Definitions of āsana Part 6: heyam duḥkhamanāgatam Yoga Sūtra II.16 Prevent future suffering
My grandmother had painful bunions on both feet. Though she didn’t complain, her red-hot joints and crooked toes caused her lots of suffering. By the time I was old enough to notice, she was wearing soft, padded shoes exclusively. (You might be familiar with the brand, SAS?) My mom has bunions, too. Her feet ache though they haven’t reached the severe stages that my Grandma’s did. My mom does massages the bottoms of her feet with a soft ball and walks around barefoot a lot. She doesn’t wear heels and she keeps these padded floor mats in the kitchen. She’s managing pretty well.
With this genetic evidence, it’s no surprise that in my teenage years, I started to see my big toes take a turn. When I wore any sort of heeled shoe I’d feel a deep ache at that big toe joint for hours. Lucky for me, I’m six feet tall, not so fashion oriented and I saw how bad bunions could get. By college, I quit wearing any shoe that resulted in achy big toe joints. That helped with the pain, but not the traveling toes. With yoga I started to work with my feet to encourage those toes to point North. I want to prevent future bunion-suffering.
In the context of āsana, there are several ways that this definition applies. There can be things in the very near and direct future we are hoping to prevent and things with a longer trajectory. Practice with sthira and sukha, stability and ease (more on this next post) and you have the opportunity to improve aches and pains in the body. Practice yoga in the morning and the body is more comfortable in the afternoon. Do some gentle movement before bed and then sleep is more restful. Move the body with presence and intention and a confusing decision becomes clear.
Attending to the needs of the body now can help the it to function well over time. Asana can help improve postural and movement patterns for a well -functioning body as we age. Practice balance, you’re balance will improve. Breathe deeply and you will support a full breath over time.
Some of the things that occur in life can’t be prevented or avoided. There are other times when there’s a potential problem ahead of us and we can do something about it now to lessen or even remove what’s ahead. This sūtra sets the stage for our asana practice and encourages us to reflect on what we can do to prevent future suffering.