A week of tragic events has reminded people around the world that life is incredibly fragile. Senseless acts of violence have stolen hundreds of lives across Paris, Beirut, Baghdad, Bethlehem, Jerusalem and Aleppo – the list of affected communities is long. As I reached out to friends and ensured their loved ones were safe, my heart grew heavy as the news became increasingly tragic with each day. Then I remembered that yoga offers us a powerful framework for moving forward in the wake of tragedy – shraddha.

The concept of shraddha

Shraddha is Sanskrit for faith, a trust, or certainty of confidence. The Yoga Sutras introduce the meaning of shraddha in the first chapter. Sutra 1.20 reads “sraddha virya smrti samadhiprajna purvakah itaresam.” My teacher T. K. V. Desikachar interprets this sutra as: “Through faith, which will give sufficient energy to achieve success against all odds, direction will be maintained. The realization of the goal of ydoga is a matter of time” [1].

Shraddha is the foundation of one’s yoga practice. It is not a religious concept or a blind faith in life, but instead an internal faith based on one’s life experiences. Mr. Desikachar describes it as an unshakable conviction and the “energy which will hold us on the right track” [2].

The origins of shraddha further elucidate the word’s meaning. It is derived from two words: “shradh,” which means “remembering our ancestors with gratitude;” and “dha,” which means “to hold” or “to sustain.” In yoga, cultivating shraddha is paying gratitude to those who passed away and honoring the knowledge that they shared [3]. This knowledge and our gratitude keeps us on the path of yoga. It sustains us through even the darkest of times, such as when we start to doubt ourselves or the world around us.

Shraddha and recent tragedies

Whether or not we have been personally affected by the recent attacks, the pain of others feels raw and our sense of security has been shaken. Fear has become a dominant reaction in many circles and across social media outlets. This fear is dangerous. It narrows our view of the world. For example, in light of current events, this fear may follow a trend of wrongly blaming Islam and the followers of Islam.

Practicing yoga implies that we approach the world from a place of clarity and love, not fear. We cannot practice or teach yoga from a place of fear. Fear paralyzes us, and prevents us from following the path of yoga, from having compassion with all beings and from extending kindness into the world.

Shraddha is the opposite of fear. It is faith in ourselves that we can rise above pervasive violence and widespread fear. It is a conviction that affirms our humanity with one another – regardless of where we live or what religion we may practice. As Mr. Desikachar explains, “Faith is the conviction that we have a force in our heart, which will protect us in difficult times and helps us to see the positive aspects” [2]. Shraddha empowers us to connect with our inner strengths and the resilience needed for healing.

Cultivating shraddha

Yoga gives us an opportunity to cultivate a stronger sense of shraddha, which enables us to move through emotions so we don’t get stuck in cycles of negativity.

Where does one find shraddha? In the heart, the place of our deepest awareness. Shraddha is a light within our hearts that casts away fear. As with all concepts in yoga, it starts within ourselves and extends to others. Fostering shraddha enables us to listen, speak and act from the heart.

How does one cultivate shraddha? By practicing yoga regularly. There is always an opportunity to cultivate shraddha – especially when we are working through emotions after violent events. Below are a few ideas for focusing on shraddha in the wake of tragedy.

  • Reflect on the definition of yoga (“to unite”) and dedicate your practice to the humanity that connects us with one another across the world.
  • At the beginning of practice, take a few deep breaths and set an intention of sending love and healing to people in Paris, Beirut or beyond.
  • Visualize that people impacted by violence are surrounded by light and love. Visualizing any bright light is a powerful way to focus on shraddha.
  • At the end of practice, give thanks for your and your loved ones’ safety, or perhaps gratitude for having a supportive community.
  • Spend five minutes on a specific meditation to shraddha (see the example below).

Try one or all of the above ideas in a single practice, and share other ways that you bring faith and healing into your practice.

The ancient yoga texts emphasize that we each have a greater consciousness that shines like a light inside our hearts. That light connects us with one another. Fear prevents that light from shining. Shraddha makes it an unstoppable force of love. In times of tragedy, it is even more important that we focus on the light within, because, in the words of Martin Luther King, Jr., “Darkness cannot drive out darkness; only light can do that. Hate cannot drive out hate; only love can do that.”

A simple practice to cultivate shraddha

This practice uses the mantra “Om Shraddhaya Namah.” Om is the Sanskrit syllable that embodies all other sounds in the universe. Namah means to “to praise.” Thus, this mantra is giving praise to shraddha.

  1. Sit in any comfortable position, such as in a chair with your feet flat on the ground. Or you can sit on a blanket on the ground.
  1. Close your eyes or set your gaze on the ground in front of you. Take a few deep breaths in and out through your nose.
  1. Place your hands over your heart, with the palms facing down and one hand over the other.
  1. Inhale: Silently recite “Om” while you stretch your arms out to the sides, palms facing to the front.
  1. Exhale: Softly say “Shraddhaya Namah” while you bring your hands back over your heart. You can also say the phrase silently.
  1. Repeat steps four and five 8 to 12 times.
  1. Rest your hands in your lap and let your breath flow at a natural pace. When you are ready, slowly open your eyes.

References and Notes

1. Desikachar, T. K. V. (1999). The Heart of Yoga: Developing a Personal Practice. Published by Inner Traditions, 244 pages.
2. Desikachar, T. K. V. (2001). What are we seeking? Published by Krishnamacharya Yoga Mandiram, 176 pages.
3. There is a specific practice called “Shraaddha” in Hinduism that entails honoring ones parents after they pass away. In the Yoga Sutra-s, Shraddha is not linked with any religion but instead one’s beliefs and practices.

[Photo credit: Cuccarese Photography ]
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