Pleasure and Yoga: Do They Really Go Together?
I already know that many of you will hate this post. It tears down the main reason why many people practice yoga…..It gives them joy. I am here to tell you that the purpose of yoga is not to give you joy, or make you feel good…..that is a side effect. According to the teachings of yoga, the purpose of yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind. When we pursue yoga for its side effects and not for its main effect, it sets us up for suffering and heart break.
In modern media, advertising, yoga books, and most modern yoga studios everywhere, it is the side effects of yoga that are pushed. “Lose weight, work out, feel great, release stress, build community, feel powerful, come alive”. All this is awesome and it gets people started on the journey who otherwise never would have been interested. Yoga legends likeKrishnamacharya used to stop his heart and Pattabhi Jois and BKS Iyengar would do demos to get people in the door. Nothing wrong with that. However, after getting students interested, they all eventually conveyed the key message of yoga which is learning how to reel in the monkey mind so that consciousness can be seen.
Just pursuing the side effects is like taking cold medicine just to get high (sipping on the sy-zurp anyone?).
When we practice yoga as a distraction or as something to bring us joy, we start looking for perfection in our practice and in ourselves. The music, temperature, clothing, sequence,flow, space, lighting, teacher and even the people we practice with all have to be just so. Our poses have to look a certain way and we have to perform a certain way. When any of these elements are missing or mistakes are made, the ego goes crazy. Instead of looking at why we get so angry at the heat being 1 degree off,we take the energy outward.
Either the goal of yoga is to be free, or the goal of yoga is to get it right. You can’t really have it both ways. Because if you choose freedom, you have to divest yourself of that crazy idea that you have to get it right-Leslie Kaminoff
This is an endless cycle because there is no such thing as perfection. Even if shit is not going wrong in class, people get bored at the perfection. So perfection itself is not even perfection.
“People suffer when they chase a life or pursue a dream that doesn’t belong to them”-Carolyn Mays
Perfection does not belong to us!
“You are intentionally flawed to make you unique” Pastor Rick Warren.
Perfection is boring.! The ups and downs of life is what makes it worth living. The contrast and the differences are what we crave. This is why we love suspenseful moves. If nothing happened to the main character we would be disappointed. We love seeing them triumph over the bad guy or get the girl or experience intense emotions. We are the main characters of our own movie! This is what we came here for! To look for perfection is a fight against our true nature and it always ends badly.
The search for perfection is a search for suffering.
I have heard so many people say they have lost their “joy” in their yoga practice. That is so awesome. What an amazing thing! Now the real work can begin. This is an opportunity. This is the purpose of yoga. To question the mind. All yoga practice should lead here.
I learned to always take on things I’d never done before. Growth and comfort do not coexist.
― Virginia Rometty
Yoga is supposed to to mentally bring you to your knees. When you really practice yoga, which is the stilling of the mind, every lie and untruth you have ever told yourself will come to the light. All the ugliness and your secrets buried deep within comes to the surface. A part of you dies. The ego is crushed. Does this sound joyful or fun?
“Yoga is not yummy. Those people who want you to believe it is- I want to smack them. Expecting yoga to be yummy is delusional. ” ~Kino MacGregor
For the lucky ones, the ego will lose its strength and they can abide in peace but for most of us, the cycle of birth and death will continue to set our ego on fire. We will go through cycles of immense joy in our practice and then times of deep pain and sorrow. The yogi recognizes that it is all essential to their growth and they embrace it. This is our life! Our movie! It is full of action, suspense, love, and drama. We have so many opportunities to shine, grow, triumph and be great.
Enjoy the side effects of the practice. Have fun. Get your workout out on. Do the biggest baddest handstand you can crank out but know that a constant search for joy outside of yourself leads to suffering. When you find what brings you joy and it changes or leaves, the joy is lost and then suffering comes. Change is the nature of the universe. Nothing stays the same. Not your yoga practice, not your body, not your studio, not your teachers, not your classes and not your poses. If you attach to any of them, suffering comes. Suffering is optional and a choice. If you are present with change and face it with an open heart of acceptance and are up for what it has to teach you, suffering does not come in. Be present for your movie and make it all work for your benefit!
The yoga practice, like life, is a master teacher. Life being the greatest Guru of all and the practice being an initiate with immense power. In order to follow in the lineage of the Guru, yoga has to reflect Life. In life there are ups and downs, things come and go, there is death and birth and things change. There is pleasure and pain, bitter and sweet. To learn the lessons of yoga, we have to accept and directly face them all.
Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail firstname.lastname@example.org.