Dukkha: Embracing Discomfort

by Mark Atherton, E-RYT® 200

Dukkha | A Tool for Self Study

Dukkha is a fascinating word in the worlds of Yoga and Buddhism. It is often translated as ‘suffering’ which tends to sound rather pessimistic. Lama Surya Das translates Dukkha as “difficulties ” or “dissatisfaction” which is less harsh in tone and a fact of life to which all of us can relate.

Dukkha is the first of the Four Noble Truths of the Buddha which states that life is difficult at times. The Second Noble Truth suggests that we encounter these difficulties in life because we cling to things that are impermanent (such as objects, people, money, and status). Patanjali discusses Dukkha in a similar manner in Chapter 2 verse 15 of the Yoga Sutras. He writes that difficulties are an unavoidable part of existence and that they are caused from attaching to an ever changing world. The Buddha and Patanjali both present Dukkha as a result of attachments. The silver lining of this philosophy is that they both explain that this “suffering” can be lessened or avoided through the practice of meditation, compassion and study. Dukkha presents an opportunity for us to go inwards, to notice our expectations, reactions and desires and to act with compassion and wisdom.

How do we work with Dukkha and become comfortable with discomfort? Contemplative practices like meditation create the opportunity for us to notice our reactions and expectations. This doesn’t always have to be in your dedicated meditation time, but spending a few moments meditating on an upcoming event or interaction can bring into our awareness the associated expectations, fears and doubts. As soon as we are aware of these possible reactions we create the potential to circumnavigate this type of suffering. For myself, meditation and self-study has helped me to become aware of situations that tend to induce anxiety. Sometimes these situations are avoidable, other times they’re not. Going into them understanding why they may trigger anxiety helps to lessen the impact and often times changes the outcome.

How does the acceptance of Dukkha apply to our asana practice? Perhaps having an understanding that every time we get on our mat it may not be a magical transcendent experience opens us up to the possibility of less than ‘perfect’. The less we attach to an ideal the more freedom we find, physically and emotionally. 

How has Dukkha presented itself in your asana practice?

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