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Working With Overwhelm in Practice

Yeah, I’ve had my fair share of overwhelm in life.

Haven’t you?

Whether it was when I was looking at densely presented yogic shastras, layered Sanskrit grammar or some complexity in a relationship.

Finding stillness and letting that overwhelm wash over me, and move out to sea, so to speak, was a skill, not a given.

But what does it actually mean to work with overwhelm in practice and in life?

Well it’s a few things…

In relation to Sanskrit grammar, the practice looks like this: You reminding yourself to re-read the lesson, breathe, stay calm, reason it out. In my training days, I recall a lot of similar self-talk, I’d say to myself, keep going and it’ll get clearer the more I practice.

And it did.

When learning Yogic wisdom, go over teachings again and again then identify your questions. To get to those questions, you’ll have to look at where your confusion is.

When I was first learning, instead of focusing on the resolution of a teaching, I’d often examine my confusion around it.

For example, let’s look at the word ‘Yama’ in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra.

Yama means the restraint.

Within the Ashtanga Path, Yama, represents the restraints which are:
Ahimsa (Non-violence), Satya (Truthfulness), Asteya (Non-stealing), Brahmacarya (Conduct focused on reality), Aparigraha (Non-possessiveness).

When I first saw the word ‘Yama,’ defined as restraint, I’d look at it squinting. In my mind, I thought, “How in the heck is restraint a path to yogic understanding?”

Little by little, I developed the muscle of returning to the question, What is ‘Yama? and slowly it opened up.

At the time, I wondered, what was restraint in the context of Yoga?

First I reasoned, is it constraint? This was one potential meaning in bopping around in my head.

No that didn’t even make sense…


I wondered is the teaching saying that restrained people are better?

“No,” I told myself. “That can’t be true. It just doesn’t make sense.

We are all in our own way unique and valuable…” I reminded myself, “Yoga isn’t about style…”

So, what was restraint?

One day, after sitting with it for a while, I realized.

Most people live at the edges of the thinking mind.

If the mind tells you, this is your identity, you feel you are that.

So the key was to get beyond the mind.

When the mind is busy, it’s called full, and it also means there’s no inner space.

Let’s do the math:

Quiet mind happens from pulling in. When you pull in you develop strength in that muscle of restraint. The stronger that muscle is the more quiet you become and when you are quiet inside you have inner space.

Restraint = pulling back from this body and mind habit.
Restraint = cultivating the necessary muscle for Self-Realization.
Restraint = pulling back from the experience of identification with the body and mind, into what you truly are real ease and peace.

Pull back from the edges of your personality self, work the yama muscle, and inner quiet will evolve naturally. Inner quiet is the panacea to overwhelm.

The next time you come upon a yogic teaching that floods you, remember to breathe, stay calm and identify where your confusion is. Soon enough the teaching will open up for you.


©2023 Luminous Shabda, Sanskrit Studies & Manorama