness or terribleness or impatience or victimhood part of YOU. Each of these becomes a weight added to your idea of YOU, that you are then forced to lug around – that’s probably why it’s called “emotional baggage”.

Second, when you believe something is part of YOU, you get attached to it and develop a certain possessiveness about it, which makes it much harder for you to let it go – whether it is hurt or a desire for revenge or deep love for someone.

Third, when you identify with something, you are accepting that it is part of your nature, and we all know that what is natural – like it is natural for a flowering plant to produce flowers, it is natural for bears to hibernate in winter – cannot be changed. When you believe that a habit or a behaviour or an attitude is part of your nature, you will not even bother to try and change it! Do you see how detrimental it is to think of yourself as your thoughts and feelings? Do you see how, as we give ourselves more and more labels – I am ambitious, ugly, smart, stupid, successful, independent, irresponsible, lazy – we get more and more trapped by them?

If we believe we are smart, we get very upset when we don’t grasp a science concept in class or do badly in an exam, leading to constant fear and anxiety. If we think of ourselves as stupid, we don’t see the point of working hard or trying different ways to understand a concept (“I won’t get it anyway”), and are consumed by dark self-hate. Either way, we are trapped. The only way to free ourselves is to think of all our emotions and thoughts as separate from us, happening in a space called the mind.

Maharishi P assures us that this is, in fact, true. The best part is, unlike things that happen in the world which we cannot control, our thoughts and emotions all happen in our own minds, which we CAN control. There is even a step-by-step path to get there, and it is called yoga. What joy to know that we are not condemned to being stupid or irresponsible or lazy forever! What bliss to realise that we are not even condemned to eternally being the independent one or the high-achieving one; that it is perfectly fine to ask someone for help when we need it, or not feel it’s the end of the world if we slip up on the achievements once in a while, knowing we can always get back to our self-reliant, class-topping ways when we need to!

It might be a good idea to learn Sutras 2, 3 and 4 by heart, so that you can remind yourself of them as you go through your day. It may also be a good idea to recite these affirmations to yourself as often as you need to.

1. I am NOT my thoughts, but I can watch my thoughts as they come and go, and that’s a real superpower.

2. I am NOT my feelings. But hey, I am the BOSS of them, because I can choose how to react to them.

3. I am NOT my body, but I’m so grateful for the gift of this brilliant piece of engineering that allows me to enjoy and experience the world.

4. I am NOT my mind, but have you ever seen a smarter, quicker, more efficient, data-processing-sense-making-story-spinning-memory-keeping-emotion generating-decision-taking machine?

Here’s what I AM, though: I am the energy and the awareness that allows all of this, ALL of this, to happen. Pretty cool, huh? If you prefer to think your thoughts in Sanskrit – yup, not much chance of that, but no harm in checking – or if words set to music speak to you more powerfully, which is more likely – you can say/sing/chant the same sentiments to yourself, in Adi Shankara’s own words.

In the eighth century ce, with his mother’s blessings, eight-year-old Shankara cast off his worldly attachments and left his home in Kaladi, Kerala, to become a sanyasi and live the hard life of a monk. He began to walk north, seeking a guru for himself, and when he reached the ashram of Guru Govinda Bhagavatpada on the banks of the River Narmada, he knew in his heart that he had come home. But would the guru accept him as a student? There was only one way to find out. Shankara approached the sage and requested that he be accepted as a student.

“Who are you, child?” asked Bhagavatpada. Instead of simply stating his name and lineage, the boy genius began to sing. In his sweet, soaring voice, he sang more about what he was NOT than what he was – I am NOT this, I am NOT that – and so profound were his words that the guru, sussing instantly that this was no ordinary child, agreed to teach him. That résumé that Shankara presented is called the nirvANa shaTkam (in Sanskrit, shaTkam means a six-verse composition) or the Atma shaTkam. Here’s the first verse. You can find the other five – all very beautiful – on the internet. The shaTkam has been set to a couple of different tunes by different contemporary composers – pick your favourite off YouTube, and sing! Not any old time, either, but atha – now!

मनोबुद्ध्यहङ्कार चित्तानि नाहं
न च श्रोत्रजिह्वे न च घ्राणनेत्रे I
न च व्योम भूमिर्न तेजो न वायुः
चिदानन्दरूपः शिवोऽहम् शिवोऽहम् ॥१॥ 

mano-buddhy-ahamkAra chittAni nAham
na cha shrotra-jihve na cha ghrANa-netre
 na cha vyoma bhUmirna tejo na vAyuh
chid-Ananda-rUpah shivOham shivOham 

I’m neither manas nor buddhi, nor ahamkAra nor chitta
Neither ear nor tongue am I, nor nose, nor eyes
I’m neither space, nor earth, nor fire, nor air
My true nature is chidAnanda, pure and blissful consciousness
For I am shiva, I am shiva.

In other words, drashTa. Shiva here is used not to refer to any particular god but to the Sanskrit meaning of the word, which is “blessed” or “auspicious”.

Excerpted with permission from The Yoga Sutras for Children, Roopa Pai, Hachette India.