Yoga Sutra 2:16
heyaä duïkham anâgatam
heyaä = overcome
duïkham = distress, pain, suffering
anâgatam = future
Future suffering can be avoided
Yoga, a path celebrated for its capacity to heal and rejuvenate, holds within it a complex paradox. In the timeless wisdom of Yoga Sutra 2:16, we find the admonition to avoid future pain. Yet, as we traverse the journey of yoga, we often tread upon a path marked by injuries.
Why, in our journey to better ourselves, do we sometimes push our bodies to the brink?
Have you ever been injured in yoga class?
How did it happen?
Uncovering the Roots of Self-Punishment
Why do we subject our bodies to self-punishment in yoga and beyond?
1. MODERN LIFE
The origins of this self-inflicted suffering can be traced in part, to the nature of modern life.
In a world marked by ceaseless hustle and cutthroat competition, we often find ourselves alienated from our physical bodies and detached from our emotional core.
This disconnection fosters a void that we endeavor to fill through external achievements, often at the cost of our own well-being.
'Preoccupation with the external experience triggers what in Western psychology is known as the “false-self complex,” when highly charged ideas about how we should be, look, and feel create a deep disconnection from the body, leading us to be out of touch with how we and the things around us really are.
In asana practice, this false, disconnected self uses external instead of internal references to “achieve” postures, measuring oneself against other people, photographs in books, and even how the posture felt yesterday. This prevents us from being here now.' (Yoga Journal, Sept 2021)
2. INNER PAIN & SELF-WORTH Low self-worth further exacerbates this dynamic.
When we wrestle with feelings of inadequacy, we may engage in self-punishing behaviors as a misguided effort to prove our worth to ourselves and others.
We also gravitate to intense physical experiences (yoga, gym, HIIT classes) to numb and distract ourselves from our inner emotional pain.
Yoga, a practice designed to nurture and renew, can paradoxically become a stage for self-flagellation when we misuse it as a tool to push our bodies past their natural boundaries.
3. PERFECT YOGA BODY
It doesn't help that in today's society, the concept of the "perfect" body has become an ever-present goal, perpetuated by the media and advertising.
The portrayal of yoga bodies in visual media and athleisure advertisements often showcases an idealized image of slender, flexible, and seemingly flawless individuals. This imagery, while visually captivating, creates a sense of pressure for yoga practitioners to achieve a certain physical ideal.
As a result, many individuals are driven to push their bodies to conform to this ideal, often disregarding their own physical limitations.
The quest for the perfect yoga body can lead to overexertion, pushing beyond healthy boundaries, and ultimately, yoga injuries.
This pressure towards an idealised image overshadows the true essence of yoga, which is about self-acceptance, inner peace, and holistic well-being.
Recognizing the influence of societal beauty standards is an essential step towards reclaiming the authentic practice of yoga and preventing self-inflicted injuries.
"Not why the addiction, but why the pain"
Dr. Gabor Maté, a renowned expert on addiction and mental health, invites us to delve deeper into the roots of self-punishing behaviors.
Instead of focusing solely on the external manifestations, we are encouraged to explore the underlying emotional, physical, or psychological pain that drives us to self-harm, whether it be through yoga or other means.
Can we confront the inner stuff that motivates our actions and decisions?
Yoga injuries, in their multifaceted nature, encompass not only physical ailments but also the profound emotional and psychological layers of our inner selves.
'Future suffering can be avoided'.
By recognizing the root causes of self-punishment, in the pressures of modern life and issues of self-worth, we can transform our yoga practice from a source of injury to a path of healing and self-discovery. Can we approach our practice with a mindful and compassionate mindset?
'The attempt to escape from pain, is what creates more pain'.
Instead of punishing our bodies and fixating on how we look in "advanced" asana, can we practise pratyahara, that is, turn a gentle gaze toward our inner selves?
Ultimately, yoga injuries can be mitigated by addressing not only the "what" but, more importantly, the "why" behind our actions and the pain that drives us.
Why do you practise the way you do?
This article was inspired by a conversation with a colleague and this interview with Daniel Simpson, author of The Truth Of Yoga. In a world of shiny, happy people and their highlight reels, it is deeply moving to see an experienced teacher and practitioner share so vulnerably about his yoga practice and self-harm.
'Yoga, Self-Harm & Acceptance', Interview with Daniel Simpson by Scott Johnson of Stillpoint Yoga, in Ancient Futures (18 Oct 2023).
'Why Are So Many People Getting Yoga Injuries?' Yoga Journal, (2 Sept, 2021).