My name is Leaflin, and I am addicted to yoga. Some would call this discipline, and sometimes I do, too. But the truth is that, yeah, I’m about as disciplined as the alcoholic that goes to the bar every night. I feel the pains of Life trapped in a human body and bound to the laws of human nature, and yoga is the medicine/drug that brings me the most relief. And so I practice.
Ok, so yoga is a “healthy addiction” — is there such a thing? I’m inclined to say yes, and that yoga is one. I mean, possible side effects may include: flexibility, longevity, strength, balance, beauty, bliss, compassion and maybe even enlightenment! To name just a few. That sure beats the usual possible list of nausea, vomiting, dizziness, drowsiness, constipation, diarrhea, hives and sexual dysfunction…… so yeah, yoga seems preferable to most of the habit-forming “remedies” pushed at us by advertisers every day. Plus, it’s virtually free. And legal! The main thing it costs that many aren’t willing to spend is time. So I’m grateful that yoga is my favorite fix.
However, in the name of svadyaya (self-study, an important tenet of yoga — though some may interpret this as self-indulgent “navel-gazing”) I feel compelled to take a deeper look at my attitude towards and relationship with my yoga practice, and recognize that indeed there is a difference between discipline and an addiction (even a healthy one.) The first thing that comes to mind is the matter of attachment. One of the many beautiful seeming contradictions of yoga is that it simultaneously teaches us non-attachment to our human selves, but the same time reverence for our human bodies and individual souls. So if I’m so attached to my practice that I’m flipping out after 3 days without it (even recognizing that not all practice is “on the mat”), I think that warrants investigation.
Most of us take up our spiritual practices for the same root reason that addicts take up their addictions: relief from suffering. Whether it was suffering over the question of “Who am I?” or more along the lines of “Why is my butt so big?” — or some combination of the 2 — “How much of who I am is determined by the size of my butt?” I’ve always maintained that there is no wrong reason to take up yoga. But unlike with addictions, in authentic spiritual practice progress is unavoidable. When the “perfect butt” is achieved, what then? A deeper suffering revealed. A new and more slippery question arises. If we are paying attention. And if we’re really practicing yoga, we are. Iyengar said something along the lines of, “When we first begin to practice, we have surface pains. When we become advanced, we have deep pains.”
It has occurred to me to wonder…..would I continue to practice if I weren’t suffering? Is it possible that I conjure up suffering in my life, because my suffering informs my practice, which I’m so attached to? Is it possible that I perpetuate the same kinds of suffering in my life repeatedly, because I’ve become accustomed to knowing how to “fix” the sufferings I’ve gotten used to? Ooh. Now we’re getting somewhere. I guess we all have a sort of “comfort zone” of sufferings. These are the addictive thought patterns underlying all addictions, both healthy and non, so often just beneath the level of consciousness, that the yogis call “samskaras”. Clever that the word “scar” is nestled in the word “samskara”, because that’s an accurate way to describe those tough psychic knots. As well as the sort of numbness that develops like scar tissue around our most habitual patterning, to protect us from the tender jewel of truth at the heart of them. Authentic yoga practice is be a way to cultivate sensitivity, not to feed the numbness.
Yet, its easy to get stuck at a sort of maintenance level of practice — “I did my yoga, so I’m ok” sort of thing. And I guess that’s really not so bad. Again, yoga at the level of healthy addiction. Quite frankly, many of us these days practice yoga as a means of survival. And in this moment in time, survival is hardy underrated. On the contrary, it’s a huge achievement, given what we have to deal with on a daily basis. Few of us dare to hope for enlightenment. We’re not sure what it is, and we think we don’t have time for it! Plus, here in the jaded 21st century US, it can be kind of a hard hope to take seriously. And that’s an understandable position to take, considering.
Nevertheless. It’s also legitimate to ask the question….what would be possible if I could break my addictions to the sufferings that have inspired my yoga practice? What seeds of deeper sufferings would I find? What fruits would my practice yield if I could transcend the cycle of ”breaking” and “fixing” myself? Or if I were able to consistently cultivate peace and joy in my life and still choose to practice evey day? Maybe part of me doesn’t believe I deserve to be so happy. Maybe part of it is I’m afraid of the responsiblity it would be to shine so brightly. Maybe part of me is still attached to the parts of myself that on occasion still seem “separate” from my yoga practice — vices like the occasional cigarrette, whiskey and wine, the dark artwork I like to create….the Darkness that is the mother of my Light. What if I could truly embrace what I know: that yes, Darkness is the mother of Light, that practice is the gift of suffering — and open myself fully to recieve the mysterious gift of true practice? I might be a yoga addict no longer. And there would be no such thing as a day without practice.