Duhkha, as stated by Nicolai Bachman in The Path of the Yoga Sutras, is translated literally as “bad space” or in yoga defined more clearly as suffering in our heart mind. We all experience suffering at some point in our lives, whether it be enduring trauma or the loss of a loved one. In fact, many of us experience suffering every day. It could be something as simple as sitting miserably in traffic on your way to work, loathing every minute.
Either way, we all endure hardships in life. But perhaps suffering is not inevitable, rather a choice, how we choose to perceive certain situations is what makes the difference.
Duhkha is a yoga sutra that deeply resonated with me as I battled Lyme disease. I was faced with every opportunity to suffer, constantly being reminded of my restraints. Whether I was struggling to get out of bed in the morning or losing cognitive function and forgetting where I lived driving home from work, I was relentlessly faced with an opportunity to suffer. Instead of hovering in a state of self-pity, I changed my perspective and viewed suffering as an opportunity to evolve as an individual. The following are three ways practicing transforming duhkha, or suffering, into an opportunity leads to a heightened sense of self-awareness.
Get Comfortable in Uncomfortable Situations
I love the quote, “Pain is inevitable but suffering is optional.” We are all going to endure hardships in life, but whether or not we suffer from them is a choice. The practice of yoga is about getting comfortable being uncomfortable and finding ease in grace in the most precarious postures.
I remember in my first yoga class, my instructor cued downward facing dog posture as a resting posture and that this was a time for us to re-center. Meanwhile, I felt the blood rushing to my head and I had to reassure myself that I wouldn’t pass out because the pain from my hamstrings pulling towards the floor was the only thing keeping me conscious. “How is this a resting posture?” I thought to myself. I had only one option and that was to find comfort in the discomfort by focusing on my breath, calming my body and breathing into areas of tightness. Eventually, I was able to find ease in my practice.
I found comfort in battling Lyme through routinely practicing self-care. This meant dialing in on taking time for myself and listening to what my body needed. When my body ached, I opted for a more restorative yoga practice. I dedicated time to indulge in long massages and soaked in Epsom salt baths. I also made copious batches of bone broth to nourish my body from the inside out. The point is that it is important to make a conscious effort to practice self-care so that you can find ease and comfort during some of the most difficult times.
Set Your Intentions
One of the best ways to mitigate an opportunity for suffering is by establishing an intention or a mantra, something you can refer to that deters your mind from wandering into the space of darkness, doubt and self-pity. Mantras are often used in yoga as a tool to help bring the mind back to the present moment, or again, to help find comfort in uncomfortable situations.
Mantras can aid in maintaining positivity as well as help refrain from sinking into a space of suffering. Oftentimes a word or a particular phrase are just what you need to regain focus and optimism. The Path of the Yoga Sutras states that mantras can help reduce duhkha if followed by an intention with action in order for any transformation to occur.
A mantra I used with Lyme disease was, “This is going to heal me” and I often referred to it when I was sipping bone broth or laying in savasana, reassuring myself that I was taking the steps necessary to heal my body. Whenever you feel your body revert towards a particularly unhealthy state, refer back to your mantra and remind yourself with positive and therapeutic affirmations followed by actions that promote self-healing.
Let go. Easier said than done, right? Although it is the hardest task to achieve at times, it is arguably the most important. Suffering stems from dwelling on situations we either cannot change or have little to no control in changing. The Path of the Yoga Sutras states that suffering can stem from when something changes beyond our control that we may not necessarily want.
In order to let go, we must differentiate between situations we can control and those we have very little to no control. The situations that we have little or no control need to be accepted and then released so that they no longer manifest suffering. Making a conscious effort to routinely practice self-care and setting mindful intentions can help release taxing emotions that weigh heavy the body. Visualization is another helpful tool in letting go as you can literally imagine whatever is holding you back virtually leaving your body. Imagine the freedom and sense of health restored after you have visualized releasing what you cannot control.
In order to transform suffering, we must find comfort in the discomfort, utilize a mantra to keep us present and then let go that which we cannot control. By combining these three practices into your daily life, suffering is no longer a state of distress, rather, transforms into a more harmonious practice of self-awareness. The book states that, “Suffering can be viewed as a difficult but necessary way that the universe reveals ourselves to us.” With this outlook, perhaps suffering does not seem so terrible after all, if we change our perspective we can learn to embrace the suffering and use it to perpetuate individual growth.
Bachman, Nicolai. The Path of the Yoga Sutras. Sounds True, Inc., 2011. Print.
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- Three Ways To Transform Suffering Into A Heightened Sense Of Self-Awareness - September 13, 2017