Sample from the Winter 2007 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine

By Stephen Cope, M.S.W.

According to psychotherapist and senior Kripalu Yoga teacher Stephen Cope, the mind is profoundly undervalued in our American Yoga tradition. Cope’s view is that the yogis of yore saw the mind as part of the body. Just as the body needs Yoga postures, the mind also needs its daily dose of Yoga. In this article, Cope discusses Patanjali’s insights into suffering, along with three strategies to alleviate suffering. These illustrate how the Yoga Sutras make for a rich psychology for our modern world.I find that students in our American Yoga tradition don’t have an understanding of the roots of suffering. As a psychotherapist, I start there. People come to psychotherapy because they are suffering, they are confused and they come out of pain. It is most useful is to offer an understanding of dukha (suffering) from Patanjali’s point of view. The Yoga Sutras emerged from seekers and strivers who had dropped out of the religious hierarchy. They were investigating how reality works, what is real, what is suffering and how to see reality more clearly.

Patanjali’s investigation of dukha is brilliant. The principles of craving, aversion and delusion he found are the same that the Buddha taught. We think craving is a good thing, like a civic duty. But people are surprised to find, when they investigate, that its full of suffering. The experience of craving is unsatisfactory. The real meaning of dukha is “pervasive dissatisfaction.” Henry David Thoreau said, “Most men lead lives of quiet desperation.”

Dukha is a sense of not being really at home in the moment. It is the war with reality, with what is. The three different kinds of craving are

  • Grasping for another moment other than what we’ve got
  • Aversion or pushing away how it is
  • Delusion or twisting away from reality.

We can begin to ask ourselves: What is it like in my body when I am caught in an afflicted mind state? What is it like when I am caught in craving? Food is so basic that it is a great place to start: Imagine you are getting ready for lunch. You are standing in a long line and you see the food—the blueberry muffins or the chocolate chip cookies. You notice hunger, craving and desire. Where is it in the body? You may think, “I feel tightness in my belly. I feel tension in my mouth and jaw. My tongue feels like a dog on a hot day.” What is going on in the body in a moment of craving or aversion (such as anger or hatred)? Try to feel this in a very visceral way. I incorporate Eugene Gendlin’s focusing technique in which we use concrete words to describe what we are experiencing. This is similar to the process of vedana the Buddha pointed to. The Buddha said that all afflicted states reside in the body and can be investigated directly in the body. We can learn to work with our afflicted states and notice when they dissipate.

Three Strategies

I teach three strategies based on sutras 2:10 and 2:11. When I work with the kleshas, I start with raga and dvesha, because, in truth, avidya and asmitaare much more complex. I teach about craving, aversion and delusion—these are immediate for most people, even though avidya certainly is the source of all suffering.

Strategy One: Meditative absorption—this includes dharana, dhyana, samadhi.

This is about learning to “tie the puppy to the post.” Most people’s life strategy is distraction: “If I can distract myself enough, then I can get through this life.” This doesn’t work, no matter how much you distract yourself—you still create dukha. The early stages of concentration and meditation are like tying up the puppy to a post—the mind resists at first and then it begins to settle down. The great yogis recited Vedic mantras and noticed that the more they rhythmically chanted, the more concentrated became their minds and the side effects were cool, calm minds. The first thing I teach is Patanjali’s initial strategy: to concentrate the mind…

Read the rest of this article in the Winter 2007 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine