Dear Beautiful Human,
Last week I shared with you 5 specific ways in which we exacerbate our own suffering (kleshas), from the wisdom teachings of the yoga sutras. Suffering is different from pain. Suffering is a result of mental confusion or mental resistance. Patanjali, the author of the sutras gave us 5 ways in which we increase our own suffering: ignorance, ego, attachment, avoidance and fear of death. For the full blog post click here
Luckily, he also offered 3 practices to reduce our suffering. At the very beginning of the second chapter he tells us we can reduce the kleshas by practicing kriya yoga. What is kriya yoga? It’s comprised of three things: Tapas, Svadhyaya and Ishvara Pranidhana.
Tapas: to heat or burn, to accept pain as purification. This is an important spiritual tool. In both yoga and Ayurveda, fire is the element of transformation. Fire burns away excess and changes matter to energy. To practice tapas is to allow the pain of life’s challenges to transform us. I have said this so many times before and I will say it again, no one escapes painful life experiences. No amount of money, privilege, avoidance or security can protect us from pain. Every human bumps up against the challenges of life. Be it divorce, heartbreak, death of a loved one, natural disasters, financial collapse, we will all be challenged in this life. It’s a guarantee. Patanjali asks us to respond to the painful experiences by not only accepting them, but embracing them and using them to propel us forward. First, we must accept rather than deny. Then ask the question, “what is this teaching me?” “How can this experience make me better at living life?”
Svadhyaya: self-study. This practice is truly the heart of yoga. To evolve we must cultivate self-awareness. This means examining our thoughts, words, motivations, behaviors, actions and choices. The more we examine, pay attention and question, the more we unravel negative assumptions and wrong thinking. Awareness creates the opportunity to make positive change. You cannot change something that is unconscious or that you are totally unaware of. Yoga is about reducing negative or false mental patterns (samskaras) and moving towards the highest truth and highest living. Self-study becomes a positive daily practice.
Ishvara Pranidhana: dedication to a higher source or a benevolent universal energy. Here Patanjali suggests we acknowledge a force greater than ourselves. We human beings love to trick ourselves into thinking we are totally in control. The truth is we don’t have control of very much. We have control of our minds (technically most of us don’t really have good control there either) and we have control of our choices and behaviors but much of life is beyond our control. We don’t control other people, happenings around us, world events or the weather. Patanjali recommends practicing releasing our perceived control to a higher force. It’s a spiritual surrender to the order of the universe which we cannot see. When we recognize this and let go, we suffer less.
There couldn’t be a better time than NOW to practice Patanjali’s three-part formula to reduce suffering. We have a unique opportunity while the world is somewhat paused to put our practices to good use. When you find yourself struggling or mired in mental resistance, remember the three tools and apply them. They work over time and the benefits accumulate. As one if my teachers once said, yoga helps us “thin out the kleshas” so they aren’t as heavy and sticky.
Love & Yoga,