Yoga AND “the real world”


Yesterday’s Yoga Sutra Discussion will stay with me for some time, though the feeling is not new, it is just another context to contemplate…you might have to tuck in for this long one…

How can this “study of yoga” really help us out “in the real world”? We sit in our privileged spaces with time and energy to contemplate the nature of our True Self, we get on our mat and we move our bodies, but meanwhile the crazy world swirls around us. As individuals we are mad, sad, fearful, and sometimes it is all a little too much. We want to “DO” something, help something, change something.

As annoying as cliches are, they do serve a purpose – and in the case of yoga, “everything starts with you”. Truly the best and ONLY thing we can “DO” to evoke change is to know ourselves better in order to go out into the world a better person. That is what The Yoga Sutras teach us and tell us…human foibles exist and the only way out is to PAY ATTENTION and understand our own evolution. In knowing our OWN habits, history, tendencies, and obstacles to overcome we build compassion and understanding for OTHERS’ habits, histories, tendencies, and obstacles. And what we then do with that understanding is how we will act more consciously and effectively “in the real world”.

It is easier to look outside to blame and accuse and find fault with “the other”. We have convinced ourself that what we do and believe is “right”. Attachment to our own story and history and habit and tendency is what drives our opinions and actions and for most of us there is no getting beyond that. We have to understand that just as we are carrying attachment and aversion and fear, ANY person standing in front of us is ALSO carrying those things for completely individual (and possibly opposite) reasons. Each of us carry layers of life and experience and ignorance and ego that we cling to with all our might.

Yoga is here to break those habits of clinging and attachment, to get our own mental disturbances (yogah citta vrtti nirodha) out of the way so that we don’t perpetuate them to the world outside. Yoga is not to destroy our experience or keep us from action, but to change the intention in the end, to come to the understanding that we are all the same – spiritual beings having a human experience.

But, let’s get to the “nuts and bolts” of our discussion – we were talking about the last three Kleshas or obstacles we encounter in life and in yoga.

  • Raga – Attachment to Pleasure
  • Dvesa – Avoidance of pain
  • Abhinivesa – Clinging to life/fear of death

We covered the first two in the last meeting – Avidya (spiritual ignorance) and Asmita (ego attachment)

I think that conceptually we all understand Raga and Dvesa on a superficial layer. We continually seek out good experiences because they make us “feel good” and we avoid things that make us “feel bad” because we don’t like them. Looking deeper and more closely at the roots of these gets a little more interesting. Pleasure doesn’t last. Even neuroscience tells us this in the diminishing returns of dopamine receptors, and the continuous cycle of seeking more and more pleasure usually leads to pain in the seeking or pain when the pleasure is not there. Avoidance and hatred take more personal energy and can eat us up from the inside, coloring every other experience we have. Either way, Raga and Dvesa keep us in the fluctuations of the mind and lead us away from yoga.

The last obstacle of Abhinivesa – fear of death and clinging to life – is insidious. The Yoga Sutras say that “even the wise” suffer from this affliction, and in my opinion is what is driving so much of what is going on in the world today. We fear being alone, we fear getting sick, we fear someone who doesn’t look or think like us, we fear change. Another translation of this sutra is the “automatic tendency for continuity”. To change ourself or the way we see is a “death” of the past self or idea of the self. We are under the delusion that it will be easier to change someone else or something outside when that is ultimately impossible. Things will change. That is the nature of Nature (Prakrti). But, yoga also teaches us that the “fruit” or the outcome of most change is not under our control. The present moment and the diminishment of our own disturbed actions and reactions is where yoga teaches to focus.

Sutras II.10 and II.11 remind us that this diminishment of disturbances and obstacles happens through subtle attention in the process of “involution” and practice of “meditation”. This work has to happen at every layer of our being, not just at the external most obvious, but at the deepest layers of our psyches and consciousness.

If we can move our own selves toward that end – less disturbance, less attachment, and less fear – then we will ALL be better for it. From sensitivity and understanding of our self through yoga comes a sensitivity and understanding toward others, no matter how different they may seem. Armed with that understanding and knowledge will inevitably give us strength to move back into the world with a clear head and open heart. With clear heads and open hearts the ripples of disturbance in “the real world” will diminish…and that does start with YOU!

we also took a brief but interesting tangent discussing Savasana in its truth as “corpse pose” and what that means in regards to the study of Abhinivesa…stay tuned for another Blog on that topic

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Jennie Williford CIYT

Jennie Williford (CIYT Level 3) is a transplant to LaCrosse via Montana, Illinois, and originally Texas. Throughout her life moves and 5 trips to India, Jennie has acquired a well-rounded and multi-faceted approach to Iyengar Yoga since her start in 1998. Jennie loves the experimental and explorative nature of yoga in accessing deeper knowledge of the Self on every level. The practice of yoga can be intense and introspective, however as practitioners we can be light-hearted and open-minded in our discipline. Jennie is intrigued by the philosophy of yoga and hopes to share this depth of subject while teaching the physical and mental benefits that come from the practice of posture.