Yoga as Antidote

Om statue with boke backgroundAccording to yoga philosophy, every intention and action we have leaves a psychological imprint – a sort of mental impression. The residue of our purposeful stirrings shapes our character and attitudes, motivates our habits and behavioral patterns, and influences our relationships and external circumstances.

You don’t have to be a yogi to buy into this. According to what we understand about how the brain works, it makes sense. Repetition of thoughts and actions strengthens connections between neurons making these behaviors more automatic and efficient. We also know that every action has consequences, no matter how small, and these results can be widespread like ripples in a pond.

A mountain is composed of tiny grains of earth. The ocean is made up of tiny drops of water. Even so, life is but an endless series of little details, actions, speeches, and thoughts. And the consequences whether good or bad of even the least of them are far-reaching. – Sivananda

If our intentions and thoughts are unexamined, we can inadvertently create layers upon layers of harmful traces in the mind. Over time, this clouds perception and makes it difficult to see things as they truly are. Under the right circumstances, the seeds we sow with our thoughts and intentions eventually ripen into action. If the seeds are generated from harmful elements, they tend to ripen into unskillful action that causes suffering for ourselves and others. After all, how can we respond wisely when the truth has been obscured? In yoga philosophy, there are six poisons or obstacles of the mind that sow harmful seeds:

  1. desire (kama) – lust, craving, passion, attachment
  2. anger (krodha) – aggression, hatred, aversion
  3. delusion (moha) – ignorance, confusion
  4. greed (lobha) – wanting more than is needed
  5. envy (matsarya) – jealousy, intolerance of another’s good fortune
  6. sloth (mada) – depression, torpor

The antidote to these poisons is the eight limbs of yoga. Instead of being ruled by our unconscious patterns, we can consciously shape our inner experience through practice. When our inner world is “pure” (free from obscurations), we see things more clearly and are able to respond with wisdom, benefitting ourselves and others.

Yoga is a system of physical, mental and spiritual purification. It is intended to harness energy, igniting a sort of fire within us. When practice is sustained with devotion over a long period of time, the heat generated burns away the poisons that obscure reality. Of course, burning tends to be uncomfortable and the real trick is to stay with the heat long enough to benefit from its purifying qualities. Clearing away these obstacles helps us plant beneficial seeds that are more likely to ripen into skillful actions and fortunate circumstances.

Inner fire, energies, chakras and channels can all seem very magical sounding and confusing to us Westerners. Instead, it may be easier to think of it more symbolically. When we practice, we are harnessing mental and physical activity, shifting and directing attention, and limiting distractions, often distilling these things down to a single, focused point. We are becoming acutely aware of our habits, shedding those that don’t serve us well, and creating beneficial ones. This can be quite unnerving, unfamiliar and even painful in the beginning, but also quite illuminating and powerful if we can open to it and stay with it long enough to experience the immeasurable benefits.

The happiness which comes from long practice, which leads to the end of suffering, which at first is like poison, but at last like nectar – this kind of happiness arises from the serenity of one’s own mind. ― Krishna-Dwaipayana Vyasa, The Bhagavad Gita

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