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Yoga Sutras For Modern Day Life: The Wise Man’s Relationship with Pain

Yoga Sutras of Patanjli 2:15 To one of discrimination, everything is painful indeed, due to its consequences: the anxiety and fear over losing what is gained; the resulting impressions left in the mind to create renewed cravings; and the constant conflict among the three gunas, which control the mind.

Defining the Sutra:

The wise man understands pleasure and pain are interconnected.

Patanjali gives 3 reasons why pleasure leads to pain:

  • Fear of loss
  • Chasing pleasures
  • Fluctuations between the Gunas: sattva, rajas and tamas

Modern Day Application:

Simple examples of this Sutra can be found on our mat.

Fear of Loss

Are you afraid of losing the ability to do a pose?

Do you get afraid or angry if you can bind in Marchiasana Monday but cannot do it on Tuesday?

Are you afraid to modify your practice when you feel pain because you may loose gains you have made in your practice?

The pleasure of receiving  the pose is replaced with the fear of losing it.

Chasing Pleasures

The Yogi understands that cravings can be endless. Once we get one pose, we will be content for a little while and start craving the next pose. Patanjali says that the wise person understands that constantly chasing after the next big thing can result in entanglement. The Yogi chooses to put their focus on liberation. It can also result in addiction. Not just alcoholism or drug abuse but addiction to the high we feel from acquiring something new and the withdrawal or suffering we feel once that feeling is gone.

Fluctuations Between the Gunas

An easy way to look at this is, happiness that is attached to our moods, is fleeting. For example, a practitioner goes to Yoga class, has an amazing practice and feels very sattvic or harmonious and peaceful. They get in the car, proceed to drive home and get stuck in traffic.  They start to get animated and throw their hands in the air, yell, jump in their seat and curse the other drivers and get into a highly energized, rajasic state. The happiness starts to slip way. When the practitioner gets home, they are so upset and drained from the hour long commute that they don’t want to do anything but veg out on the couch and eat. The happiness is completely gone and they are tamasic or inert, dull.

Why It is Important?

At first, this may seem kind of depressing. It can seem negative to think this way. It is not negative. It is real. Existence is contrast. You cannot know what light is unless you know dark. You cannot know sweet without sour. You cannot know what fast is without the concept of slow. After pleasure, comes pain. After pain, comes pleasure. To deny the existence of contrast is to deny life.  So what is a Yogi to do?

The Yogi chooses to connect to the true Self within and finds the sense of well being that is always present outside of external circumstances. He does this because he is wise and understands that pleasure is followed by pain and that pain is followed by pleasure. Life will always have contrast. The only way to maintain a deep internal well being is to step outside of the cycle of Karma which can be the end goal for those who want it. For those who do not, it is enough to be wise and acknowledge the realty of contrast and maintain a connection to spirit in the face of it.

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

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