How to Practice Yoga by Accepting, Learning From, and Transforming Pain

The second chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali deals with how to practice yoga. Sutra 2.1 states: Austerity, the study of sacred texts, and the dedication of action to God constitute the discipline of Mystic Union. (from sacredtexts.com)

Reverend Jaganath Carrera describes austerity in this case as “accepting pain as help for purification.” We practice yoga as a means for understanding and transforming the suffering we encounter in life. Later in this chapter, Patanjali will go into more detail about how to practice yoga. For now, he concentrates on three aspects of the discipline: tapas (using challenges as opportunities for growth), svadhyaya (self-study), and ishwara pranidhana (surrender to a higher power).

How to Practice Yoga

Suffering is part of life. All spiritual traditions teach us how to face this aspect of reality. In yoga, as in many other traditions, we come to recognize that spiritual practice is not about living without pain or suffering. It’s about transforming pain and suffering. Yoga gives us powerful tools for creating transformation.

Tapas—the first practice Patanjali presents—is often referred to as self-discipline. It’s the fire we need to create so we can move past pain and transform suffering. Once that fire is lit, we can begin our study, known in yoga as svadhyaya.

Self-discovery and learning through the study of sacred texts is a lifelong process. Once we learn to strip away the layers of the false self and recognize who we truly are, we can practice ishwara prandihana, or surrender to a higher power.

Tapas: The Fire That Inspires Action

No matter how long we practice yoga, there is always more to learn. We need a strong desire—the fire of tapas—to progress. Think of a pose that is still challenging for you but that you have begun to master. We grow when we are challenged and sometimes even broken, the same way our muscles are broken down before they become stronger. Tapas is the courage to stick to something challenging, even when it’s painful.

Svadhyaya: Self-Study

Traditionally, svadhaya is the study of sacred texts and the application of scriptural teachings to our daily lives. A more modern view of svadhyaya can include other types of study that lead to self-awareness. Self-observation and self-reflection are keys to practicing svadhyaya. As we begin to learn more about ourselves, we can strengthen our inner lives. We learn to release habits that don’t serve us or the world and develop habits that do.

Ishvara Prandihana: Surrender to a Higher Power

At some point in our spiritual growth, we accept that we cannot go it alone. We don’t have all the answers, and there are things we can’t control. If we really want to know how to practice yoga, we must be willing to turn our lives over to something greater than ourselves.

Surrender to a higher power is the key that unlocks the door to enlightenment. However, before we can do this, we need the burning desire to understand who we are and who we are not.

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Maria Kuzmiak

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