The Pains Yet To Come
“The pains that are yet to come can and will be avoided by the practice of yoga.” Yoga Sutras of Patanjali II.16
For many this is a strange and interesting sutra. A common understanding about yoga suggests that the practice of yoga is somehow a “pain free” process. Yet, new practitioners are sore in new and exciting ways after their first yoga classes.
Even with continued practice, we all experience cramps and soreness in many forms throughout our bodies. Not to mention, as we practice more profoundly and attentively, we actually transform our very nature, and may experience emotional upheavals as well.
With an ongoing practice of yoga, we come face-to-face with “pain” in some form.
So what to make of this sutra? Could it be that the “pain” to be avoided is not just the pain itself, but the mental suffering caused by it?
This question brings us to the essential definition and purpose of yoga as a balancing of consciousness rather than just physical exercise. The asanas (poses) themselves test many of the boundaries we set for ourselves and give us opportunities to study how our mind may react in differing situations. Bliss and discomfort, balance and instability, fear and courage, failure and success – yoga exposes it all.
The real question is, can we take the time and the effort to persist and be curious about what yoga may open within us?
There is a reason Patanjali mentions the qualities of practice in the first chapter. Sutras I.14 and I.15 urge us to have a “steadfast effort” in practice and remind us it must be “long, uninterrupted, and alert.” This suggests that we cannot turn away at the first sign of soreness or discomfort, or abandon our practice because of pain.
But how to persist through pain? And more importantly, why?
If you are alive and reading this blog, it is very likely that you have not gone through life “pain free”. Physical and emotional pain comes with life, and we all have developed strategies for handling it.
Maybe you have the “power-through” mentality, unable to allow yourself time and space for healing; or possibly you have the “run-for-the-hills” mentality, taking an Advil (or stronger) at the first blush of a feeling, or even just avoiding every conflict or uncomfortable situation. Whether we realize it or not, these strategies can disturb the balance of our mind and hinder us from progress in personal growth.
Yoga practice offers opportunities to approach differing situations by very controlled methods, so we may gain knowledge of ourselves that supports success in our efforts towards personal transformation.
Rather than continuing to heroically “push-through” a sharp pain or injury, we can learn to heal and care for ourselves by trying supported poses or variations to a pose. Or maybe, through our teacher’s direction, we gain courage to face our fears and discomfort with a pose, rejecting our “can’t-do” attitude.
These seemingly simple moments in practice can help us find a balance for our nature and discover new attitudes and strengths.
To be clear, this is not about “causing pain.” Non-violence (ahimsa) is a precept of yoga. It is imperative that you respect the pains that come up in your body and emotions that arise in your mind.
However, as your yoga practice intensifies, you must recognize that soreness and cramping, discomfort and awkwardness, and working through and with injury will very likely be part of your journey. Ignoring that fact in your practice can only reinforce a cycle of imbalance in life and consciousness.
It helps to remember the quote from BKS Iyengar:
“Yoga teaches us to cure what need not be endured and endure what cannot be cured.”
Ultimately, Patanjali tells us,
“The cause of pain is the association and identification of our self with that which is not our self and the remedy lies in their dissociation.” (Sutra II.17)
This means that at some point we must look at ourselves more objectively: that “our” pain, “our” fear, “our” body, and “our mind are not “US”. They are merely experiences in a body that serve as building blocks toward knowledge and awareness, leading us toward a more balanced and stable consciousness. All we need is a tool to make this process possible, and Yoga is that tool.