Neutralizing The Six Poisons Of Yoga
Adding on new yoga poses, new yoga pants, and a booty to go with them are all appealing, but do they defeat the purpose of yoga?
How does a yogi navigate through life, while integrating the yamas and niyamas, eliminating the six poisons, thin the kleshas and walk a noble eightfold path?
As we approach the holiday season, there is often desire (kama), to have more and to think we need to add on which stems from the root kama and in excess is greed (lobha). Moha, or ignorance to the real purpose of yoga can be forgotten easily during the hustle and bustle at the end of the year. As my teachers remind me, we practice to eliminate, not add on. During the asana practice, we shed mental weight and detoxify the internal organs.
The yogi only needs the essentials to survive: a healthy body, a balanced mind, and love in their hearts. However, the mental of yoga, which resides in all of humanity, poisons one’s internal spiritual abode and can at any time and block their heart from compassion. Sharath Jois, the son of Guruji, says “not only does the body become purified through practice, but the mind is able to reach new states of clarity and understanding.”
- Krodha: rage or anger
- Kama: desire
- Moha: Ignorance or delusion
- Lobha: Greed
- Matsyara: envy
- Mada: Sloth
Krodha – anger
As we become established in practice, an awareness of these poisons may rear its ugly head. However, once the poisons are eradicated or burned away with a strong practice, one may be aware of them, without reacting to them. Yoga, therefore, is intended to be practiced to elevate one’s consciousness from these poisons, not elevate one’s status or appearance.
Krodha is a natural part of the purging process and sometimes manifests as we release toxicity (hala hala) from the body. How can we transmute rage into a higher state of consciousness? Gently purging through writing, meditation, or entrusting someone objective to talk to may help with anger. Anger may dissolve with constant practice over time and dissipate, transmuting it into pure love.
Kama – desire
Often we are in a state of Kama desire prior to spiritual practice. Longing or wanting more than we already have is an illusion. Our true nature is love without desire or attachment. After practice, a healthy desire to connect with others, to share, and enjoy the fruits of one’s practice becomes enough for the practitioner. Practicing removing the need to have more or to desire more than is necessary is a natural byproduct of sadhana. Sadhana is a daily devotional ritual performed for the sake of spiritual growth. The definition of Yoga or yug is to feel complete. In other words, to be in a state of needing nothing. There are no yogis that are immune to ignorance or delusion. Our attention is constantly pulled in different directions and we’re pulled into ideas and shoulds/woulds/coulds, blocking the ultimate reality where our hearts dwell.
Lobha – greed
The root of Greed or Lobha is thinking you need more and also coincides with aparigraha, one of the last Yama of the eight limbs. It is our nature in a capitalist nation to want more and to collect yoga stuff, but it’s the practice that brings peace, not the stuff. Having just enough healing crystals, clothes and spiritual jewelry is okay, but acquiring a surplus of everything ‘yoga’ does not make one a yogi.
Giving in the spirit of Seva is one way to combat our greedy tendencies. Envy of those that have accomplished new postures or of those that have excelled in other areas of the yogic path is natural. It’s not about the others; it’s about consistency in one’s own practice that brings us closer to our internal worlds. The external or material world has nothing to do with the true meaning of yoga. In fact, yoga is not tangible. It is something that is felt, deep within the well of the heart, beneath the poisons. The practice of opening up one’s internal landscape removes any envy to be anyone but one’s self, knowing that we’re all interconnected; expressing yoga uniquely in the way we know how to.
Mada – sloth
Sloth is common this time of year because of the chilly weather. Pattabhi Jois is quoted as saying “Everyone can take practice. Young men can take practice. The very old man can take practice. Man who doesn’t have strength can practice. Except for lazy people; lazy people can’t practice yoga.” Perhaps the goal and end result is just being there without any expectations. It’s not about making our practice more advanced or adding on new techniques. It’s about showing up excited and warming up one’s tapas. Practice can be a devotional mantra, meditation, asana or simply being a karma yogi. All methods bring us to the same goal of neutralizing the poisons. Defeating sloth can be defeated by having faith in the goal of the practice. For example, practicing 5 yoga poses and meditating instead of taking a two-hour vinyasa class may be the solution. Once one performs their ritual (sadhana), deep relaxation is a result. The Yoga Sutras 2.46 say, Sthira Sukham Asanam, which means steady effort. (Sthira) and joy (Sukham) combined are a part of the posture of yoga, whether one is meditating or doing asana. Once one eliminates sloth created by habits or just being cold, the joy of the practice will present itself and the effort becomes a natural part of us.
Consistent, diligent practice or a sadhana eliminates the potency of the poisons and neutralizes them so they are not as acidic. The Ashtanga system actually considers their vinyasa practice an alchemic process that generates heat and therefore burns mental and physical toxins away. Patanjali says, “this heat purifies the senses of perception and we release toxicity”. Therefore, one begins to embrace unity, become more receptive, and realize their own divine nature or latent spiritual heart behind the poisons.
Fiery natured, she’s slaying the human pit. Defeating the six poisons, her heart now lit. Doves surround her, swans dive. An energetic blaze, internal healing, like a rising phoenix, she burns alive. A flame shoots through her crown chakra. Foggy smog flakes encircle. Dusty embers on display, decorate her head. A smoldering fire, the ruins of decay. Alas, peace on earth, she lay upon calm lakes, floating into a crystalline mind that doesn’t drift. Still waters without a rift. Motions of the body meld into the rhythm of her soul. – Poem I wrote to myself.
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