Cultivating the Fruit of Insight (a.k.a Hang in There)

In my recent encounters with “what’s happening” in yoga via conversations, internet searches, and social media feeds, I have noticed an increasing number of “Yoga for (fill in the blank)” offerings. There is yoga for headaches. Yoga for insomnia. Yoga for heart health. Yoga for back pain. Yoga to improve your golf game. Yoga to flatten your abdominal region (or puff up other bodily areas). Yoga for mental emotional conditions. Yoga for the itch to enjoy farm animals . . .

While I am so grateful for the many ways in which yoga can alleviate a host of ailments, as well as the powerful and wide-ranging ways it promotes health, I just want to add this perspective into the mix: It is my sincere hope that current practitioners of yoga not only enjoy the great relief or aid yoga can provide for what ails (or compels) them, I hope that we can gain another perspective. I am not opposed to “using” yoga. As I will share later in this article, I use it to great effect myself. My hope is that we don’t stop there, but also move to the realm of practice where we are “used” by yoga. Rather than look at yoga from the perspective of our own agenda, we inquire into what agenda yoga might have for us. In my own experience, this understanding helps to avoid the pitfall of becoming disenchanted with yoga should it fail to deliver the results we expect. As many as 2500 years ago such disenchantment was identified by the Sage Patanjali as an obstacle to practice and progress in yoga. This obstacle is called, Alabdha Bhūmikatva and refers to the non-attainment of a desired state or outcome. And it can very much hinder one’s yoga practice.

So what happens if our headaches, or insomnia, or low back pain, or other “ailments” persist? What if the outcome we hope to attain doesn’t happen. These things do happen sometimes. B.K.S. Iyengar, arguably the “father” of modern yoga therapeutics, and perhaps one of the greatest “yoga therapists” to come along in many generations, healed many people. I have heard stories of (and seen with my own eyes) miraculous healings as a result of his methodology. (Things like the blind seeing and the lame walking, I’m not kidding!) Yet even he acknowledged that yoga might not “fix” every problem. That acknowledgement rings clear in his statement, “Yoga will help to cure what need not be endured, and to endure what cannot be cured” (“Yoga For Sports: A Journey towards Health and Healing,” my emphasis).

The longer I practice yoga, the longer I am immersed in the subject, the more I think about it, my ideas about how things should be seem to becoming far more fluid. For example, I have been dealing with some insomnia of late (yes, in spite of doing pretty much all the “Yoga for insomnia” I know. True, sound sleep is a life-giver and is an essential building block of sound health. I in no way want to diminish the importance and value of sleep. However, the sleepless nights seem to have brought a certain kind of contemplativeness, a certain thoughtfulness with them. I feel I have received insights that have helped me in profound ways to deal with the very challenges that were keeping me awake. I could fairly say that the insomnia couldn’t be cured, only endured. I can also say that my practice of yoga most certainly helped me to endure it. Lying awake, using the tools that yoga has given me—calm breathing, breath retention, feeling deeply and letting go of tension in the body, progressive relaxation, along with the encouragement to cultivate equanimity in the face of undesirable (and desirable) circumstances—I was able to endure the insomnia. This capacity to endure something that was going against my “agenda,” against what I was “using yoga for” (my hope is that by practicing yoga I will have healthy, sound sleep), caused the insomnia to yield insight. I wonder, could insight be the fruit of insomnia, yogically endured? It certainly has proven to be a possible outcome.

So I’ll pause this train of thought here (to be continued): What is we use yoga to get beyond using yoga . . . and let yoga start using us?

Andi Mahoney