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Dukha - suffering and how to remedy it

Exploring Yoga Sūtras 2.15 and beyond…. Suffering, its causes and how to avoid future suffering.

As we still find ourselves moving through these unpredictable times, days can feel challenging. I find myself observing difficult situations that arise frequently and how I react to those situations - be it disappointment, frustration, annoyance or fear. I feel things go wrong when I act from a place of misunderstanding - things go better when I take a breath, step back and attempt to engage elegantly with whatever is going on.

Read on to discover more about suffering from the context of the Yoga Sutra, the causes of suffering and how to avoid future suffering. 

YS 2.15 - For those with discrimination, suffering is to be found everywhere due to change (pariṇāma), pain (tāpa) and habit (saṃskāra) and also because the mind is in constant flux due to the guṇa. 

(Trans. D.Charlton, R. Roy) 

Duḥkha: the essential concern

Duḥkha is one of the main concerns of Indian Philosophy and of our personal yoga project as a whole. Often translated as “suffering” we can also consider this as “bad space” - such as a feeling of a blockage in our heart space or emotional layer. A sense of feeling stuck, where energy does not flow and circulate well and these blockages can be found on a psychological, physical or emotional level.. This sense of a blockage can be due to past actions or accumulated residue that now hinders the free flow of energy within the subtle and more gross layers of our being.

One way to alleviate duḥkha is to cultivate sukha (“ease” or “good space”). By removing the blockages we can begin to create a sense of spaciousness in the heart, mind and emotional centres.

What is Duḥkha from the context of the Yoga Sūtra?

    • Pariṇāma duḥkha -  Suffering caused by change
    • Tāpa duḥkha - Suffering caused by pain
    • Saṃskāra duḥkha - Suffering caused by habit


  • Guṇa vṛtti virodha - The instability of the characteristics of Nature - especially in the mind - leading us to chaos, negative judgements & inappropriate responses.


As I consider these 3 types of suffering I cannot help think about where we are with the current pandemic and lockdown. 

    • Change - is often difficult. Changes in lifestyle, routines, income.
    • Pain - through illness, pain through anxiety of loved ones we cannot see, grief of losing a loved one or grieving for the life we once had. The pain of guilt and regret.  I have spent some time in a melancholy place grieving for the life we once had and also grieving for the life my kids once had. They seem ok - maybe I should take a leaf out of their books!
    • Habit - possible habits that are not beneficial for us. I didn’t drink alcohol for 3 years until the first evening of the first  lockdown. And then it became a habit again and I was reminded that this particular habit is not a good one for me.  I’ve made changes!


  • Turning it over and over in our minds - with nature’s fundamental energies (activity, inertia and illumination) our mind can greet different scenarios with appropriate or inappropriate responses and judgements.


Living your Yoga... Giving yourself the gift of time to cultivate a more easy internal space. This could be through asana (poses), pranayama (breath work) or meditation. Find something you can do every day - even for 10 mins and stick with it for some period of time. 

You could take little mindfulness moments throughout your day. Set an hourly timer between the hours of 8am and 6pm - when the timer goes off ask yourself - “what do I need right now”. Give yourself a moment to breathe and just be in the moment. Kids love doing this too!

YS 2.16 - Avoid future suffering. 

(Trans. D.Charlton, R. Roy) 

This sūtra is about living in a way that minimises future suffering. The goal of yoga is to not only avoid sorrows by disengaging ourselves from them but to avoid paving the way for new ones.

We do have an element of control over our experiences and it is how we react to scenarios that can really turn things around.

The Bhagavad Gita discusses yoga being “Skill in Action” - we practise yoga by gracefully engaging with our experiences off the mat as they come up. We avoid making any tricky situations worse therefore helping us to reduce suffering in the future. Hmmm… the true practice of living our yoga

Many situations can be made worse by the way we react to things - rash reactions, old, inappropriate habits and unsuitable coping strategies. 

Living your Yoga… By taking the presence of mind and sense of peace cultivated on your yoga mat out into your life, you can help to support yourself and others and face any future suffering in a more resilient way. This sense of presence of mind can also allow us to reflect on what has passed - and gives us clarity to make amends if need be and strive to not make the same mistake again.

I love the ideas of parenting expert and psychologist Dr Laura Markham of Aha Parenting - using the “stop, drop and breathe method” before responding to any situation. It sounds simple but I have found this hard work over the 8 years I have been following her work.


  • Stop - what you’re doing (and bite your tongue if you have to!)
  • Drop - your agenda.
  • Breathe - and take several deep breaths. Then respond.

YS 2.26 - the means…. Consistent discernment is the means of overcoming (Samyoga Avidyā)

(Trans. D.Charlton, R. Roy) 

This sūtra presents the ideas of how to overcome the subconscious, confused state of misunderstanding. It also points towards a journey that is not casual or random - this journey is peaceful, strong and steady. As Franz Moors says - this is not accomplished in a day.

The eight limbs of yoga give us the direction and support - a framework to create a discerning way of being. Chapter 2 of the Yoga Sūtra continues to discuss the ideas of the 4 external limbs and 4 internal limbs of Yoga. The 8 Limbs of Yoga will be covered in an upcoming Meadowlark podcast.

YS 2.27 - the seven stages...That proceeds in seven (stages), up to the ultimate level of wisdom.

(Trans. F.Moors)

This sūtra is referring to the seven milestones which indicate a long journey. However, Patañjali does not describe them any further. Franz Moors discusses ideas from classic commentators which I think fit and resonate here in our lives

Living your Yoga…  exploring the seven milestones: 

  • To recognise facts as they are and to accept the reality of suffering, to be able to understand more common mistakes as well as more serious ones. Continuous reflection, humility and acceptance are essential.
  • Recognising sources of suffering and understanding the “why”? Seeking and finding causes - often the causes are patterns of thought, action, response or simple lifestyle habits that end up creating problems. Patañjali does discuss that the bottom line to the cause of suffering is lack of clarity.
  • Establishing a goal to create positive change. Make a realistic and accessible goal to get things moving in a positive direction.
  • Within the structure of the goal- having a clear idea of your process. Setting down a realistic and reasonable strategy based on the first 3 steps. This process can vary, be adjusted along the way with careful and frequent observations.

The last 3 stages consider the spirit of the Yoga Sūtra - moving forward step by step, from the gross to the subtle layer and to continue the work and (in the words of Franz Moors) “without giving in to the illusion that the goal has been reached”.

Yoga is a practice - some days are easier than others whether we are working a dynamic physical practice or sitting for periods of time with meditation. The important work is clearing the clouded lens of perception so we can see more clearly during our practice and then carrying it off our mats into our experience of life. Some days can be easier than others!

With deep gratitude to both my teachers David Charlton and Ranju Roy for their source of wisdom, humour  and their way of explaining things.

And with the deepest of gratitude to the clients of Meadowlark - from my heart to yours.

With love for the coming year,

Nadine x


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