We’ve been chatting in my Yoga classes this term about the concept of ‘Suffering’. I know, not the best way to start a blog post (and I have had some resistance to this one at classes too!) but I thought I would throw it straight out there. Yoga, as in Buddhism, recognises that we cannot go through life without suffering. In fact, it is due to suffering that many of us begin a Yoga practice. The purpose of Yoga is indeed, to reduce suffering. Please don’t think this means I’m suggesting you should withdraw from life – far from it. I want you to engage with the life you wish to lead. Let me elaborate.
Many of us arrive at Yoga with a sense of unease – unease in the body, unease with life, perhaps disillusionment or even despair. There can be a sense that there must be more; that we have tried to live the life we were told would make us happy and yet the void is still there. Often, we feel we have lost our sense of purpose and feel unable to connect with that which inspires us. Does any of this sound familiar?
In Yoga this state is called ‘Samvega’. Stephen Cope in his beautiful book, ‘The Wisdom of Yoga’ refers to this as:
‘…a complex state involving a kind of disillusionment with mundane life, and a wholehearted longing for a deeper investigation into the inner workings of the mind and the self.’
Maybe you arrived at a Yoga class in pain and wanted to find a way to be pain free? Or, maybe you were looking for something ‘more’, searching for something to reconnect you to life and your sense of purpose? Perhaps you were dragged along by a partner or friend and were surprised to feel a little better at the end of class but were unsure why. Or maybe, your only intention was to arrive, stretch, move and leave and yet noticed somehow the breathing you did in class seemed to reduce your anxiety as well as make your body feel better.
You may be surprised to learn that the system of Yoga has clear strategies for helping us when we are in a state of samvega. The first step is to try to reduce the symptoms of our suffering – we do this through movements that re-connect us with the body, we also stabilise the system by making a connection to the breath and we hold a space for self-compassion so that we can reclaim a sense of perspective.
The aim of our Yoga practice is to reduce the symptoms of suffering and to leave us feeling lighter so that we can engage with life and enjoy it. The more often we are able to touch base with our Yoga practice the more consistent this feeling of lightness becomes and the greater chance we have of connecting to our purpose in life.
Donna Farhi, Yoga teacher and author writes in ‘Bringing Yoga to Life’:
“Over two decades of teaching I have witnessed again and again the power that Yoga has to shift seemingly intransigent negative patterns and to awaken the body, mind and heart to other possibilities.”
I recognise Donna’s experience in my own teaching as well as understanding the benefits of having my own consistent practice.
Life is not a linear process – we have to accept that there are peaks and troughs, ups and downs, periods of suffering and periods of joy. Indeed, these periods can be very short lived and change from moment to moment. Touching base with your practice can help to steer the way, to bring some space for reflection and to help keep you on track with the life you want to live. Do you need any more reason to roll out your mat? Cath x