I love the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. It’s one of our ancient guiding texts for the practice of yoga, and chock full of wisdom that applies today. No matter how many times I read it, I learn something new. Of course, I may not have been ready for all the messages the first readthrough or even the eighth. But moving along the path of yoga helps to develop a new way of looking at life and the world. So as the mind evolves, we have new understanding and new lessons to learn.
One of my favorite lessons comes from Sutra 2.16. It’s been a favorite since my very first readthrough. It says, “Heyam duhkham anagatam” which translates as, “The pain that has not yet come should be avoided.” Simple yet complex, right?!?
There are many ways to interpret this verse. In asana, you may try and avoid putting yourself in painful positions. This may the idea behind the phrase “Listen to your body.”
Even more meaning comes when consider what we allow into our lives and minds. In the Sutras, pain is more likened to suffering. We know suffering comes as part of the human condition, and we also know when we have caused ourselves excess suffering. This avoidable suffering is what Patanjali is asking us to recognize and minimize.
For example, maybe every time you watch the news you have an overwhelming sense of dread, despair, or even anxiety. So, this sutra would suggest you stop watching the news. Read about it if you must and see if that causes less suffering (it will!) If it’s not watching news maybe you create suffering by over-indulging in sweets which leads to indigestion, or perhaps you have made a habit of not getting enough sleep. There are an infinite number of things that can cause self-inflicted suffering.
Think about how you might be causing yourself pain and suffering. Are there different choices you could make? Is there anything holding you back from making a change? What or why? And if you’re not quite ready to make a change, forgive yourself, but start noticing the negative residue left after each suffer-affirming decision. It might help in making the change in the future.
And if you want to dive into more of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, I recommend the translation and commentary from Sri Swami Satchidananda.