In some minds the thought of sacrifice can conjure up images of religious rites, offering of an animal to the altar to “please” the God. This is how it was originally used. But in terms of modern living, and also one’s yogic journey, it’s as simple as “you can’t have your cake and eat it too.” Yet this seems to be today’s largest epidemic, driven by desire and determined to have it. A side effect of material growth.
We can consider sacrifice then as “the giving up of something for the sake of a higher or more urgent one.” This then becomes highly subjective and depends on where one is at both in spiritual development and in life. One thing is sure it follows natural law. Whatever is achieved, earned or gained comes at a cost which involves one’s time, energy and effort. Simply, we can’t have it all so we just have to learn how to prioritise. As we mature this will become clearer.
Typically the initial experience of yoga is it is enjoyable and rewarding. It can fit into one’s busy schedule. After a period of time we find it is hard to make progress in a real sense. It requires a little more of us. Now the word sacrifice starts to enter into the picture. It would be similar if you decided to keep up your job and study for an MBA or PhD. Your social life would be tailored. What you read would be devoted to the subject matter. You would be more disciplined in the area of sleep and getting up and putting in actual study time. That is the nature of it.
Sacrifice actually comes up in yoga under the area of vairagya. Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras identifies two aspects to achieve “yoga”. Abhyasa or practice and vairagya or non-dependence, non-attachment. The initial seeds of this lie in sacrifice. Giving up some of your time and sense attachments for the sake of increased practice, study and growth.
The beautiful thing about yoga is that none of this should be forced. You have to come to it in and of your own volition. It must rise within you. Patanjali is clear on this from the outset. He opens the Sutras with a word ‘anushasanam‘. This refers to the natural inner growth, the arising within. He is a psychologist supreme and understands exactly how the psyche works. Anything forced on the consciousness results in suppression which later explodes in the form of negative energy. It is a fine line though. Where to begin? This is why practice and learning is developed gradually over time. Don’t bite off more than you can chew goes the saying. Initially it might mean going to a yoga class after work instead of the bar with your co-workers. You are clear that this does more for you and you are willing to give it your time. Even though the class is challenging and you had to make an effort to get there.
Inherent in sacrifice is a greater reward. But keep in mind the essence of yoga, ‘nishkama karma‘. Engage in your deeds without seeking the reward. With such an attitude the thought of giving up something, sacrifice, barely registers. A good example is becoming a parent. What greater gift than a beautiful child born to you. Then comes all the work, broken sleep, no more movies, social outings or even leisurely reading. At least for 15-20 years. But you can’t consider that sacrifice. It’s our duty. And a gift. So much growth comes out of it.
This is the place of sacrifice in yoga. You willingly take the step forward. You may not know what it fully entails but your full being is in accord with it. To give your growth this priority you don’t even realize the things you have dropped and that now have become secondary. And even when you do there is no grudge. This attitude is key. You step into it and then fully accept what comes your way. Just like with a child, once they’re born there are no options or personal conditions any more. If they get sick drop everything else and devote to them. That in itself is yoga.
The internal process works in that prana or energy gets directed centrally and rises. For this to happen it is drawn away from the pull of the senses and worldly desires. This alone implies sacrifice in terms of giving up some material interests for the sake of personal development.
Some examples might be not wasting food or leaving more on your plate after to be thrown out. Not throwing out paper only used once but keeping it for recycle purpose. Taking your time eating. Not pushing and rushing on the subway. If feasible, deciding to walk the stairs and not use the lift. Then there’s the obvious ones of going to bed early so as to be up for practice. Sticking to your commitment of morning practice and getting out of bed. Reading books that uplift you and not merely entertain or stimulate you. Catch and cut your wandering thoughts. Instead direct them to your breath. Not arguing with or criticizing your coworker but making an effort to work in a productive way. Perhaps one chocolate instead of two. Ok three instead of four. Still a sacrifice!
Essentially, sacrifice in this sense is an eye on all our actions leading to a refinement in behaviour, minimal waste of time and energy and an increased awareness.
In my own journey I have seen myself go from a ‘scheduled in’ yoga practice along with everything else to a ‘living it’ yoga practice while still fully involved in the world. I have not minded dropping certain outings when it came to committing to be up early and do practice. As my life has evolved with children and a heavy work schedule added to it I have found strength from the committed early discipline of keeping with practice and watching myself at all times. To live it. As a result I have become more efficient. When I get a movie in or another outing then it is a treat. Yet a greater sense of contentment and inner strength exists as a result. Never was anything forced on me but many direct recommendations were given. So today I don’t see it as sacrifice but just clear living, doing what has to be done and fully rewarded and satisfied as a result. I began with a personal interest in spiritual growth and let that direct me. Then whatever comes in the material sense is just and there to help me.
Let your mind-heart-feelings converge. If you have an inner impulse in the direction of growth within, tired of being on the ‘wheel’, merry-go-round, then pursue it. But maturely. It involves your prioritization in this direction. Your decision making and choices. For a while guidance is necessary as the pull of the senses and the confusion of mind and ego is a very strong force. Soon your sacrifice becomes your reward till it seems like no sacrifice at all.
Bless you. Be strong.
Paul is a senior teacher of Pranayama, Asana and the meditative art and science of Yoga. He has been a dedicated student for over a decade of both Sri O.P.Tiwari, one of the few remaining classical yogis and masters of Pranayama, and the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois in ashtanga vinyasa. Both of these great teachers have personally certified Paul in these practices, a unique position as the only one to receive this double honor. One of his main gifts is to be able to relate the teachings in a very down-to-earth way for the modern seeker. He does not take life or yoga too seriously and as a result the discussions and philosophical sessions are lively and humorous, helping to explain the meaning behind the practices and philosophy. For more please see his full bio. Paul is the founder and director of Samahita Yoga Thailand, a premier retreat center in Asia, and Centered Yoga, a leading yoga training school since 1999.