Urban Sadhu Exploration September 2023
hēy śiva shankara, hēy mahēśwara sukha kara dukha, hara hara hara śankara
Meaning: Shiva, destroyer of the ego, witness of all that passes. All sorrow stems from identification with the transient, all happiness from identification with the eternal. – Interpretation, Austin Sanderson
Have you ever been in a yoga class where the first thing the yoga teacher says to the group is, “Does anyone have an injury?” Then you look around the room and most people in the room have their arm in the air, including yourself. As the teacher points to you, you say, “I have a bad knee, I can’t do lotus or hero”; the teacher points to the next student, who says, “I have a messed up shoulder, upward bow is impossible.” Then it goes to the next student and the next, and the whole process has everyone identifying with injuries and limitation.
Don’t get me wrong here, a yoga teacher should have information about a student’s heath and mobility issues to insure a level of safety and wellbeing. The problem is the language used to inquire about and express that information.
We have to realize that the root of the problem is the phrase “does anyone have,” along with the usual response of “I have,” “I can’t,” and “it’s impossible.” “Does anyone have” is a phrase that expresses attachment and ownership. “I have” is a misidentification with that attachment. “I can’t” and “it’s impossible” are subjective realities that can change with the right approach to the perceived limitations. Yoga is about not identifying with the finite limitations but with the infinite possibilities.
First it is important that all yoga teachers and students understand that we have a human body, so we can assume that while we are in the body we will experience a physical injury at some point. Injury is a form of pain and suffering, and pain and suffering are part of the human condition, but identification with that pain and suffering is optional. Many students allow the injuries to become part of the ego personality. It’s as if they walk into the yoga class with a name tag reading: HELLO MY NAME IS… Meniscus Tear.
In truth, a well-trained yoga teacher should be able to see the energetic prana block that happens as a result of injury. An injury will block the flow of prana (life force) causing unequal weight distribution, disconnection from the seat of the asana, discomfort, and an overall lack of grounding in the asana. By using yoga assists, yoga props, and verbal guidance the teacher may be able to help the student redirect the flow of prana, so the student can experience the asana in a more harmonious way.
The concept of prana and its flow in the body is not “medical science” but “yoga theory.” The medical industry doesn’t recognize the concept of the subtle body with its five Vayus, three major Nadis (72,000 in total), and seven major Chakras that prana flows through. But the theory is that when the body is physically injured the subtle body is also injured, and the injury blocks the flow of prana; this causes lack of mobility, discomfort, pain, and even emotional distress.
Also, yoga philosophy goes one step further by saying that the pain and the suffering are caused by the identification with them, associated with the citta (psyche, the totality of the human mind, conscious and unconscious). The Chinese mystic Chaunt Tzu stated, “When the shoe fits, the foot is forgotten; when the belt fits, the belly is forgotten; and when the heart is right, for and against are forgotten.” Stop the mind from thinking about and associating with pain and suffering and one can end pain and suffering on a subtle level. The injury and its physical pain may still be present in the body, but for the Self-realized yogi, the identification with pain and suffering is one of non-attachment.
When your citta is healthy, there is no pain and suffering because the ego identity has been dissolved; you’re not thinking about limitations. You don’t go on reminding yourself that “I am my injuries,” you just are; there is no “I,” but rather a simple “am-ness.” “I have a body, I have a mind; I am not this body, I am not this mind, but the sakshi (witness) of the experience of this body and mind.”
Austin Sanderson – Urban Sadhu