In a daring moment of insight Haruki Murakami is said to have remarked, “Pain is inevitable. Suffering is optional.” His quote goes to the heart of the issue at hand. There is a fundamental difference between pain and suffering. Pain is our physical and emotional reaction to an external event. Suffering is our internal interpretation and dramatization of the same. Words like “humiliation”, “anger”, “anxiety”, “fear”, etc., are associated with suffering. While pain is immediate in its impact, suffering stretches out.
The system of Yoga was created to avoid suffering. But this does not mean that Yogis will not feel pain. So to answer the question “Do Yogis feel pain?” The answer is: “Yes. Of course they do!” But those who are further in their journey into yoga, suffer less. There is much less regret and anger and there is this easy ability to let go and let bygones be bygones.
One way to look at life is as a series of events. Some events will bring pain and others will bring joy. The question is how do we deal with events that bring us pain? Either we take these and turn them into episodes of drama and transform our pain into suffering, or we let the episode of pain gently pass us by.
An episode of pain can and should transform us into becoming more humble and more grateful, but it should not scar us. It should not embitter us and make us fearful and anxious.
Easy words to write and yet so hard to put into practice! And this is where yoga comes in. Yoga helps systematically transform ourselves so that when an episode of pain shows up at our doorstep we are better equipped to deal with it.
To understand how yoga helps us deal with pain, we have to first understand the essential difference between pain and suffering. Pain is felt by the mind-body. Suffering is felt by the ego. The larger the ego, the greater is our suffering. Yoga helps to systematically reduce the size of our ego. When the ego is reduced, so is the suffering.
An episode of pain can have two possible impacts on our ego:
- It can soften the ego and help reduce its size. This is more likely for those on a yogic path
- On the other hand it can stiffen the ego and make it more rigid and bigger.
When we react negatively to pain we make things worse in two ways:
- We turn our period of momentary pain into an extended period of suffering.
- We expand and stiffen our ego which makes it even harder for us to cope with future episodes of pain.
It therefore helps to be well prepared for the inevitable events of pain that will show up at our doorstep. We can do this by the systematic practice of Yoga.
Our natural state is happiness. It is suffering that takes us away from our natural state of happiness. The role of yoga is to ensure that we are returned to our true state. For those who are on the path to yoga the drama of suffering diminishes, and the words of Caroline Adams begin to ring true:
“Your life is a sacred journey. It is about change, growth, discovery, movement, transformation, continuously expanding your vision of what is possible, stretching your soul, learning to see clearly and deeply, listening to your intuition, taking courageous challenges at every step along the way. You are on the path… exactly where you are meant to be right now… And from here, you can only go forward, shaping your life story into a magnificent tale of triumph, of healing, of courage, of beauty, of wisdom, of power, of dignity, and of love.”
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