Ahymsin Newsletter: Yoga is Samadhi
Association of Himalayan Yoga Meditation Societies International
Two minute meditations

Dear Yoga Mentor, My Question Is…

Sometimes students write to or ask Swami Veda and other senior teachers in our tradition questions about practice.  This is one such “Question and Answer,” or Q&A.


'managing pain'. Any suggestions on this topic from a yogic perspective?

Answer: Three have answered this question: Peter Fabian, Lalita Arya (Ammaji), and Michael Smith.

From Peter Fabian:

Yogic Perspective of Managing Pain

The above words frame the content in an extremely wide perspective.  Managing pain has whole institutes and very large organizations that deal with these issues.

A Yogic perspective is focused in helping a person of any condition to move closer to their true self.  All problems create pains that keep us from or block our path towards this deeper realization within.

First make sure you are dealing with a pain that needs to managed and not to be treated medically.  First take care of a proper evaluation by the appropriate Health Care Managers.  Do not leave out any beginning steps that need to be addressed up front.  Use friends and professionals to help make clear what you might be dealing with at the start.

Managing pain and working on one’s lifestyle issues go hand in hand.  Using the Yamas and Niyamas as guidelines can be very helpful in developing a plan.  Once you have the best idea of what you are dealing with then combining a Yogic perspective with any needed medical or needed lifestyle changes can be very helpful.

Decide what aggravates the pain.  Especially find movements and postures that make the pain worse.  First try to lessen those things that make it worse.  When you cannot lessen the movement or posture try to negate or neutralize it's effects.  By doing the opposite posture or movement or just taking a break.

Also work on increasing your capacity to deal with the pain and its cause.  This means you are involved in a practice that strengthens those things identified as a bit weaker.  Not just weakness of the body but of one’s attitudes, negativeness, poor breath control, stubborn or stuck thinking, etc.

Your program and its execution are key.  Find out what elements and what categories of the body, breath and mind you need more work.  Be careful of picking your favorite areas as they tend to be easier to work on.  You really need to think of using a teacher or a coach to help in the evaluation, planning and to give you feedback on how you are implementing and doing the program.  

We all work on things we know and feel but lack the ability to often work on those areas that we don't really know about or don't really feel.

It is not just what you do that is key here.  It is how you do the "what".  A teacher/coach can be invaluable here.

Set up a plan of practice to strengthen what is weak in the body, breath and mind.  Determine a time frame of this particular practice.  Then re-evaluate weekly and monthly.  Are you moving in the direction of a stronger body, breath and mind?  

Chronic pain often has difficulty maintaining the same level of irritation and intensity as we make these positive changes.  Even though we may still have some pain or even the original pain, our ability to be not affected by it increases so that it no longer has that previous same impact.

In working in this way, we increase our awareness of ourselves.  We deepen our understanding of ourselves.  We become to know ourselves both from the outside and inside in a new and more profound way.

This deeper understanding allows a deeper healing from within.  Again the outside may not always change as much as we wish but the expansion of ourselves from within changes us is such a way that we rest more deeply, we live more fully and we find love and connection where there was not before.

Take time to reflect on these points.  Take much time in months and years to work with these aspects.  Find out for yourself, what is best.  Experiment carefully and you determine what is working.  Let your teachers and coaches be only guides in your grand experiment.  

There is nothing that can prevent you from coming to a place and space where healing takes place.  The journey will have its ups and downs.  Your steadfastness, persistence, hard work and eye towards your goal will allow you to achieve that which is seemingly out of reach at this moment.  

From Lalita Arya (Ammaji):

My nephew who lives in Adelaide, Australia, had a very serious crash on his motorcycle several years ago. He was in a near death situation, hospitalized for many months. His boss came to see him and reminded him with the quote:  "Say thanks for the pain, it means you are alive." This is one positive way to regard pain. 

I would like to share a learning experience of mine working with leprosy patients - leprosy is a nerve affliction which deadens pain in the extremities of the body like fingers, nose and toes. If these are injured in any way, the person does not feel pain and eventually the injured part gets infected and with sepsis, rots and is lost. Hence the good thing about pain.

There is another quote from the Buddha - "Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional." 

Peter F. has given quite detailed suggestions, which will definitely help. I would like to add that we use our meditative techniques to get to the sources of the pain - in the brain. Nerves are the pathways that carry the message to the brain that there is injury/hurt/ diseased body part. We may use these same pathways to modify the suffering and the healing. But medical attention should never be ignored. We can help the healing process with what have been suggested by Peter F. 

From Michael Smith:

The tools for dealing with Emotional Pain and Physical Pain are in many ways very similar, but it would be good to know which one the Questioner is referring to.

There is an abundance of information about pain and human suffering, from the ancient sages and the “Four Passing Sights” of the Buddha throughout history up to the recent scientific findings like Psychological Approaches in the Treatment of Chronic Pain Patients—When Pills, Scalpels, and Needles Are Not Enough.

Swami Veda had a seminar on the topic, his mantra being, “Do not turn physical problems into psychological problems.”

A formula that is being used a lot therapeutically is
Pain + Obsessive Thinking and Emotional Resistance = Suffering
Pain + Meditation Practices and Spiritual Acceptance = Transcendence

I think in Toronto (2009 or so), Swamiji gave a talk in which the announcement was “The Spiritual Philosophy of Pain Management — Activation of the Mental and Neuron-physiological processes of the brain through Meditation practices not yet known to researchers. How to live with chronic pain yet remain creative and happy in the service of others.”

Prior to the Meditation for Pain Management seminar (2009), Swamiji said,

Emotional pain is a big topic and can take years of seminars to discuss. We shall cover mainly physical pain and touch upon how emotions make the pain and (2) perception of pain more intense.  That's it.  --- svb 

[There is a booklet published by AHYMSIN Publishers, now Himalayan Yoga Publications Trust, titled Meditation for Pain Management by Swami Veda Bharati.   And there are audios available on that same subject. To inquire about purchasing these: [email protected].]

We have some of Swami Veda’s transcripts that would a good reference [click on title]:  

Swamiji has also written Pain and Silence

Here’s a passage from Kahlil Gibran’s The Prophet:

And a woman spoke, saying, 'Tell us of Pain.'
 And he said:
 Your pain is the breaking of the shell that encloses your understanding.
 Even as the stone of the fruit must break, that its heart may stand in the sun, so must you know pain.
 And could you keep your heart in wonder at the daily miracles of your life, your pain would not seem less wondrous than your joy;
 And you would accept the seasons of your heart, even as you have always accepted the seasons that pass over your fields.
 And you would watch with serenity through the winters of your grief.
 Much of your pain is self-chosen.
 It is the bitter potion by which the physician within you heals your sick self.
 Therefore trust the physician, and drink his remedy in silence and tranquility:
 For his hand, though heavy and hard, is guided by the tender hand of the Unseen,
 And the cup he brings, though it burn your lips, has been fashioned of the clay which the Potter has moistened with His own sacred tears. 

I think this (below) might be from Swamiji’s video TAT TVAM ASI:

So, coming back to the topic of pain, you rise above your addiction to pain and your addiction to pleasures because the two are one and the same.  They are addictions to body sensations.  That is not to say that you become insensitive, but you are in control.  Sometimes I teach people, people who are close to me, they have seen how to use one sip of orange juice for going into deep meditation.  One sip of orange juice, one touch on the fingertip with concentration, with total absorption.  You poor people; you have never tasted orange juice.  No one here has ever tasted orange juice.  No one here has ever tasted milk.  No one here has tasted anything.  You don’t know how to enjoy your food because you have not concentrated.

Emotional pains are caused by our attachment to our psychological conditioning:  “I am an introvert; I have great difficulty in talking to people.  I am an extrovert; if I don’t have someone to talk to, I suffer greatly.   I have a psychological identification with the small stature of my body; I’m small.  I’m scared of tall people.  I have seen tall people walk bent.  I have seen this in all cultures how tall people walk bent because they are so conscious about being tall.”  These are all psychological conditionings.  These are all mental habits.   “The way my mother and father treated each other conditioned my mind – the way my mother and father treated me.  What happened with me at that time has conditioned me.  And I’m divided.  On one hand, I do not like what they did when I am conscious of it, but at the same time I find myself doing the same thing to my children.”  These are all psychological handicaps.  They prevent your progress.  They prevent you from rising above your present spiritual station.  So a person who is on the spiritual path, who is a sadhaka, gradually, slowly, by constant self-observation, by constant self-observation, dis-identifies with his or her psychological conditioning. 

Every event can have many interpretations.  We give each event in our life the kind of interpretation that we chose, and thereby we either enjoy a pleasure or we suffer a pain.  I always tell people – this time I have not read any of my poems to you.  A person is in solitary confinement in a prison being given bread and water.  A person is in a solitary cell in a monastery being given bread and water.  What a pain!  What a pleasure!  What is the difference?  Both of are in the same 6-by-6 cell.  Both are getting bread and water.  For one it is a punishment.  For the other it is a reward.  If I lock you up in a room and I say, “Now, you are not allowed to leave this room for seven days,” out you will go; you will call your own taxi.  But sometimes I stay in my room in my cottage two weeks at a time, a month at a time, even here; and coming out of there is a chore.  It is a disturbance.

People come here.  They want to go here; they want to go there.  They don’t see this; they want to see that.  They [say that] they come for sadhana.  And when the body is on one place, the mind is going here; the mind is going there.  A person is hungry.  Someone is hungry and fasts.  Someone is deprived of food.  A person is hungry because they taking a fast on a sacred day.  What’s the difference?  It’s the difference between the tiredness of a tourist and the tiredness of a pilgrim.  So you reinterpret the events of your body, of your mind, of your relationships. 

So nowadays I see in the courts.  I don’t know how it is in India, but I see it in the USA and perhaps Europe.  The attorney argues in the court, “Your Lordship, this person has abused his children because you see how his childhood history was and how badly he was abused.”  And that serves as an excuse.  I don’t give a penny for that kind of a thought. 

That kind of a thought.  If someone . . . .   Let’s say, okay someone has abused you, you have two options.  You see, we work on the basis of the nature that Atman is the abode of the freedom of will.  It takes which ever option it wishes to take.  That freedom of will is filtered into our mind-frame.  So the mind also has the same freedom to take this option or take that option.  Whether I take to the solitary cell in a prison or I take to the solitary cell in a monastery makes no difference whatsoever.  So, “I was abused as a child,” you say.  Then you have two options. The one is to choose to be vengeful: “Someday I’m going to take it out on somebody!”  And whom do you take it out on?  Your own children.  Or if you have a sattvic mind, you take the option, and you say, “My!  It was so painful; I shall never inflict this on somebody else.”   That choice is entirely yours.  How that particular event, or series of entire events, conditions your mind and what reaction it brings from you, that is where your freedom of will, freedom of mind, is infused with a spiritual force, comes in. 

Another thing that happens along the path is that you learn to take your psychological experiences, your mind experiences, your experiences of events, which looked at in one way would be difficult ones, you realize one principle: Since divinity is all-pervading, all weakness – this I have said many times before – all weakness is a weakening of some strength.  All weakness is a weakening of some strength.  All evil is a warping of some good, a twisting of some good.  A person who is a sadhaka who wants to change his peer group and sit around with the saints – which is the only ambition worth having, worth cultivating – such a person looks at that, some source of dissatisfaction, some source of pain, a mental one that this time . . . .

Editor’s Note:

Swami Nityamuktananda Saraswati has also written an article entitled Three Kinds of Pain.

If you have a question about spiritual practice, you can use this link to ask it:  http://ahymsin.org/main/adhyatma-samiti-spiritual-committee.html



The Himalayan Tradition of Yoga Meditation

Purification of Thoughts     Dhyana     Mindfulness     Japa     Dharana     Shavasana     Breath Awareness     Qualified Preceptor     Guru Disciple Relationship     Unbroken Lineage     Silence     Full Moon Meditation

Copyright © 2009-2015 by AHYMSIN ®