The samskaras are habit patterns of the mind that have been practiced and repeated so often that they run on autopilot, unconsciously generating the same cyclical types of interactions in the world. As mentioned earlier, there are positive and negative behavioral patterns, but it is primarily the negative patterns that the yoga of purification addresses. A common analogy for negative samskaras likens them to almonds planted in the field of consciousness; when they are given the fertile ground of attachment and aversion, they ultimately bear the fruit of suffering. However, do not think of the samskaras as “things” out there that act out and harm us. Instead, the samskaras shape our perspective and therefore our actions in the world. Samskaras are latent subliminal impressions that result from our experiences. Our actions can be called our karmas, and these leave the samskara impressions that give rise to the larger patterns of attraction and aversion known as the vasanas. We then take further action based on these, generating more karma. This cycle can be called the vritti-samskara-chakra.
The cycle is that impressions give rise to desire, and desire leads to action. Action leads to impressions. All of that together is part of avidya (delusion) and the root of suffering. The main purpose of all spiritually oriented yoga practices is a concentrated effort to break this cycle through the fire of purification. You need to know three important things about these samskaras when embarking on the inner journey of yoga. First, your personal storyline—the narrative of “you”— generally feeds the already established patterns. Second, the more you fight and struggle against them head-on, the worse they get, sort of like a constrictor snake. And third, the samskaras pull you down like a riptide into the sea of emotionality until you can feel like you are drowning. This is what happens in a relapse, a kind of slippery recidivism that pulls you down just when you think you are past a particular issue.
In some ways, the samskaras are like addictions. But instead of being addicted to a substance, you get addicted to a particular emotional state that, while it might be pleasant or exciting, ultimately leads to suffering and pain. The samskaras have a feeling of familiarity; they are what you know, and that familiarity is their temptation. The pattern is so well established, and you are unconsciously so attached to it, that it actually hurts to let it go. The more you unknowingly let the negative samskaras fuel your life course, the deeper they pull you into their destructive spiral.