Em­body­ing the su­tra

Yoga Journal - - Practice Well - As in­ter­preted by Erika Hal­weil


Patan­jali teaches that yoga prac­tice is pre­ven­tive medicine for our minds—a way to keep fu­ture pain and suf­fer­ing from man­i­fest­ing. He re­minds us that past pain doesn’t ex­ist any­more, cur­rent pain is in process and will run its course, and fu­ture pain can be di­min­ished or avoided al­to­gether by com­mit­ting to the yo­gic life­style.

“Pain that has not yet

come is avoid­able” is a su­tra in the Sad­hana Pada, the chap­ter of the Yoga Su­tra on

prac­tices. This chap­ter tells us to work hard, tem­per­ing our level of ef­fort with both self-ob­ser­va­tion and an un­der­stand­ing that how our ef­forts are re­ceived is beyond our con­trol. Through prac­tices on and off the mat, we build strong, pli­able bod­ies to max­i­mize the health of our phys­i­cal sys­tems; cul­ti­vate free, un­ob­structed breath­ing to in­vite fresh en­ergy into our bod­ies; and gain a greater un­der­stand­ing of our minds by med­i­tat­ing, read­ing, and re­flect­ing on our ex­pe­ri­ences.

By prac­tic­ing whole-hearted at­ten­tion

in what­ever you are do­ing, you be­come more aware of the sub­tle de­tails that fill your days. Try to ob­serve your in­ter­ac­tions, and then be­gin to no­tice what kind of residue your thoughts, words, and ac­tions leave. When you ob­serve an un­de­sir­able residue (usu­ally ac­com­pa­nied by feel­ings of sad­ness, doubt, fear, guilt, or anger, to name a few), you can then shift your ac­tions to prevent a re­cur­rence. Once you start pay­ing at­ten­tion, you’ll no­tice that your days are sprin­kled with tiny bits of avoid­able anx­i­ety and stress, like hit­ting the snooze but­ton and then suf­fer­ing from the self-im­posed anx­i­ety of rush­ing to avoid be­ing late. Through re­flec­tion and as­sess­ment, you can keep suf­fer­ing from hap­pen­ing again by choos­ing to get up when the alarm goes off.

An­other ex­am­ple might be ex­ces­sively in­dulging your sweet tooth and then ag­o­niz­ing through a stom­achache, dis­turbed sleep, or even worse, den­tal work. There’s no need for a rad­i­cal shift and swear­ing off sweets en­tirely, but the so­lu­tion is one of mod­er­a­tion.

Of course, life is filled not only with

mild states of anx­i­ety and suf­fer­ing, but some­times you are over­whelmed with un­ex­pected tragedy, in­ex­pli­ca­ble cru­elty, ill­ness, and loss. While these kinds of suf­fer­ing can­not nec­es­sar­ily be avoided, your ca­pac­ity to process the trauma can be en­hanced by your stud­ies. Dur­ing times of great sad­ness, I have found that the tools of my asana, pranayama, chant­ing, and med­i­ta­tion prac­tices cre­ate an in­valu­able refuge. Even if the suf­fer­ing is only as­suaged while I’m on my mat, that re­lief wouldn’t have been pos­si­ble with­out the struc­ture and sup­port of these teach­ings.

As with ev­ery­thing in your yoga prac­tice,

there is no quick fix or trick, but there is the sug­ges­tion that you can have a pos­i­tive ef­fect on your own life—im­me­di­ately and con­tin­u­ously. By do­ing a lit­tle bit of sin­cere prac­tice ev­ery day, you’ll cul­ti­vate the dis­cern­ment to make bet­ter choices, min­i­mize your ex­po­sure to dis­turb­ing sit­u­a­tions, and pro­tect your­self from harm that is eas­ily avoid­able—like over­reach­ing in your asana prac­tice or overex­tend­ing and over­an­a­lyz­ing your­self—so you don’t miss out on the gift of this life.

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