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Yoga Offers More Clarity, Less Fear (Excerpt)

Excerpt from CANCER + YOGA by Lorien Neargarder, copywrite 2019:

Study after study provides evidence that a regular yoga practice offers psycho-social support, relief from fatigue and sleep issues as well as a reduction in chronic pain. When we study our thoughts, emotions and behavior in our yoga practices, we begin to see patterns that contribute to our suffering. After a cancer diagnosis, many of us feel the need to address these patterns as we become more viscerally aware of our limited time in these bodies. We ignore the ego’s harsh voice and take chances with new relationships and/or cultivate existing ones, including the relationship we have with ourselves. Suddenly, taking care of our bodies becomes more critical and we develop a better ear for inner listening. These patterns unearthed by our practice affect us on all the layers of our koshas by shining a light on habits related to our behavior AND those embedded into our nervous system and our tissues.

The texts of yoga were written long before we began explaining who we are in terms of psychology and physiology which is why we don’t see a clear reference for how yoga helps us improve our quality of life, but we do see a holistic approach to living that is inspired by death. The biggest, baddest fear of all is the fear of death and we are bombarded by this fear in big and small ways throughout our lives. The yogis believed that we could prepare for a “good” death by practicing techniques to improve our awareness and understanding. Since they believed in reincarnation, it was important to them that the moment of death was as lucid and as free from suffering as could be. The objective was to slip out of this life with awareness and the least amount of struggle as possible by utilizing the practices that Patanjali described (yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi) which were designed to prepare us to do just that. In our day-to-day life, if we take steps to see the world more clearly, as it is without our biases and baggage, then we have a better chance at seeing death as it is. The yogis studied death in order to improve life.

The Katha Upanishad is a dialogue between the god of death, Yama, and a wise boy named Nachiketa. Yama grants Nachiketa three favors, but is reluctant to deliver the last of these when the boy asks about death. After some conversation and few tests, Yama decides Nachiketa is worthy to hear the answer to the question, What happens when we die? Yama reveals this knowledge using a parable of the individual soul riding in a chariot; the body, he explains, is the chariot itself, “discriminating intellect” is the driver and the mind acts as reins for the horses, which are the senses. When as individual lacks mental discipline, he confuses his soul with his mind and body and his senses run like wild horses stampeding on the roads of pleasure and sorrow. But when he has trained his mind to be focused and discerning, his senses obey the reins like trained horses. He concludes with,

“Those who lack discrimination, with little control over their thoughts and far from pure, reach not the pure state of immortality but wander from death to death; but those who have discrimination, with a still mind and a pure heart, reach journey’s end, never again to fall into the jaws of death.

With a discriminating intellect as charioteer and a trained mind as reins, they attain the supreme goal of life, to be united with the Lord of Love.”

According to the Katha Upanishad, it is necessary to have a body to experience the world through our corporeal senses, but we must understand that the part of us that expires is the instrument that we use to move us along, like the chariot, not the soul or Self that remains. If we wish to comprehend this, Yama counsels, our “discriminating intellect” must lead our chariot rather than our desires, impulses or habits. In order to reach our destination of the final death where we are “united with the Lord of Love,” all parts of us are necessary: “The Atman [Self] is essential, the body is essential; the senses are essential as motive power; but only blended with the intellect [do] they make a beautiful combination."

Our yoga practice “yokes” these parts of us in order to reach that destination with clarity and without fear.

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