Empowerment in the Face of Adversity: The Case for Yoga
Yoga is a path of self-realisation which puts you in direct contact with the source of who you are under the layers of fear, misconception, judgement and perception. As such it is a unique tool for self-empowerment. It deals with the individual in holistic fashion within the systematics of the 8 Limbs of Yoga as set out in The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This ancient collection of terse aphorisms provides a whole way of considering the most peaceful way to live. However, it is not some blissed- out tract in which individuals simply need to smile and float through a rose-tinted existence. Conversely, it demands a lot of the aspiring yogi, requiring them to dig deep into murky corners of themselves which they’d rather ignore.
To be empowered one must first be able to see on a conscious level what is there and, the most difficult part, to accept all that they find without judgment. For many people this is the endeavour of a lifetime. An excavation into the human soul and our place in the universe. What is it to feel, breathe, shiver through this existence, a vulnerable flame of self, encased in this body? This enquiry has fascinated theologians and philosophers alike throughout history however, in the 8 limbs we have a route map to unpick and observe the often tightly drawn weft of our hopes and fears.
We unravel in order to be drawn together once more in a resilient pattern of self-determination. We bend, stretch and breathe, we hold beyond what visionary poet William Blake called, our mind forg’d manacles’ and see through to an infinite peace which exists underneath the surface of things. The jarring clamour of our everyday lives makes it difficult to hear the vibration of the universe so we utter the sound vibration of ‘Om’ to re-connect.
We examine our reactions, our cowardice, and our generosity and see if we can hold them all in a tremulous compassion which is brave enough to acknowledge our complexity. We evade boxes, try not to grasp and strive and feel our heart quickened by a child’s laughter or a sunset. In these moments we know whatever comes our way we can handle it as we have witnessed our ego squirm on the mat, felt the discipline required to take a step back, developed stoicism in the face of uncertainty and felt the pain of loss before.
So what then of empowerment? To step into satya or our own truth could be limiting if the sadhana of Yoga becomes a selfish exercise in self-absorption. Yoga teaches us that to feel empowered we must let go-of the past, of the moment, of the answers. In this comes liberation or moksha. We must use the pranic energy we generate in our practice as a force for good, for the collective.
As Satchidanananda states in his translation of Book Two, Sutra 25, ‘When a strong person crosses a turbulent river, he or she will not walk away after crossing but will stand on the bank and help pull out everyone else’.
William Blake, ‘London’ in Songs of Innocence and Experience, 1967 edition, Oxford University Press, Oxford
Sri Swami Satchidananda translation and commentary on The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 2010 re-print, Integral Yoga Publications, Virginia
If we don’t practice, the pranic force becomes weak and we are once again at the mercy of our fears and prejudices. So, to stay in this state of grace we must practice.
By Emma Conally-Barklem, December 2020, All rights reserved.