“Lack of true knowledge is the source of all pains and sorrows...”
-from B.K.S. Iyengar’s Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, II.4
This “lack of true knowledge” or Avidya refers to spiritual ignorance which is inherent in the human predicament. I say that this ignorance is inherent because our eyes seem to be made to look outward and our ears and other senses also seem to be set up to pick up external vibrations. But, yoga teaches that we can also turn our senses inward to perceive greater depths, or spiritual vistas.
Spiritual wisdom traditions from around the world indicate that we are more than what we see and more than what we think, so why is it hard to experience this? The slant of our materialist culture, according to science, says that we cannot prove the existence of anything beyond the physical world, and beyond what we can measure with mechanical instruments. So I think part of the reason it has been hard for me to accept my spirituality is because I was taught to believe otherwise.
As a woman, I was taught to believe that I was a sex-object, a machine that also must be fed and eliminate waste, and a computer who’s job was to accumulate data as well as follow the rules of society. But guess what? I am more than that. I am more than what I was taught in school. I am more than what others have told me about myself. I am more than the food I have eaten or how many times I went to the bathroom. I am more than how much money I have or what clothes I wear. I am more than “American”. I am more than my sexuality.
What is this more? What more could I possibly be?
I have discovered from my experience practicing yoga and from others who also practice (no matter what spiritual tradition or religious commitments a person has) that yoga helps people get in touch with their spirituality. A person’s spirituality is the other side of the coin from the material aspects of life, and a way to experience this sense of vastness is through a spiritual practice like yoga.
In the absence of practice there is a strong likelihood that I might get totally sucked into the material side of life, and when that happens I am also likely to start drowning in pains and sorrows. This is the nature of Avidya, or spiritual ignorance.
Said another way: when I am caught-up in the web of materialism, without a sense of connection with something greater or more, my life is stuck. But, when I give myself the chance to look inward, and yoga is a great place for this, I can see beyond my little web of thought. I have greater strength and know that I am greater than the contents of my mind, and more than my physical body. In the practice of yoga postures the body is my instrument, tuned into the infinite. And I am happier.