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This ain’t no hair-shirt yoga: YSP 2.7


2.7 sukha anushayi ragah

Bouanchaud: Attachment is the consequence of pleasure.

Desikachar: Excessive attachment is based on the assumption that it will contribute to everlasting happiness.

Swami J: Attachment (raga) is a separate modification of mind, which follows the rising of the memory of pleasure, where the three modifications of attachment, pleasure, and the memory of the object are then associated with one another.

Attachment is the consequence of pleasure. That statement is one of the reasons I love yoga as a life philosophy. There’s no caterwauling and whining about it. There’s no chastisement or tsk-tsk coming from Patanjali. It’s a simple statement of fact about the human condition. One of our first reflexes outside the womb is the grasping reflex, technically known as the palmer grasp reflex. When an object strokes a baby’s palm, the fingers close around the object with surprising strength. One of our first primitive responses to the material world is to hang on tightly to anything we can get our hands on.

Attachment is a consequence of pleasure. As human beings, we are hard-wired to want to repeat those things we find pleasurable. That fact alone goes a long way to explaining how babies get made during wartimes and other forms of social crisis. Yoga doesn’t deny us the pleasures of life, including the sensual pleasures. My study group coined a phrase for this idea when we were working together this summer – “this ain’t no hair-shirt yoga”.

Hair-shirt yoga, of course, is a reference to the cilice, a type of corporeal mortifications used by certain religious groups to induce discomfort and pain as a sign of repentance and atonement. These shirts are made of fabric woven from goat’s hair and worn close to the skin and are extremely itch – which would be the point of wearing one. It’s literally a means of denying the pleasures of the flesh by making the flesh so miserable, it hurts.

Hmmmmm, not me, thank you very much.

I am fond of my sensual pleasures … and there’s the sticky side of the wicket. Yoga doesn’t deny me the good things in life. It does warn me to not become overly attached to them.

This is where Desikachar’s translation weighs in: Excessive attachment is based on the assumption that it will contribute to everlasting happiness.

GUILTY as charged, your Honour.

Some people have personality types that just make them prone to attachment. I would be one of those people. I want, I want, I want some more. Consumer culture is based on feeding our attachment to stuff – the entire idea that we will know true and lasting happiness if we could just get the new iPhone or the snazzy car or .. or… or. There is no end to this because within a few days or weeks of acquiring X, we discover the existence of the new and improved X-plus, now in G4.

And it’s not just consumer culture. There’s no need for me to feel all smug and self-righteous on this matter just because I can no longer afford these material indulgences. I have plenty of ‘attachments’ to keep me busy for the next while. My relationship with food is largely characterized by ‘attachment”. Any addiction is a nasty soup of attachment and repulsion (which will be discussed next week). Again, there is nothing wrong with enjoying the bounty of a well-cooked meal that nourishes both body and soul. It’s when I start using food as a drug that I end up in a world of hurt. This is classic case of how the klesha of attachment causes my suffering. In order to end this form of suffering, I need to enfeeble the klesha of attachment.

We can become excessively attached to our spiritual practices, including our yoga practices. We can use them to bolster our ego (asmita). These kleshas aren’t an either/or situation. We can mix and match the kleshas to buy ourselves all kinds of trouble and we can spend a lifetime learning how to weaken their hold on our minds.

“How do I do that?” I ask my friend Patanjali. He points to the beginning of the chapter, right there at Sutras 2.1 and 2.2: The yoga of action is practiced to increase contemplation and decrease the causes of suffering.

Now that’s what we’re talkin’ about…Thanks for reading and Namaste,

Kate

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About Kate MacKay

I'm a certified Viniyoga teacher, in Fredericton, NB. I was a 9-1-1 operator and emergency services dispatcher for 22 years. Surprisingly, the two worked well together, or as I liked to put it, from the sublime to the ridiculous -- all in a day's work. I'm currently off work as a result of a stress-induced cardiac condition that's thrown a few crimps in my lifestyle. I'm not actively teaching yoga in the classroom right now and probably won't for several more months. That said, this blog is one of the forms of practice I can do and I thank you for joining me in this exploration of all things yoga.

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