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Yoga Sutras For Modern Day Life: Big Time Sensuality

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:30 -The distractions of the mind that are obstacles on the path of yoga are disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality…

This continues the topic on obstacles. Please go here for previous obstacles.

Defining the Sutra

Sensuality is being addicted to sensual pleasures. Food, shopping, sex, brand name clothes, and drugs are a few common examples of sensual pleasures to which people often attach happiness . Another sensual addiction, that people don’t often think about, is an addiction to suffering, pain, deprivation and asceticism (severe self-discipline and avoidance of all forms of indulgence, typically for religious reasons). Some people get a sense of satisfaction from deprivation and suffering and define themselves by it. This is also sensuality.

Addiction to sensuality keeps us from pursuing the bigger purpose of yoga which is to still the fluctuating mind. Any sensual craving/addiction, that causes us to lose focus on the big picture and make decisions that are detrimental to our path, take us away from equanimity and into suffering.

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Modern Day Application

Non attachment is the hallmark of the yogi. The yogi can enjoy delicious food, cars, and nice clothing without defining themselves by it. If these are taken away, who they are is not reduced by it. Their pull to acquire nice things does not distract them from the bigger picture and the yogic path. The same goes for asceticism. A yogi may choose to submit to an act of discipline like fasting, sitting in meditation for hours, or getting rid of all worldly possessions, but they are not defined by it. They don’t let the feeling of hunger, the pain in their knees or their lack of possessions take them into self righteousness or a craving for mental and bodily mortification.

In the modern world, indulging our cravings is often synonymous with happiness. The synonyms, on Google, for indulgence are  satisfaction, gratification, fulfillment, satiation, appeasement. However, the reality is that once the chocolate, wine and hamburgers are gone or the sex, message or shopping trip is over, we are still left with our problems. That satisfaction is temporary.  Because it is temporary, we can find ourselves in a continuous cycle of craving, indulging, and crashing back into reality. During a cycle like this, it is impossible to find stability in the mind, yoga practice or in life. Happiness is just a peak on an endless roller coaster ride where you are always destined to hit emotional rock bottom over and over.

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It is important to reiterate that enjoying life is not the problem. An addiction to sensual pleasures that keeps you unfocused, unfulfilled and on the sensual pleasure roller coaster is a problem.

Psychology Today definition of addiction

Addiction is a condition that results when a person ingests a substance (e.g., alcohol,cocaine, nicotine) or engages in an activity (e.g., gambling, sex, shopping) that can be pleasurable but the continued use/act of which becomes compulsive and interferes with ordinary life responsibilities, such as work, relationships, or health. Users may not be aware that their behavior is out of control and causing problems for themselves and others.

 

Common Sensual Addictions that Interfere with Yoga

Food: It is important to eat foods that support the practice of yoga. When the body is sick, it is harder to focus on stilling the mind and a physical yoga practice becomes difficult. If a craving for sugar and junk foods or over indulging interferes with yoga practice, it becomes an obstacle.

Addiction to pleasurable experiences in yoga: Constantly seeking pleasure on the mat can steer us away from deeper work. The poses and techniques are the tools, they are not the goal. The goal is being still enough to experience the true Self. Finding stillness and peace can require facing fear, feelings of  unworthiness, past pains, perceived weakness and many other demons. When we avoid this in our practice and only search for pleasure, we create an obstacle on the path of yoga.

Addiction to the sensuality of pain: If we push for more pain and more intensity in our practice because it gives us a sense of gratification, it is an obstacle. Again, the practice is the tool and not the goal. A good builder, construction worker or handy man knows how to use a hammer so it is efficient, effective , balanced and their arm does not tire quickly.  A yogi uses the practice in the same way. The yogi knows that the practice should be efficient, effective and balanced. The challenges are not there for the pursuit of egoic gratification but as a hammer to drive away everything that prevents us from seeing our true selves.

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Sex-when the conquest of sexual pleasure with yoga students or teachers causes behavior that takes either person from the yogic path, it is an obstacle.

Money-One of my favorite passages from the Bible is,

“the love of money is the root of all evil” Timothy 6:10

Many people misquote the verse by leaving out the most important part which is “the love of”. This verse goes hand in hand with yogic philosophy.  Money is not the root of evil. The love of money is the root of evil. Yoga teaches us that having things, emotions, and sensual experiences is not an obstacle. Attachment to them  to the point where they define us is the obstacle. When the sensual pleasure we derive from acquiring money starts to take us off the path of yoga, or as the Bible says, causes us to do evil, then it is an obstacle. Examples would be hoarding, unscrupulous actions or business practices to acquire money, an obsession with money that causes us to loose connection with spirit, and having students indulge in sensual experiences that take them away from the yogic path for the purpose of making money.

Here is another Biblical reference to riches,

 

There is a wonderful parable from the Bible that says it is easier for a camel to pass through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get into heaven. Trying to hold on to your identities, even if they are the most spiritual, most holy of identities, is like trying to shove a camel through the eye of a needle. They are too coarse, too big, too untrue, too fabricated to get into the truth. But there’s one thing that can get through the eye of the smallest possible needle. Space, your own nothingness, can get right through into heaven. None of us can take one shred of a self-centered identity with us. Heaven is the experience when we’ve passed into our own nothingness. We realize our own pure awakeness and see that what we are is pure spirit with no form. We recognize that formless spirit is the essence, the animating presence of everything. This is being in heaven because, in each step, spirit and essence are occupying our body. That’s the true meaning of being born again. Being born again is not just a great emotional religious conversion experience. That can be nice, but it’s only like changing your clothes. Being born again is actually being born again, not getting a new spiritual garment. More accurately, it is being unborn when we realize that eternal nothingness is actually living this life called “my life.”- Aydashanti, Emptiness Dancing

 

Why It Is Important

You may have heard the Native American Tale of Two Wolves.

the two wolves

 

We have to make sure to ask ourselves, which wolf are we indulging? This question can be tricky because sensual pleasure is so gratifying. The easiest way to answer this is to ask, “is this short term gratification going to effect my long term happiness?” Lets use an example.  It may feel awesome to stay up late eating pizza, hot wings and drinking beer, but how will it feel in the morning when you have to get up at 5AM for yoga, work, or to take care of your family? If you get on a sensual roller coaster of  eating this way almost every night, how will it effect your long term health? How does this behavior lead to the the obstacles of disease, dullness, lethargy, doubt and carelessness that were discussed earlier in the sutra?  Another obstacles, we have not discussed yet, is failure to reach firm ground, meaning, you lose the gains from the practice.  Indulging in nightly binge eating can easily cause yoga practice to regress due to lose of vitality, sickness, lose of focus, inability to breathe properly and lose of poses due to weight gain.  Just from that one example of a trip down the rabbit hole, it is easy to see how sensuality is an obstacle to the practice of yoga.

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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