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Yoga Philosophy - Freedom from Suffering


Once again, I am studying the Yoga Sutras of Sage Patanjali and Samkhya, this time with Svastha Yoga & Ayurveda. This is part of my Yoga Therapy training. It takes time for the philosophy and psychology of yoga to be absorbed with understanding, so I expect to revisit this theme as my journey evolves.


The goal of yoga is to be free from duhkha/suffering.


This is not to be confused for the pursuit of happiness, which in itself may lead to suffering, since experiencing happiness / pleasure creates desire for further experiences of happiness / pleasure which cannot be permanently sustained (hence duhkha/suffering). I learned a lesson on the impermanence of happiness while living in South America. This ‘dream’ life included periods of time on sand stretched beaches with aquamarine seas, palms and hammocks, which by all measures should have evoked a permanent ‘happy state’. It did not, since happiness is an illusion. It is not the location that brings happiness, since irrespective of our physical context, the mind constantly craves more or different.


In daily life we find ourselves caught between raga and dvesha. Raga is wanting to experience the pleasurable; while dvesha is wanting to escape that which is unpleasant, so as not to experience it again. Many of us learned, at the outset of covid restrictions back in 2020, that we have little control over the external world (though we may try to exert control). And further to this, our internal world (thoughts, feelings and emotions) present an even stronger challenge… more on this later.


So instead of seeking a permanent state of happiness, through yoga we approach the purpose of life from the perspective of ‘let me not be unhappy ever’ and ‘let me be peaceful always’. Our goal is to have ‘complete freedom from all unhappiness, forever’ which is to be free from all types of duhkha/suffering permanently.


Ironically, even the quest to understand the philosophy of yoga seems to bring duhkha, since there is a kind of craving to know and understand more. This morning (22nd Feb 2023) I experienced suffering/duhkha because my internet would not connect to the Svastha zoom meeting; it was frustrating since I had woken at 3:24 a.m. to attend the 3:30 a.m. philosophy class. After some 20 minutes of frustrated attempts, I let go of the desire (raga) to connect and began to write this instead. Gradually I became absorbed by my writing, as I tried to internalise and understand the teachings so far. Then, of course, after 50 minutes the internet came back, but by then I had become so engrossed in writing I was in flow. So now I had to put that aside my flow state to connect with the meeting... more transient duhkha. Then, as I became absorbed in the meeting, I found my attention once more becoming focused; interest and inner peace arose. And so on… into the day, a labyrinth of raga and dvesha; with splatterings of duhkha.


The wisdom embedded in the Yoga Sutras and Samkhya offer us a guide to be free of duhkha/suffering. They have the feel of ancient well-being manuals that have to be interpreted by the modern mind through reading, practice, discussion, guidance and reflection. The Svastha Yoga Therapy domians help us to put into practice the path to freedom from suffering, and help us to move towards a state of peace/shanti. In this way I begin to understand how the philosophy of yoga (freedom from suffering) is central to Yoga Therapy. Three famous words from yoga philosophy (chapter 2:1) define yoga:


Citta Vrtti Nirodha


In short, this means the cessation of the activities in our awareness, by choice. Citta can be translated as our field of awareness and conscious experiences; Vrtti is the activity in the mind (it’s usually very busy) and Nirodha is when the activity ceases, though this is not within our current experience. Through yoga, our practices combine to help quiet the mind, so that it feels calmer, more peaceful and less reactive… this is the path towards Nirodha. Let’s say some days are more successful than others…


In my Yoga Therapy training I learn that our yoga practice should guide us towards Citta Vrtti Nirodha, that is towards a state of calmness and peace. If our yoga practice does not bring us towards a more steady and calm state, it is not yoga… pause and reflect…. let that sink in… if your yoga practice does not bring you towards a more steady and calm state, it is not yoga.


Twice weekly I teach ‘Yoga for Well-being’; it's a small group class with a handful of students, some committed to consistent and regular practice. My goal is to provide opportunity to integrate body, breath and mind though accessible practice. Through my studies I learn that Krishnamacharya taught how bringing body, breath and mind together has profound impact on well-being; which is why simple practice can have benefit for physical and mental health needs. Anecdotally my students have shared benefits of their weekly practice, particularly related to ease of movement in a range of everyday activities (such as praying, climbing the stairs and gardening). As our practice builds, I will be curious to see if we develop the feeling state (bhava) of calmness and peace too. From my own experience of teaching yoga, I always find myself calmer at the end of class, no matter what my feeling state was at the beginning, which leaves me with the impression that I am teaching yoga (rather than exercise); though of course the physical and health benefits of yoga are worthy goals in themselves!

 

References:


Yoga Philosophy of Patanjali. Containing his yoga aphorisms with Vyasa’s commentary in Sanskrit and a translation with annotations including many suggestions for the practice of yoga by Samkhya-yogacharya Swami Hariharananda Aranya. Redered into English by P.N. Mukerji.


Online master course: Yoga Sutra and Samkhya. Profound, clear psychology and philosophy organised by frameworks and topics. Insights and wisdom for yoga therapy and well-being. With the Mohans.

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