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Yoga Sutras For Everyday Life: Self Sabotage

Aversion (dvesha) is that which follows identification with painful experiences- Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:8


Defining the Sutra:

Dvesha is when we cultivate an aversion to something based on identification with painful experiences. These aversions are not based on information from the present moment which may be drastically different from the past. Dvesha blocks the ability to make clear decisions because the events of the moment are colored by events from the past.

Many instances of self sabotage go hand and hand with Dvesha. Self sabotage occurs when past experiences and deep rooted ideas keep us from being present to what is in front of us. In an attempt to avoid recreating situations from the past, we take actions that are not in line with the present.

Aversion gives us short term happiness that often effects long term growth. Until we make peace with our past pain, it will continue to run our lives and we will continue to sabotage ourselves in an attempt to run away from it.

Examples of Dvesha on the mat

An Unwanted New Pose:   Student A’s  teacher feels like she is ready for Kapotasana but Student A bulks.  She thinks back on the pain she felt last time she was given a new backbend and she hurt herself.  Instead of taking a clear look at her present condition and her teacher’s confidence in her ability to safely do Kapotasana, her past pain speaks up and she complains to the teacher that she is being given too much too fast. Her teacher listens. Student A stops her own progression.

Bypassing:  Student B hates jump backs.  He is convinced that his body, like it has been all his life, is inadequate. He feels stupid when he tries to lift himself up, instead he rolls over his feet. An aversion to a feeling of inadequacy, originating from his past, causes Student B to bypass the strength he will need to progress later on in his Yoga practice.

Pushing too Hard:  Student C has always been at the top.  She was well liked in school and married the most popular boy in her circle. She was top of her class.  She had full ride scholarships to the best schools in the country. She has a well paying executive position that she worked hard to get.   Failure is not an option for student C. She saw the shame that people who failed carried with them.   Even though there is a burning pain in her right hamstring, she pushes through her practice. She has her eye on 3rd series and she is not going to stop until she gets there. An aversion to failure due to a fear of being shamed by her peers and not achieving, pushes Student C to injury.

Inability to Soften: Student D was raised that men must always be strong. When he cried as a boy, his father would berate him for being weak. Student D understood early on that society valued strength in males. Student D started practicing Yoga because his doctor recommended it as a way to help him loosen up. Student D holds his pain in because  men are not supposed to be emotional.   He enjoys Ashtanga but is stuck in Marichyasana.  His neck and shoulders wont’ loosen up because the tension of his unexpressed emotions is stored there. Student D’s aversion to expressing his feelings stops him in his practice.

No Such Thing as a Guru: Student E hears that an amazing world renowned  Yoga Master is coming into town. She loves the physical practice of Yoga and the high she gets after practice and she can hardly wait. Student E enters the room and immediately notices how quiet everyone is. The teacher is sitting on a high stage surrounded by flowers and pictures of Hindu deities.  Student E is immediately scared. She has heard the stories in the media about how Yoga Gurus take advantage of women. She remembers the relationship she had with a manipulative man from her past.  She thinks this teacher kind of looks like him.  The teacher starts the class and everyone does exactly as he says which Student E thinks is weird. What are they? Mindless zombies under his control? Student E cannot even concentrate. She can’t wait to get out of there. At the end of class, students line up and bow to the teacher and student E runs out as fast as she can.  Student E’s past experiences with men and the stories she has seen in the media, create an aversion that prevented her from being present for the experience.


Why It is Important

Raga (clinging to pleasure), Dvesha (aversions caused from past suffering), and Abhinivesha(fear of death) are all apart of the Vritti of Viparyaya/Misconception.  These afflictions are linked to much of the suffering going on in the world. Prisons are full of people who committed crimes in the name of pleasure, in response to pain experienced early in life and a fear of being killed.

When looked at from the perspectives presented above, we can see how dvesha leads to suffering but  clinging to feeling good and running away from what doesn’t, feels normal. Everyone wants to be happy. No one wants to be sad.  The words below help me as I deal with this concept. Maybe they will help you as well.

In order to be truly free, you must desire to know the truth more than you want to feel good. Because if feeling good is your goal, then as soon as you feel better you will lose interest in what is true. This does not mean that feeling good or experiencing love and bliss is a bad thing. Given the choice, anyone would choose to feel bliss rather than sorrow. It simply means that if this desire to feel good is stronger than the yearning to see, know, and experience Truth, then this desire will always be distorting the perception of what is Real, while corrupting one’s deepest integrity-Adyashanti

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 shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

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