"Venture from the known to the unknown." --B. K. S. Iyengar
Working with challenging āsanas (postures) or difficult aspects or intricacies in our practice brings opportunities to cultivate wisdom, tolerance, and equanimity. There is a difference between performing practice for "cosmetic reasons" (outward physical beauty, social recognition or status, or even physical comfort) and practicing with undivided attention to work inward to cultivate physical, emotional, spiritual health and tranquillity.
Patanjali names five kleśas (afflictions) that disturb the practitioner's equilibrium of consciousness: avidyā (ignorance or lack of wisdom or true knowledge on the intellectual level), asmitā (egoism --conception of individuality, emotional level), rāga (attachment to pleasurable experiences, also emotional), dvesa (aversion to unpleasantness, sorrow, pain, distress, agony, emotional level), and finally, abhiniveśa (instinctual clinging to life, fear of dying). (Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, II.3)
B.K.S. Iyengar wrote that Patanjali's "Yoga is designed to help us avoid the slips and errors in our judgment which stores up future sorrows, and it builds up our strength, vigor, and courage to deal with the inevitable problems of life." Cultivating discrimination, the yoga practitioner changes their conduct. (Iyengar, Light on Patañjali's Yoga Sutras, p. 135)
Working with difficulty in our āsana practice inevitably brings up frustrations, sorrows, physical pain, aversion, and fear. Many of us have had the experience of a challenging asana becoming easier, perhaps joyful and comfortable, and then to want to repeat that experience many times in future practices. It is common to want to avoid difficulty and seek out the pleasurable ease of the poses that are accessible, the "known". The trouble with this is that we may become stuck in a rut, and instead of transforming, be caught up in wanting to repeat past experiences that may have been working for us at one time but are no longer bringing about transformation on any level. Are we still paying attention in the comfortable asana, still looking for insight, searching into a state of absorption?
B.K.S. Iyengar advised "Change leads to disappointment if it is not sustained. Transformation is sustained change and it is achieved through practice."
There will be more on how to recognize and work with these challenges in our practice in the upcoming posts. Thanks for reading!