You Can’t Always Get What You Want

This morning, I awoke to an uncooperative body.  Not only did I have some major allergy symptoms, and highly annoyed joints, but the phases of the moon had created some severe discomfort in my middle region.  Ick.  I felt truly put upon, because I had intended to go to a vinyasa class this morning.  Shortly afterwards (with a dead van battery added to the mix of conspiring forces) one of my friends/instructors observed that it was a case of what my mind wanted vs. what my body needed. Hmmm… want vs. need.  In the hours since, I’ve been periodically pondering this idea, and its relationship to yoga and to my life more generally.

The two things, want and need, are extremely difficult to separate in human existence.  We certainly need the basics of life: food, water, shelter, relatively good health.  I think most people would also argue that we have social (belonging, affection) needs and mental (stimulation) needs.  After that, it starts getting sticky.  We use the word need frequently for items that are certainly more luxury than need (I need a new cell phone!  I need more shoes).  With the extent to which we mingle the ideas of need and want, I suppose it’s little surprise that we cannot easily distinguish them.  I know that often I cannot in my own life decide whether a particular goal or focus (related to personal issues, professional performance, relationships) is something I need or just something I want.

So, what does all of this have to do with yoga? Well, that depends on who you ask, because there are many schools of thought regarding yoga – from the idea that it is a sport to the notion that it is primarily a meditative phenomenon and asanas (poses) aren’t really needed at all.  But, for me, yoga is about oneness – the integration of the body and mind, and the oneness of all beings.  If we are proceeding from the idea of oneness, then it makes little sense to prioritize what a single part of the system wants over what another part of the system needs.  In fact, to injure the body due to what the ego desires pretty fundamentally flies in the face of yogic principles.

Thus, today, I am working on yoga from other angles (so to speak) that are less contradictory to my body’s needs, but still allow me to practice.  Instead of vigorous asana, I’m thinking about the niyamas of yoga.  Specifically, on this day, I plan to spend some time on cleansing my mind of anger and jealousy (sauca) particularly with regard to not having my desires realized, being more content with what I have (santosa), using the energy that is available to me in a disciplined way (tapas) to meet the needs that I have rather than spending it on my wants, examining my own “needs” and “wants” as part of a process of self-study – in part through this blog entry (svadhyaya), and remembering that there is a universal force that is larger than me (isvarapranidhana) and thus I cannot always get what I want.

This, then, will be my yoga for today.  And, the background music of that practice will sound a little bit like…

You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
You can’t always get what you want
But if you try sometimes, well you might find
You get what you need



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