By: Virginia Iversen, M.Ed
Entwining the diversified healing practices of Yoga has the ability to create a very strong foundation for nurturing and sustaining vibrant physical, emotional and spiritual health. The paths of Yoga have become so well-known that many holistic educational institutions are now offering courses based on the integration of Yoga, positive psychology, mindfulness practices, and happiness. Yogic practices, techniques and philosophies offer a practitioner many ways to improve his or her mental and physical health and well-being.
Similar to Yogic principles is Gautama's understanding and experience of why there is suffering in the world and how we create and sustain a state of suffering by our own thoughts, actions and beliefs. After a long, arduous process of inquiry and self-discovery, Gautama finally came to rest underneath the protective boughs of a large tree. As the story goes, Gautama meditated underneath this tree throughout the night. In the morning, he had come to a state of understanding about the nature of existence, the suffering inherent in all life and how to free oneself from this suffering.
During the night, Gautama also came to many profound realizations about how to acknowledge our own universal suffering while maintaining a state of internal equipoise. Gautama recommends that we acknowledge our own suffering and the suffering of those around us from a place of witness consciousness. From that day forward, Gautama would become known as the Buddha, or the Enlightened One. He is one of the most well-known and beloved spiritual teachers of all time. Gautama and his followers distilled the essential cause and nature of suffering in the Four Noble Truths.
The Four Noble Truths encompass the reality of the suffering that all living beings experience at some point in their lives. The First Noble Truth speaks to the objective reality of suffering inherent in being alive. The Second Noble Truth objectively recognizes how painful it is to try to hold onto life situations and circumstances that are constantly changing. This includes relationships, jobs and life itself. The Third Noble Truth addresses the underlying lack of satisfaction in our lives. This thirst to quench the longing for satisfaction and understanding takes many forms, including greed, anger, despair, and addiction.
The Fourth Noble Truth is essentially Gautama’s answer to the way out of the previously mentioned quandaries. The Fourth Noble Truth encompasses the Eightfold Path of Buddhism. The Eightfold Path lays out eight steps or ethical injunctions and actions that will eventually lead a seeker towards a permanent state of enlightenment and oneness with the Divine. The Eightfold Path is visually represented by the Dharma Wheel that delineates all eight steps leading a Yogi or Yogini toward illumination.
One of the aspects of the Eightfold Path is right speech. The term “right speech” refers to both speaking the truth and speaking in such a way as to uplift those around you and to not cause harm. Although practicing right speech may seem simplistic and easy to do at first; on deeper analysis, the full practice of right speech is quite profound. In the Pali Canon, one of the primary texts of Buddhism, right speech is defined as refraining from divisive speech, abusive speech, lying, and gossiping. In the Buddhist text, the Abhaya Sutta, adhering to the principal of right speech is to never lie or speak in such as way that your speech is ill-timed, not beneficial or disagreeable to others.
Of course, as a Yoga student, you may have to weigh the ultimate goal of implementing right speech with your need for assistance doing a specific Yoga pose. For example, if you are having trouble doing a headstand, asking for assistance from your Yoga teacher is certainly advisable, even if your need for help may be disagreeable if your teacher appears to be stressed or busy with another student. Timing your request for assistance in a respectful and patient manner would be implementing right speech in terms of your Yoga practice. This is a simple example of how the cognitive practices of Buddhist inquiry and mindful awareness work beautifully in tandem with the practice of the various techniques of Yoga, including Yoga poses, mediation exercises and self-inquiry practices.