Yoga and Suffering
Welcome to this week’s blog, which is a juicy one! Today we are talking about yoga and suffering. The reason we’re examining this is because it’s really easy to get on your mat when life is good, when you have tons of energy, your body feels strong and bendy, and everything is happening smoothly. Jackpot! Without question, you absolutely should enjoy those joyful times. But we’re digging a little deeper today because EVERYONE experiences suffering. No one is exempt from it, and we see the real magic of yoga (the eight limbs of the yogic path) when we commit to doing our daily work when things get a little (or a lot) gnarly.
As a yoga teacher for 14 years, I can tell you I’ve taught an enormous variety of individuals. I’ve had the pleasure of teaching college students (and far younger), people in their seventies and eighties, multimillionaires, people struggling with debt, men, women, Christians, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, and just about every race you can think of. From these years of experience I’ve realized two major things:Everyone suffers at some point.
1. Everyone experiences hard times at some point.
Everyone has a day (or many days) when he/she feels overwhelmed and unable to handle life.
Sometimes that comes in the form of a divorce or health challenge. Sometimes that comes in the form of a battle with addiction or watching your loved ones struggle with it. Financial crisis, being fired, losing a family member or close friend, etc. Everyone is subject to these times of deep deep challenge. None of us are exempt. Everyone is going to be exposed to suffering at some point, unfortunately. The good news is the yogic path can help us move through it.
2. Everyone wants the same thing.
I’ve taught so many different kinds of people. The honest truth is the stay-at-home moms, Fortune 500 CEOs, young adults, seniors, all want the same thing, which is to experience true, deep contentment. Santosha is the Sanskrit term for contentment, that deep feeling of happiness which can only occur within yourself. It can’t come from any outside thing, it has to come from inside you.
These are the two common denominators. One, everyone is going to experience suffering in their lives. Two, everyone is searching for that deep, deep feeling of contentment. Luckily for us, yoga is a vehicle which allows us to move through suffering by finding clarity. It allows us to move from darkness into light, but it can’t help us if we’re addicted to toxic behavior, drama, dysfunctional relationships, etc. We have to want to step out of that in order for the benefits of yoga to really help us. We have to want to change.
It’s very much like being successful in a 12-step program, which can only happen if you’re ready to do the work. Just like the 12-step programs, yoga requires work. It requires daily practice, daily maintenance. These are things we have to be ready to embrace. The good news is if we do, we are going to see a change. The yoga sutras teach us that if we practice all eight limbs of yoga as an ancient science together, change is inevitable. We don’t always have a guarantee of the time frame, but if we’re doing the daily work, change is inevitable. It will happen. Clarity will start to permeate every cell of our being, every aspect of our lives, and it will help us to move out of those periods of suffering or at least through them, with the mindset of learning what we need to learn, taking those lessons and then moving on from those lessons with that deep contentment within ourselves.
Even if everything around us is a chaotic mess, we can still cultivate deep contentment within ourselves. This is a powerful thing. It teaches us to step out of our circumstances and not feel so overwhelmed by life, and instead much more dependent on the work that we do daily to find a state of peace. The concept that change requires effort on our part is something that’s important to embrace. It’s very much like taking a daily shower. If you avoid it for a few days, you notice. Yoga is exactly the same. If you don’t do it for a few days or a few weeks, you’ll notice the differences within you. You notice the confusion and suffering, which overwhelm you and feel as if they are expanding. It’s hard to step out of that cycle, yes. But you certainly can if you’re willing to get back to the daily work.
The “daily work” thing was a hard concept for me when to digest when I first started practicing yoga. I was a problem-solving type of person who wanted to “fix” things. I thought doing yoga for a little while was going to fix me, just like taking a week’s worth of antibiotics cures strep throat. I thought yoga would be that instant cure for me. It took me a while to realize that that’s not how yoga works. There is daily maintenance work involved in the path if you want to be successful for the rest of your life. It’s more of a life management tool than instant gratification.
The reason it’s worth doing the work over time is because the results of yoga are cumulative. The effects/benefits of yoga are longer-lasting when you are accountable and do the maintenance work. You can’t just do it for a short time and expect it to change your life. But if you do it over a long period of time, I guarantee it will. This is a crucial point to understand because we all want change, we all want to move away from suffering, and we can if we’re willing to do the work; so embrace the work. It’s your key to freedom, it’s your key to joy.
The tools of yoga are here for you, you don’t have to feel suffocated by confusion. You can get more clarity by doing the work today. Hit me up in the comments below. I am here to help, so don’t be afraid to ask questions. Have a beautiful day. Namaste.