Is yoga alone enough for transformation?

Last year I had multiple losses; in a seven week time period my mother-in-law, my father, and my dog passed away. This was a very trying time, as we had also relocated from the West Coast to the East Coast and I had started a new teaching position.

I found myself last Spring wishing to spend all of my time on the yoga mat. I yearned for the yoga mat and it was the only place I felt really at home. I could mourn their, I could release there. Me, the mat, my classmates. Sometimes I would feel self-conscious leaving the class teary eyed and with my nose running. I noticed though that unless the instructor was clued in, most people seemed to be “clued out” to my suffering or maybe they just were accepting that people show up to yoga and cry. And they leave still teary eyed.

My friend encouraged me to go to yoga everyday or as much as possible during this time, but I found it difficult to make the time between the kids and the demands of the job I was working. Meanwhile, I couldn’t really do my job to my fullest ability if I wasn’t taking the time to heal and process the grief.

Then I found myself in a yoga teacher training course that I chose mostly because I was looking for a course that would work with my schedule; I did not want to be away from 3 and 5 year old daughters for more then a day at a time.  I was really sold when I found that the founder of the program had received his PhD from the same school I attended for my PhD ( and when I read his works, this philosophy of classical yoga seemed to align with my own.

This form of classical yoga was developed to support one reaching higher levels of consciousness by practicing yoga as a preparation for sitting in meditation. I have been reading a book about yoga and meditation which addresses the question: “Will yoga and meditation change my life?” (Stephen Cope, 2003). Many of the contributors in this text agree that yoga is really the path to meditation, which is what will set you free. One yogi mentions that no matter how great the yoga session today, tomorrow he will need more yoga again. One way beyond and through this need is to also include meditation within the yoga practice. I also noticed  in this text that as as many of the yogis and yoginis aged, there was a movement toward more stillness in practice and more use of meditation as yogic practice versus asanas (poses) being the emphasis of a yogic practice.

For myself, I know that I have found more freedom in moving toward gentle and classical yoga poses. The idea is that yoga is not about the perfect pose, but rather your expression of the pose “is what is”- and that expression is your own perfect expression of the pose. (LOL). The focus is on the breath and being aware. The focus is on coming into relaxation so that meditation can be a reality, even for those of us who “can’t meditate”. The focus in practicing is finding ease in the moment, presence with what is.

And then there are options for healing beyond yoga; massage, acupuncture, diet issues, hormone balancing, therapy, and so on. I think this points to what I have found: that for most of us there may not be one mod that is adequate to support healing.

Lately I have also been struggling with this idea that after we are “enlightened” , we then come back to reality; the dishes and laundry still need to be done, we will still feel grief and sadness, we will still have to deal with the mundane, our attachments, our suffering in this world.

Honestly, I really started wondering about my own existential issues as I sit with, “what is the point of all of this suffering”? The children dying of AIDS and malnutrition around the world, the pain of those suffering from addiction, our own suffering and emptiness that we try to fill with our attachments to food, material goods, abuse and domination, and so on….

Even if I have an adopted philosophy or two to apply, like the yogic principles, Christianity, Buddhism, the Yin-Yang, paradoxes of life, or what have you, I am finding myself struggling a bit with what is the point? Are these tools and skills really the only known ways to alleviate suffering? Do we have to experience pain, suffering, chaos, bifurcation points to evolve (include and transcend) on the consciousness or integral level? Does it even matter anyway? what is the point of happiness, peace, joy, love, when we cycle back down again on the wheel of life? Why do I have to keep wondering about this? What am I supposed to learn here? How did I create all of these projections of myself? Why do I keep repeating the same patterns? How can I just let it go, let it go. let it go….?



  1. Alex Jones · April 20, 2012

    Sometimes to resolve some of the confusion and intellectual suffering some people go through, is to learn about the rules that the Cosmos plays by. The principles Heraclitus came up with is a useful starting point.

    • Carey S. Clark, RN, PhD · April 20, 2012

      Alex, thanks for your thoughts here. Yes, I would call this sort of state I am in an intellectual confusion. Logically, the Buddhist and Yogic principles make sense to me, but right now I find myself sliding toward nihilism, or anomie, or meaningless of the wheel of life, suffering. These continual cycles of suffering, the lessons learned, the karmic issues, whether there is reincarnation, just seem on some levels like man-made constructs to provide something of substance to the nothingness, to the pointlessness. I should say I want to believe in love, light, and consciousness evolution, I have experienced them myself, but when the cycle turns down again, when aversion and attachment become evident, the questions emerge for me.

      Today I read about a two month old baby being held under scalding water because he would not stop crying. The 18 year old mother, who was also the abuser, then rushed the baby to the hospital because his skin was falling off. The mother is in jail, the baby is in critical care. The baby’s burns were so bad that when his shirt was removed, his left nipple was pulled off.

      As I read further, I learned that the mother was homeless and had a rough childhood herself, and I can almost empathize with her frustration with a crying baby, but I just do not get the universe’s plan here in creating such great suffering for a tiny baby. I know the mother can learn from the baby’s suffering, and hopefully she will begin her healing process, but I struggle with what a two month old baby can learn from this suffering: that the world is an unpredictable and painful place? Did the baby come into the world as this to be an aspect of his karmic path?

      And of course this happens everyday….somewhere…..

      Thanks for the tip on Heraclitus: the unity of opposites, the yin and the ynag, are also part of this intellectual challenge.

      • Alex Jones · April 21, 2012

        I sometimes see life as like a boxing match with no judges.

        Mankind is cruel because of his separation from himself and the world, the baby (and mother) was the victim of that separation. If an essential mineral is missing from the body, undesirable effects happen to the body, and this is the same with humanity when they become separated from various aspects of the Cosmos they live in.

  2. Carey S. Clark, RN, PhD · April 21, 2012

    Alex, perhaps it is the recognition of the true Self that is missing for the mother, but I guess what I am sitting with is the bigger “why” for her and the baby? Why the disconnect from the higher self to begin with? What is the purpose of the human condition of suffering? If I become enlightened, make it to nirvana or heaven or out of the cycle, I suppose that makes sense. Sort of, but then what? Or is nirvana or heaven here on earth when I recognize my bigger Self?

    Why did the “universe” “cosmos” or “God” make it this way? It does often feel like a big game to me.

    I do feel a bit like a four year old asking, “WHY?”. Perhaps it is my ego throwing up barriers in my growth and my ability to let go of needing an answer, to keep me caught in suffering.

    As a hospice nurse I sat with many dying patients, hundreds of dying patients over the years. Most times I could support a good death experience and just sit with the mystery of it all, the amazing process of the soul leaving the human covering. The true nature of the self at times was clear: a mystery to be known only when experienced.

    The most difficult patients to be with, the ones where I left the homes in tears, were the young women dying at home with their young children at their side. Palpable suffering that seemed to have no end. I remember a young mother dying of stomach cancer, she had limited English speaking skills, clinging to me, not wanting me to go, asking me for some solace, some comfort as she prepared to leave her 5 year old son. It was the weekend and there was limited help from chaplains and social workers, I was the only nurse on, I had other suffering patients to see. I had limited exposure at this time to Buddhist philosophy to help me to guide her. The best I could hope for was to help her get physically comfortable with morphine and ativan. Her church group came to her bedside to pray. She died within 24 hours after I left her side.

    I do find some comfort in the idea or concept of karma; it helps me to let go of trying to control and allows me to think of others on their path, learning what they need to learn, undertaking their growth at their pace.

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