Accepting pain as help for purification, study of spiritual books, and surrender to the Supreme Being constitute yoga in practice. (Sutra 1; Portion on Practice in The Yoga Sutras)
This sutra spoke to me because it emphasizes the spiritual aspects of yoga; which is a part of yoga that I love. I know many in the west only emphasize asana, but I find that yoga is so much more fulfilling with the spiritual aspects as well: meditation, concentration, setting an intention, chanting, and so on.
The idea that pain can help you be purified is a scary one. I am definitely a pleasure seeker! (Chocolate, sleep, coffee, relaxing, beach). Pleasure needs to be in moderation, but so does pain. I liked how the translator commented that we should not take the pain too far. (Then we would be attached to that pain and it is for a selfish Ego.)
The part of the sutra about pain made me think of the quote “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” or “no pain, no gain.”
When I was on the swim team, I went to a conference and heard a motivational speech with the motto “get comfortable being uncomfortable.” The speaker told a story about a marathon runner. Every time she ran a course with hills, her time was much slower. She started chanting “I love hills, I love hills” as she practiced running hills over and over again. She repeated “I love hills” and ran so many hills; she started to believe actually love hills. Her times would actually be faster when there were hills. This shows us the power of the mind.
We learn and get stronger from pain in our yoga poses. We can breathe through a challenge on the mat, and that teaches us to breathe through challenges in life. In yoga, we can be aware of our injuries and work to heal them. Another connection is that even during massages, I feel relief from pain.
In addition to physical pain, I have found that emotional pain can “help purify” as well. My first two years of teaching in the Bronx were the hardest years of my life. It was the first time that I felt like a complete failure and the first time that I felt unsupported and even disrespected by my superiors. But I learned from my many mistakes. I even learned from being treated poorly. I am grateful to have been so humbled and I am stronger for it. I continue to make mistakes and learn from them now. The most important purification from this pain was that I learned that I do not have to be perfect and to accept myself as I am.
The story of the Buddha says that he did not know pain as a wealthy prince. When he left the palace as a young man, he witnessed suffering for the first time. He saw poverty, hunger, war, and so on. This painful experience started his spiritual journey, and then he found a Noble Path that helped us understand the cause of suffering, how to show loving-kindness, and taught us how to reach enlightenment.
One of the spiritual books I have read recently is called “The Untethered Soul.” It says that sometimes when we avoid pain, we are trying to shelter ourselves and protect ourselves and we are actually closing our hearts. If we can feel the pain, and then let it go, then we can grow. We can overcome painful experiences from the past, not let them hold us back, and have an “untethered soul.”
I enjoy reading The Bible, the Tao te Ching, quotes from Ghandi and other great leaders, and books about yoga, Buddhism, and other religions. I get an inspirational email every day called “The Daily Word.” This has a short Bible passage and a meditation based on one word.
Surrender to the Supreme Being reminds me of one of my favorite sayings, “Let go let God.” I believe that yoga can be practiced in conjunction with or separate from any set of spiritual beliefs. Each individual person comes with his or her own philosophy. One of my favorite quotes from Mohandas Gandhi says, “There are many paths that lead to the same truth.” I do not believe Christianity is the only valid religion. That being said, I experience great joy and peace when I worship in my church, sing hymns that I love, and pray.
I feel very close to God when I practice yoga. I cherish the idea that each and every one of us is a spiritual being. There is a light in each of us. Reflecting on compassion, gratitude, patience, love, kindness, and forgiveness bring me closer to my Highest Self. The yoga culture says that all things should be done for God. Even your sometimes painful yoga and meditation practices are done for God or in service of others. I am definitely a more patient teacher and a more caring friend when I have given myself the gift of yoga!