Sri K Pattabhi Jois said, "Yoga is 99 percent practice, one percent theory." This blog is a resource to explore the one percent theory and to inspire you on the mat.

Sunday, April 11, 2010

The Puzzle of Pain

Students often complain about and share their pain with me. Universally people want to reject pain and wish it away. Every time I work with someone in pain I wish I could just take it away, and yet, over the years I've seen people be forced to rise up and work through their pain. I marvel at the courage, strength, transformation and healing that can take place due to pain. Pain often has complex origins that defy simple explanations, remedies, and its voices speak to all dimensions of your being, physical, mental, and spiritual. Pain slows you down, restricts your movement, forces you to change your routine, demands that you find different patterns to explore, compels you to focus on unexpected aspects of practice, aspects that otherwise, you wouldn't necessarily choose to go into.

Resisting pain can frustrate you and challenge your resolve to practice and thus it is essential to see that the obstructions that appear in your path, whether physical or mental, are meant to be there for your learning and growth. Somehow you have to trust the process, let go and see the potential openings, the advantages and new directions within the hardship. This is how you find your way deeper into your practice.

For example, when you are hurting, you learn how to practice more gently, you become more humble and less ambitious and goal oriented. Pain also forces you to deal with frustration and the arrogance of thinking that your little conscious mind knows exactly how to go further along your path. Also you are inclined to be more caring, tender hearted, more open, vulnerable, and happier with less. Also, when you are a little down and slightly blue, you become more serious about important matters. You increase your ability to withdraw inwards and cultivate a mental attitude that is more empty and purposeless.

Ganesh is the lord of obstacles, a mascot of Yoga, a rotund, elephant headed, winking, fun loving prankster who loves laddo's (yummy indian sweets) and rides a rat. Since he's in charge of obstacles, he's intimately involved in your Yoga practice! Whenever you encounter an obstacle in your practice, Ganesh the sly trickster is either the instigator and/or the remover of it. He deals in every phase of obstacles: creating, sustaining, and removing them. According to his assessment of your spiritual needs, he plays with obstacles to keep you on track to your secret heart.

He occupies a special place in your heart because he lightens the load of spiritual discipline. Looking within is often painful and unpleasant, in fact, facing your shadow and ugliness is much of what stands between you and Self knowledge. Ganesha portrays an image of playfulness and lightness, through his intervention, you confront and transform the pain, grief, anger, and other heavy blockages within you. His image, his habits, and even his vechicle all contribute to him disarming his devotees, catching you off guard with enough paradox and humor to set an optimal mood for you to tackle your darkness with empathy and grit.

One of Ganesha's main celestial weapons is the noose. The noose symbolizes a physical and mental lassoing of your person, a yoking that happens to you when you become dedicated to a daily practice. This yoking involves tapas (heat, friction, discipline in service of Spirit). Each technique in ashtanga adds tapas, generates energy, and functions in a specific way to bring awareness to your movement and your mental activity. Working physically with asana builds cleansing heat and makes you strong and flexible and able to stay in chosen positions for increasingly longer duration. Bandha's are 'locks' and are used for 'sealing' the torso in order to stoke the internal fire and gather Prana (life force). Vinyasa can be defined as sequential, sacred movement and posture performed with seamless concentration. Dristi is training your self to maintain your gaze where you choose.

You use these techniques like you use a pressure cooker, with attention and care. You utilize discipline, mental power, intention, intuition, and skill to go within and tap your resources. You apply pressure to your self, with the intention of generating creative energy to pierce through and perceive reality. It is important to use caution when working with life force in these ways. It is essential that you take the process seriously and care for and respect your self. It takes tremendous power to courageously look within at your anger, greed, at your various forms of ugliness. And then Instead of condemning your self, or hiding or perpetuating the negative thought patterns, you use your life force to generate simple consciousness, love and empathy. You forgive your self and go to the deep place where you see how unnecessary those patterns are.
And if you get the recipe right, you win the freedom to choose how to share the infinite gifts you've been given.
Here's a line from a poem by Rumi:

Stay in the joy of now
The way is usually downward,
through humility and grief into union.

That center is a flowing spring,
a love and clarity.

I've included a story of how Ganesha is in the right place at the right time to help Shiva and out wit Ravana, the 10 headed demon who represents negative ego. Note that when you practice yoga, you up your chances of being in the right place at the right time ~enjoy~

For her daily prayer ritual Ravana's mother had a small statue representing the mark of Shiva (called the atma linga). Even though the statue was virtually worthless, strangely someone stole it. Ravana preposterously promised her that he would replace the cheap statue with the actual atma linga that belonged to Shiva. To accomplish this nearly impossible task, Ravana traveled to the vicinity of Shiva's home on Mt Kailas and performed severe tapas. He eventually won a boon from Shiva. He asked for and was granted the atma linga. Shiva warned him that whereever he set the icon down it would remain there permanently. So Ravana traveled along towards home. Out in the middle of nowhere he found he had to answer the call of nature. Looking around for something to do with the atma linga, he spied a cow boy tending his herd. He shouted "hey you! come over here. Hold this for me and under no circumstances let it touch the ground. I'll be back shortly". The cow boy (who was Ganesh in disguise!) agreed with a sly smile saying "I will hold it for 30 minutes but not longer." Ravana disappeared and failed to make it back in exactly 30 minutes. Ganesh set the linga down and it began to sink into the ground. Ravana came dashing up and tried in vain to lift it back up. The linga turned into a cow and then completely sank and disappeared into the ground. Ganesh laughed and went on his way. The atma linga stayed in that spot and to this day is a sacred holy ground in India called Gokarna (Cow's ear).


  1. Thank you for writing this post David. Wow, this is so truly helpful, as a studio owner and teacher and especially in my own practice. The skype private today was awesome too. Thank you!

  2. This is a great post. It's very helpful to me at present due to my dealings everyday with pain and practice. Thank you.

  3. Yes, a playful attitude towards the obstacles makes it so much sweeter. With your help and those of my friends in the room, the puzzle of pain has become much more interesting than just "doing" my daily practice.

  4. a beautifully-written and inspiring post David. ha, but this may mean that you are Ganesh in disguise, playfully keeping the practice light but focused at Y2 every day. you trickster! ;)

  5. The information you have posted is very useful. The sites you have referred was good. Thanks for sharing.

  6. Inspiring writings and I greatly admired what you have to say , I hope you continue to provide new ideas for us all and greetings success always for you..Keep update more information..
    Yoga teacher training Goa

  7. interesting vierw of managing pain


David welcomes comments on his posts, however, due to time constraints he is not able to respond to every comment.