Yoga Sutras

Patanjali states in Sutra 2.16 that “the pain or grief that is yet to come is avoidable” which seems a contradiction taken at face value. Pain is a certainty in the human existence. The questions being only when, how much and how often.

But Patanjali is not saying we will avoid events that can cause pain, he is merely pointing out that how we suffer, or if we suffer, is a choice, and that the sutras can be a great tool for those who choose to use them.

From the physical aches and pains of inactivity, over-activity to aging and illness right through the emotional traumas whether they be bumps, bruises or brutal attacks, yoga is about learning to push through and push away. To endure until one can let go. Whether by means of asana (postures), breathing exercises (pranayama) or meditation (dhyana), we have the tools necessary to avoid future pain.

When we cultivate a physical practice, we strengthen and prepare the body for what it will face as we age. Mindfulness of the breath is the path to controlling stress and wild thoughts. Meditation, or prayer, turns us inward and has the ultimate effect of connecting us to everything. All together, these practices prepare us for accepting and letting go because it is these actions that help us avoid pain.

*This is a rough draft of my presentation for test weekend in June. Thoughts?

Yesterday during yoga training, we spent a bit of time going over the take home exam and receiving our individual teaching lessons for the in class exam.

It’s doable.

For the teaching portion, I am to instruct Adho Mukha Savasana or Downward Facing Dog. my personal nemesis. Down Dog is one of the most basic of poses and it’s one that I am still finding my self in. Every new teacher, workshop or training session shines light on Down Dog. It’s like “the pose that can do anything” because it is always the same yet different every day.

I am also presenting a sutra. Cat assigns each of us one or a short set of sutras and asks us to present/teach it to the rest of the group. Mine is 2.16 – The pain that has not come is avoidable.

And I thought? Seriously?

Because I am sort of – okay – completely – of the theory that we have destinies. Our life paths are not necessarily carved in stone as we are free to embrace or reject experiences, lessons and universal directions, but for the most part, “pain” is as “life” is. We are mortal and therefore subject to all that entails.

You know “bad things happen to good people (and bad people and people of morally ambiguous natures too).

But as I thought about it last evening – and you know me, that’s about all I thought about because I am as bad as a dog with a new chewie when it comes to things like this – I realized I was looking at pain as though it was a condition of certain experiences rather than a choice, an add-on.

Pain is an “a la carte”.

And suddenly, like the revelation of the widening of my sacrum in down dog, I think I got it. It’s about attachment or non-attachment. I can experience without attaching pain. I can detach my experiences from pain when it tries to add itself to the order.

Most obvious example is death. Losing someone is sad but sad is not painful. It’s just sad. I can experience the sadness without attaching pain to it. It’s simply sadness. I feel it for as long as I need to … and I let it.

Acknowledge. Move on.

That’s what an asana practice is preparing me to do. That’s why we chant, practice pranayama and meditate. To gain the physical, emotional, mental and spiritual strength to let go, detach, life from pain.

The suffering does not make you stronger. Letting go makes you stronger. Feeling the sadness without allowing pain to muscle in, distract and take over is the point. Pain is a choice.

Even on a physical level, a person can detach from pain with the strength of the mind alone.

But pain is still there. It doesn’t go away. It’s just our perception and/or experience of it that makes all the difference.

I think. Maybe.

Gotta get ready for training. Happy Sunday. Namaste.

Yoga training typically culminates on a late Sunday afternoon with the Sutras. We’ve hit chapter two, which is the meat of the mental practice – because yoga is all about reaching the interior whether it be the muscles and organs or the thoughts and emotions.

We spent a great deal of time on teaching beginners, so Patanjali got shorted. Thirty-five minutes is inadequate to the task of fleshing tapas.


Tapas is all about the pain and the letting it go. Emphasis on “letting it go”.

Patanjali insists that we are only anchored to the physical world through the pesky inconvenience of having bodies. Bodies that are not us.  The true “me” of me is not my body at all. Therefore, all experience happens to the body and what “I” should be doing is experiencing, acknowledging and then letting it go.

Everything. Good, bad, meh and bloody awful. Feel it. Know it. Wave goodbye.

“Nothing is permanent,” Cat, our instructor, pointed out.

True. It’s our attachment to the idea that good things should have no end and bad things are unfair (I’m overly simplifying) that leads us into the mud and mires us there.

I just listened.

Not because I have no thoughts or concrete experiences to share, but because I know that this is one of those deceptively simple ideas that become nightmarishly difficult when reality envelopes a person.

“Our reactions are choices,” another woman chimed in.

Essentially, we can shape our lives through letting go or just acknowledging that all experiences are finite.

And here the conversation veered into the anecdotal experiences that, I think, aren’t helpful.

A fellow student was in a serious accident and was told by her doctors that she would never regain the use of her arm. She told us that had she listened to the doctors, she would indeed have no function, but she chose to ignore them and rehabbed herself to the point where she is now able to use her arm – not 100% – but no one could tell by simply looking at her that she has difficulties.

I hate these analogies. They are exceptions and they lead others to believe that we are all destined to be exceptions when we aren’t.

We are the rule. Sometimes reality is what it is. No exceptions.

This doesn’t preclude trying to be an exception but it does mean that more often than not, one will have to accept that they are the rule and then – let it go.

“We can change our reality,” Cat said.

But we can’t. Reality is. Sometimes all we can choose is our reactions and how to live within the reality. There are some realities that can’t be let go. They can only be managed.

Managed isn’t the best term, I’ll admit, but there are experiences that stick even though we have let them go.

Will is dead. I have a dead first husband. Not much I can do with that. Very little to work with. Certainly can’t change it.

But I can acknowledge it and let it go, knowing that its effect on me is permanent and that “letting go” might have to be revisited periodically throughout my life.

Same holds true for my classmate. If she had not been able to regain the use of her arm, she would still have had to let the experience go and live within the parameters of her altered reality.

I don’t know if Patanjali addresses this later on, but letting go is a process and it can take years or a lifetime. The choice – I believe – is the attempt to let go in the first place or to cling and not bother.