I've been using this break in my yoga teaching to revisit some translations of the Yoga Sutra. This text is approximately 2000 years old and outlines the philosophy and practices of yoga in a series of short concise statements ( think a thread of tweets!) .
Borrowing heavily from the Buddhist tradition and strongly influencing Tantric traditions that followed, this text is such an important text for any student of yoga.
One of the reasons I love this text is that it sets out so logically what yoga is, why we should practice and also how we should practice.
Yoga is a truly Biopsychosocialspiritual practice, in that it engages us on the level of our body, our community, our minds and emotions and our relationship with ourselves.
The word yoga is often translated as to unite or yoke together. The word yoke is like connecting a wheel to an axel. You want the connection tight enough that the wheel doesn't come free, but lose enough that the ride is smooth. This is yoga, being simultaneously in control of and also at ease with our own minds, hearts and lives. It also allows us to live at ease in our physical bodies and to be compassionate, and emotionally resilient.
In Sanskrit texts, according to my teacher the most important things are said first, and the beginnings of the Yoga Sutra focus on the what and why of yoga - with a very clear definition. Here is a summary of the first three sutras:
1.1 Now, here is the teaching on Yoga
1.2 Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations within the heart/mind
1.3 for then the heart/mind can rest in its natural state, which is unbounded joy.
( my current understanding and interpretations based on a variety of translations )
The what of yoga is therefore about seeing through the stories of the mind. It is about not getting hooked into the many dramas that play put in our heads- the catastrophic or over thinking, the negativity bias, comparisons to others and so on...
The important thing to note here, is that Yoga is a state of being, where we de-tangle ourselves from the busy-ness of our thoughts and emotions. Where we can join with our essence nature, and ride through the bumps with ease, just like when we have good shock absorbers - or a well fitted axle.
This also answers the why of yoga. Abiding in this state of yoga allows us experience the joy of our essence nature, to have clarity and peace as our guide for all our actions. For some this is a spiritual pursuit, and the practices of yoga are compatible with all of the wisdom traditions. For atheists, or non-dualists like myself, it offers a belief in humanity, that we are in essence compassionate and kind beings, who can live united in peace with ourselves and with others.
The Yoga Sutra goes on to explain what happens when we are not in a state of yoga - we experience suffering because of our own ignorance and misunderstandings. It then goes on to describe the specific obstacles to yoga in detail, and the variety of practices to overcome these obstacles.
The practices then become the how of yoga. The text describes 8 aids to yoga (often translated as limbs). These aids provide a very systematic process of giving ourselves the best chance of experiencing the state of yoga- a still mind and joyful heart.
I'll be exploring these 8 aspects of the practice of yoga in the coming term, where we will go back to the beginnings, to the root of yoga and start with fresh eyes...
I am grateful very day for the teachings of this ancient practice. 2020 has certainly been a very bumpy ride so far..the teachings of yoga have greatly helped me navigate through, and I am looking forward to sharing the what, why and how of yoga with you when we begin again at the end of the month.