No Pain, No Gain



An episode of Time Team deals with a Roman massacre of druids on Angelsey. The druids buried hordes of precious goods as an offering to their gods for help. These were items of great value. Many cultures include ideas of sacrifice – giving up something valuable, in exchange for progress or improvement.

The flip side of this (and the message from the Yoga tradition) is that whatever is sacrificed isn’t needed anyway. Somehow it’s a barrier to progress and must be given up. So rather than penance, sacrifice is in fact a return to wholeness.

Man with skateboard jumping over barrier. Photo by Dillon Winspear on Unsplash

Yoga practice helps us to look at why and how we create situations where “sacrifice” is needed. Because why would anyone need sacrifice – surely it’s more effective to just manage growth and expectations well?

Religions often focus on changing behaviour. Yoga looks deeper, at the forces underlying behaviour, aiming to redirect and refine these forces. Yoga teaches that even if behaviour changes for the better, the drivers for wrongdoing (samskara) can still be present. Yoga practice is tools and techniques to systematically take out the underlying drivers.

The thinking is that experiences are received through our senses and evaluated against our current world understanding. Our take on events is always incomplete because senses are limited (eg, an eye can only dilate so far in the dark), and our current understanding of the world could be full of things we’d like to get rid of/sacrifice.

Sacrifice isn’t just giving up the things we do. It can be giving up limiting beliefs. For instance, if I think “I can’t do [X] because…” then maybe I’m right or maybe I lack confidence. With consistent, physical (asana) Yoga practice, our bodies and abilities change. We “give up” the idea that anything is automatically impossible. We’re more likely to evaluate a new challenge objectively.

Smiling Teacher Trainee, sat cross-legged on mat.

Or again, if I say “I need [Y] because…”, then maybe I just feel inadequate, unable to meet my own needs. Giving up what we “need” means becoming more independent. We’ll always need food from farms, oxygen from plants, and water from the sky. But how many of our “needs” would be that simple, if we tried to explain them? Yoga takes us from disempowered dependency to empowered and responsible interdependence.

It’s interesting that the spirit world was such an important part of human life for so long. Even our grandparents were probably regular churchgoers. Today many of us believe in ghosts, or are at least fascinated by horror media. Yet most would never think of making an offering to something that can’t be seen as a way of improving conditions. All we have now is “No Pain, No Gain”; a promise that if we hurt, then we can have a desirable body. This is far from living in the presence of ancestors and other benevolent and loving energies.

We assume we’re right to disregard ideas of gods, even though humans believed it for thousands of years. The human brain hasn’t changed much in a long time, so all those “backward” cultures were full of people with the same IQ as us.

From Teacher Trainee course 2019.

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