This article is written by Amy Ruben
It’s in that flash of a moment—the moment that quite possibly didn’t even exist—that we remember. This is called instinct. Our instinct graciously, yet, frantically, jumps up and down and waves a red flag in front of our face. Why? To protect our precious physical body from danger. How does our instinct know that there is danger lingering on the horizon? For instance, how do we know to not place our hand on a hot burner?
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali explains that all of our knowledge comes from experience. He defines instinct as “a trace of an old experience that has been repeated many times, and the impressions have sunk down to the bottom of the mental lake; however, they aren’t completely erased.” Can it be that instinct is a culmination of experiences that we have already experienced? Is it possible that a trigger goes off in the deep, dark wells of our memory; to remind us of the inevitable:“Dude! You’ve already burnt yourself in this exact same way. Wake up!”
The sanskrit word, abhinivesah, addresses this very concept. Abhinivesha is one of the five kleshas, or obstacles, that cloud our senses.
The five Kleshas:
Attachment to Pleasure (raga)
Aversion to Pain (dvesa)
Fear of Death (abhinivesah)
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali states that the kleshas must be eradicated in order to experience Yoga, or union—oneness with the infinite. Abhinivesha is the act of clinging to bodily life or the fear of death. A more subtle aspect of fear of death, which many of us experience, is the fear of physical, mental, or emotional suffering.
This concept of abhinivesah has been prevalent in my life as I recently sprained my ankle. I really do wish I had an epic tale to tell of how I injured myself, but this is far from the case. The anticlimactic story goes as so: I was stepping down off my deck into my bedroom, while simultaneously devoting my full attention to the iphone in my left hand. Apparently, the important thing at that moment was to send an oh-so-clever text to my friend, not the safety of my physical body. In that split second, before I took that game-changing step, my intuition told me to look down. Of course, I refused to listen. My lack of presence resulted in me stepping my bare foot down onto my plastic guitar tuner and rolling my ankle. This injury has involuntarily forced me to sacrifice my physical—asana—practice for the last three weeks, and has brought unprecedented speculation onto the meaning behind my yoga practice.
I never realized how attached I was to my physical practice. I am a lover of movement. Stillness, for an extended period of time, is extremely challenging for me. I have started to observe how inextricably linked my ego has been to my physical practice. Over the years of practicing asana, a good portion of my practice has been about “getting it right.” There was always some end result that drove my impetus to practice, or, there was something I was trying to achieve. I had this crazy notion that I had to “perfect” my asana practice in order to be the “perfect” yogini. There has also been the additional, manic drive to “perfect” my practice as I have started to teach yoga over the last year. By only focusing on the end result, which in this case was achieving an advanced asana practice from an onlooker’s perspective, I was fueling the burning fire of my insecurities; I wasn’t addressing the roots of my kleshas, or obstacles.
Through healing my injury, I have begun to deeply explore the subtle body, breath, chanting, and meditation. I am finding these practices are where the true yoga lies—free from ego. The Sutras state that it is by meditation that we can eliminate the kleshas. Meditation itself can’t destroy your obstacles, but “you can see and understand them well and gain control over whether or not they should manifest in action. You can trace them back into their subtle form and see directly that the ego is the basis for all these obstructing thoughts.”
My sprained ankle has been a gift in obscure form. From actively releasing my hold on who I was before this injury, I have found great freedom. Asana is only one of eight limbs of yoga. It is a great tool to pull out of our toolkit; however, like anything in life, when we focus too heavily on one aspect of ourselves, we are off balance. We must have presence and awareness in even the simplest acts, such as taking a step; and we must never lose sight of the changing, transient nature of reality.