Iyengar yoga is interested in perseverance.
In yoga asanas, we find ourselves in a state of discomfort and the question is put to us: what are we going to do about it? Pain is an inescapable aspect of life and yoga teaches us to develop skills to bear pain and go through it, rather than run away from it. Mr Iyengar says, “Learn to find comfort even in discomfort. We must not try to run from pain but to move through and beyond it. This is the cultivation of tenacity and perseverance, which is a spiritual attitude toward yoga. This is also the spiritual attitude toward life.”
Bearing pain is not easy, nor is persevering through a time of hardship: whether in an asana on the mat or in daily life off the mat. Yoga does not promise any quick fixes: it is instead about building up patterns of behaviour and habits of responding to things that, in time, begin to also affect our responses and behaviours in other areas of life.
Mr Iyengar talks about how in the beginning, the pain in yoga practice can be very strong. It is true that sometimes pain seizes us in class when we’re not even doing anything much – such as a cramp in the foot when sitting in Dandasana. Even so, Mr Iyengar talks about surrendering to this pain – in other words, accepting it is there, watching it, and waiting for it to pass. Jumping up and down about the pain, avoiding yoga on account of the pain, or being annoyed with yourself for being in pain when it seems others are not doesn’t get you very far. In this sense, Iyengar yoga works very well for some people in teaching them how to tolerate pain more effectively and peacefully. In this way, there are often some very intimate dynamics which are at play for us as students when we are on the mat, and much of this has a lot to do with the pain that yoga presents to us.
This brings us to one very interesting point Mr Iyengar makes about pain which in a sense can be applied to any difficulty, and it is this: “It is not just that yoga is causing all this pain; the pain is already there. It is hidden. We just live with it or have learned not to be aware of it. When you begin yoga, the unrecognised pains comes to the surface.”
This is very interesting in terms of the notion of perseverance, it suggests that even by choosing to run away or avoid pain (or being resentful of difficulty or becoming bitter) one does not really achieve even a disturbed respite from the pain. In other words, any response to pain that is intolerant or avoidant, while perhaps making us feel better in the short term, is actually an illusion, doing nothing to shift the source of the pain whatsoever. Better then, to face pain and move through and beyond it. Yoga can teach us these skills when we persevere with yoga, and return to it.
Image courtesy of Julia Pedersen