Especially if you’re relatively new to practicing Yoga and have come directly from a ‘feel the burn’, ‘push, push, push’ and ‘no pain no gain’ background, postures like Bakasana, Adho Mukha Vrksasana (handstand), plank, Ashtavakrasana, or Urdhva Dhanurasana can all seem like asanas you’ll need to force your way through. The truth is though, while using brute force might get you some of the way, it doesn’t allow the body open comfortably and genuinely to the asana, and it definitely isn’t Yoga if it’s practiced in this way. Yes, these postures take time and practice in order to build the strength needed, the muscle memory, balance and flexibility, but much more than that – they’re about developing a trust within yourself, letting go of the ‘need’ to get there, and not becoming egotistical and attached when we eventually do get ‘there’.
Notice that when we stop grasping and desperately searching for things – they’ll often come to us. In the very same way, when we stop forcing our way through a practice; whether it’s with a physical practice or a meditation practice – the experience is a lot more beneficial.
Trying to make the mind quiet and still is only likely to conjure up more thoughts and ‘chitta vritti’ (fluctuations of the mind). Trying to make the body perform a shape it isn’t ready for yet will only create more physical and mental stress, resentment towards your own body, and a disengagement from what Yoga is actually all about…. And it’s not about fancy postures.
We all get caught up in wanting to be able to achieve a certain posture sometimes. It’s a natural part of the human mind and is often linked to comparing ourselves with others and even with ourselves. This desire and attachment – also known as raga – however, is one of the root causes of suffering or dukha.
Buddhist philosophy recognises ‘Three Poisons’ or ‘Three Kleshas’ of ignorance that are the root causes of suffering. In Sanskrit they’re referred to as triviṣa
(tri = three and viṣa = poison) and in Tibetan dug gsum. It is these three ‘poisons’ that we allow ourselves to imbibe keep us trapped in a cycle of reactions and emotions dependent upon our situation.
The Three Poisons
Ignorance / Moha (also known as avidya in Sanskrit) = Delusion or confusion. Not recognising the truth in a situation; believing only what our mind and ego allow us to believe.
Attachment / Rāga = Desire or greed. The ‘need’ to have or experience something.
Aversion / Dveṣa = Anger or hatred. Often linked to rejecting a certain ‘negative’ situation.
The Yoga tradition often recognises these ‘poisons’ within a cycle that keeps repeating itself, and is a cycle we’re probably all familiar with:
Constantly thinking about ourselves, the material world and our own situations (paying too much attention to the ego) causes ignorance in the first place, which leads to desire and craving for material things and experiences; once we have what we want, we become attached to it and experience fear of losing that thing (this can also be known as Abinivesa). This fear and clinging breeds yet more attachment and therefore rejection or aversion to anything which does not adhere to ‘what we want’ or what we’ve become accustomed to. This aversion, uncertainty and rejection (all fuelled by fear) leads to us identifying ourselves even more with the ego – we measure ourselves dependent upon what we have, not what we truly are. Of course this over-identification with ego-driven “I am” results in more desire, wanting, and attachment….. It’s a difficult cycle to break.
All of these poisons point towards the same thing; when we’re not able to sit with the real truth of what is without becoming attached to it or wanting it to go away, we experience suffering. Even physical pain doesn’t have to be suffered through if we accept the situation and be with what is. Physical activity of any kind should come with a label: Pain is inevitable; suffering is optional.
Developing a deep trust in ourselves and in a bigger power than us is one of the keys to overcoming this suffering. We’ve all heard it a thousand times before – probably because it’s useful and true; You are exactly where you need to be right now.
“It is only when we have the courage to face things exactly as they are, without any sort of self-deception or illusion, that a light will develop out of events, by which the path to success may be recognised”
~ The I Ching ~
Each challenge or obstacle placed in front of us is a chance to learn, develop and grow. Even the enlightened being does not stop living in the world and experiencing all the things that happen within it; he is just not knocked about by it and his peace doesn’t rely upon things he can’t control.
“Be in the world, but do not be of the world”
~ Krishna, The Bhagavad Gita ~
Conversely, there are three ‘Opposite Wholesome Qualities’ that are known almost as the antidotes to these poisons:
- Wisdom or ‘non delusion’ / Prajna or amoha
- Non-Attachment / Alobha
- Metta (Loving Kindness) / adveṣa – Non Aggression and Lack of hatred. This is also identified by gratitude, which is hugely powerful in shifting our state of mind from ignorance and fear to peace and power.
So how can we release struggle in a Yoga practice and find true strength?
Introduce a new cycle into your practice:
Acceptance: The first step is a difficult one, and takes much more strength and courage than simply continually pushing thoughts or difficult situations away. To accept where we are on those days we’re not in ‘such a good space’ is to experience the truth. Especially if we’ve been trying to avoid certain thoughts or emotions, this can be a scary step, but it’s a powerful way to actually experience reality, and actually brings a great sense of peace when we face each situation head-on. Remember: vulnerability takes courage.
Gratitude: Express gratitude and appreciation for the body you have, where you are and everything you’ve achieved and overcome so far. Yes, we’re looking at things closely related to the ego and sense of ‘I’ to begin with, but if we can be grateful for all of this no matter what state we find ourselves in, this is when the real shift happens.
Discipline or Tapas: Once we’ve accepted and thanked, we still need to apply Tapas, meaning discipline or burning passion to our practice on and off the mat. This means that if the situation we’re in is difficult, we don’t give up. Self-belief and a willingness to see something through creates great inner strength.
Trust: Have the courage to trust that we are indeed exactly where we’re meant to be right now, and that we have done our very best in a situation leaves no room for doubt. Once we trust in each of our actions – and the results of those actions – we leave doubt, fear, attachment and desire behind, and find greater fluidity without struggle. We find effortless effort.