Yoga is a journey of transforming pain and reducing suffering. Suffering, Klesha in Sanskrit, which is also sometimes translated as affliction, is caused by the illusion of separation; the illusion that we are separate from one another and from life. This separation begins within ourselves when we cut ourselves off from our own feelings, our needs and dreams, our own truth, creativity, inspiration, and intuition. It begins when we tell ourselves that we are not worthy, good enough, lovable, and when we criticize and blame ourselves. Treating ourselves like this often comes from wounds that are buried deep inside of us and from unresolved emotions. Yet, too often, instead of facing the emotional wounds and getting to know our ‘inner demons’ they become fuel for our suffering because they dictate how we think of ourselves and consequently, how we live our lives. In this state of separation form ourselves we are also not able to form meaningful relationship with others, to give and receive love, and to experience a deep sense of connection to all of life. We might feel empty and our lives might seem meaningless.
Now, we begin to seek ways to fill this terrible void, and to ease the pain and suffering, that horrible sense of disconnection from ourselves and others creates. We do this by either craving that which fill the aching hole and make us forget, or by trying to avoid and push away that which would confront us with our wounds. So we might crave attention, relationships, sex, alcohol, drugs, food, material possessions, work, and so on because it temporarily relieves us of the pain but in reality it creates even more suffering because that separation from ourselves and other just becomes greater and greater. This craving and aversion is known as raga and dvesha in the yoga philosophy.
Since for so many of us this endless chasing of pleasure and avoiding of pain is the only familiar way of how to live life, our whole identify is invested in the endless cycle of craving and aversion, and feeling of separation. That part of us that believes that this is who we are and that this is what life is all about is our ego; this identification is called asmita in the yoga philosophy. The ego identification is now also a part of our affliction, our Klesha. If we want to break free from this suffering that we cause ourselves day in and day out, Yoga offers us a way.
Through our yoga practice we can slowly but surely learn to come into contact with our deepest wounds and grief, and acquire the tools to simply be with all the emotions that are there and allow them to be released. We learn that in the greatest moments of agony we can use the breath to stay in the safety of the present moment. Through our asana practice we learn to take care of ourselves by not pushing too far and at the same time we gain trust in ourselves by allowing ourselves to walk beyond our perceived limitations. In our meditation we learn that we are neither our thoughts nor our feelings because we can observe them. We can take refuge in the surrender that is savasana. The walls around our hearts can be softened by the magic qualities contained within sacred chants, until we feel safe enough to open up completely and the study of the yoga philosophy will give us an intellectual understanding of the wisdom that is revealed to us through our practice. Slowly but surely we will understand the purpose of Yoga, From the Sanskrit root yuj, union. Unity, oneness as the answer to suffering caused by separation. When we become whole, we can heal the whole world.