‘Freedom’ has recently become my personal mantra. The word itself beckons me to exhale – to let go and release the constriction in my body and mind, as fear, my go-to form of personal suffering, tries with all its might to entangle me in its illusions.
As humans we all experience various forms of suffering. While caught in the midst of our universal patterns of suffering we have a tendency to get stuck in states of mind that decrease our ability to process what is happening. If, however we can train ourselves to allow the experience of unwanted emotions or states of mind to serve us, we can use these states as an entry point through which we can attain authentic freedom. Allowing ourselves the freedom to lean in to the entirety of our experience – suffering and joy alike – affords us the opportunity to become whole, fully realised human beings.
The Yoga Sutra teaches that the five Kleshas, the universal afflictions that bind us, are the root cause of our suffering and ultimately keep us from experiencing inner freedom and wholeness. The five Kleshas: Ignorance (avidya), Ego (asmita), Attachment to pleasure (raga), Aversion to pain (dvesa) and Fear of Death (abhinivesah) encapsulate the multitude of ways in which we tend to suffer.
Thankfully, the Yoga Sutras offer us several paths to help us attain freedom from our suffering. The practice of yoga postures (asana) is one such path. Yoga practice guides us to open our mind, body and spirit and pay close attention to the ways in which we suffer. The inward focussed attention we experience when we practice yoga allows us to see that there is a space between what we experience, think or feel and how we choose to respond to it. As Viktor E. Frankl wrote, “Between stimulus and response there is a space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In our response lies our growth and our freedom.” As we continue to practice and become familiar with the space between ‘stimulus and response’ we realise that in each moment, both on and off the mat, we are given the freedom to consciously choose our response to our suffering and our joy. And that freedom, if we choose, invites us to lean in to the entirety of our human experience – the dark and the light. It allows us the freedom to be with what is and to move through it, allowing it to change us and shape us into more compassionate, kind and loving, whole beings.
Personally, I find that it is my yoga practice that continually liberates me from fear and suffering and provides me with the space to investigate my experience, and the freedom to consciously choose my response. As I move through my practice and breathe into my body, I release the places that have been constricted by my mind – the places that have been bent and molded by mental, emotional and physical fear, by a literal lack of freedom. With each exhale I calm my body and relax my mind. And then miraculously, as my body and mind settle into stillness, I find that I am able to allow whatever is present – even the fear itself – be there without judgement.
Remarkably as we cultivate our ability to befriend and investigate our afflictions, we find that we can slowly and lovingly release ourselves from their grip. When we give ourselves the necessary time and space to practice – the patience, kindness and compassion to be with whatever arises, and the ability to choose how to meet it – we are awarded the freedom to embrace our whole selves. And it is embracing our wholeness – light and dark, joys and sorrows – that offers us the greatest freedom of all: the freedom to be fully ourselves.
Kristin Tait is a registered holistic nutritionist, a registered Phoenix Rising yoga teacher, and a certified exercise physiologist. Currently she is studying to become an Ayurvedic Lifestyle Consultant. Kristin is a student of life, a deep soul diver, a seeker of truth. Her greatest passions are natural health and healing, yoga, all things culinary and creative, and assisting both herself and others in their quest to live a healthy, authentic, and inspired life.