Yoga: The Consciousness

Warrior poses in yoga are named after Virabhadra, a fierce warrior created by Shiva’s anger. There is a story about this. 

Sati, the youngest daughter of Daksha, won the heart of Shiva who was known for dwelling on Mount Kailash in long periods of one-pointed meditation. But Daksha was not pleased about Sati getting married to Shiva.  

One day, Daksha organized a great fire sacrifice. He didn’t invite Sati and Shiva. Sati went to the sacrifice anyway and was humiliated and insulted by her father. Consequently, she immolated herself in a rage. Knowing this, Shiva was mad with grief and fury. From his matted hair, the powerful warrior Virabhadra arose. Virabhadra and his army destroyed the sacrifice, and Daksha was beheaded. 

Traditionally, yoga is known as a spiritual practice for self-realization, and concentration is an essential part of it. However, be aware that “Knowing others is intelligent; knowing yourself is true wisdom” (Tao Te Ching 33). Living in the world, no one can avoid interacting with others, and emotions come about with the interaction. Wisdom from self-realization is only one side. We should not neglect the other side, the intelligence that helps to handle relationships with others. To live wisely, we need both wisdom and intelligence to guide us. For example, life in a secluded mountain is totally different from worldly life, and the goal of a spiritual seeker is different from a householder. Can we recognize the variance and adjust accordingly? The ability to concentrate is not enough; we also need to have the insight and technique to know how to apply this ability. The way of managing anger can help us understand this idea. 

We know that anger is a powerful emotion that harms both our self and others. Anger, like a fire, can bring destruction and be the destroyer of life. Without any preparation, we won’t be able to restraint anger. If we direct the mind in the proper direction, yoga, “the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions” (Yoga Sūtra 1.2), can certainly help.  First, we need to direct the mind toward anger itself instead of the cause of anger. As Thich Nhat Hanh says, “like a firefighter, we must put water on the blaze immediately and not waste time looking for the person who set the house on fire.” As the story of the warrior Virabhadra demonstrates, concentration alone will not help to tame emotions in the absence of this awareness. 

After becoming aware of the appropriate direction, we can then enhance this awareness with mindfulness practice. According to Thich Nhat Hanh, “The foundation of all mindfulness practice is to bring our attention to in-breath and out-breath.” He suggests reciting the following verse regularly to train our minds and get ready to overcome this strong emotion. 

Breathing in, I know that anger is still here.
Breathing out, I know that anger is me. And I know that mindfulness is me also.

Breathing in, I know that anger is an unpleasant feeling.
Breathing out, I know this feeling has been born and will die. 

Breathing in, I know that I can take care of this feeling.
Breathing out, I calm this feeling. 

When practicing yoga poses such as Warrior II, we can also combine with mindful breathing. 

Breathing in, I know that I can take care of this feeling.
Breathing out, I calm this feeling. 

Hopefully, with practice, at the moment anger arises, we can bring attention to our breathing to subdue this powerful emotion. 

Keep in mind that Yoga Sūtra (2.29) presents eight components of yoga. Dhārāna, “the ability to direct our minds”, is only one of them. The other components, such as prāṇāyāma, “the practice of breathing exercises”, will strongly affect the state of mind. Conscious breathing will ground us and give us orientation. May the practice of mindfulness lead us to be skillful mind masters – knowing when and how to apply our abilities and knowing the direction to walk in as the situation and environment change. 

Notes:

  1. The story of the warrior Virabhadra is rephrased from B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Yoga (London: Thorsons, 2001), 46-47.
  2. Stephen Mitchell, Tao Te Ching (New York: Harper Perennial Modern Classics, 2006), 33.
  3. Quotations of Yoga Sūtra from T.K.V.Desikachar, The Heart of Yoga: Developing a personal practice (Rochester: Inner Traditions International, 1995), 149.
  4. Thich Nhat Hanh, Happiness – Essential Mindfulness Practice (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2009), 3.
  5. Thich Nhat Hanh, The Sutra on the Four Establishments of Mindfulness in Awakening of the Heart : Essential Buddhist Sutras and Commentaries (Berkeley, CA: Parallax Press, 2012), 157-158.

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