I always knew yoga was more than what I’ve been doing in physical classes, but the philosophy side of it was a whole new world and it wasn’t necessarily shining or shimmering to me at first. I didn’t know what all the Sanskrit names meant and there were so many of them in the teachings.
Physical practice was still more interesting. In it, I break a sweat, do interesting poses, focus on my breath. It takes my mind off stress, worries and makes me be more present in the moment by instilling mindfulness. But after being assigned my project topic and doing more research on it, learning more about chakras, 8 limbs of ashtanga in classes, I found all the teachings revolving around yoga to very interesting and intriguing.
In one of the first few YTT classes, Patanjali, the Father of Yoga was quoted. To be frank, I didn’t know who’s Patanjali at that point in time (I just pretended to nod and know, haha).
Who is Patanjali?
From my brief google search though, there’s not much known to modern people about him. There are legends about his birth and how his teachings has spread. But people most famously know him as the author of the Yoga Sutras which is the guide book of classical yoga.
But first, what are Sutras?
The word, Sūtra, means “string, thread” and it comes from the root word, siv – that which sews and holds things together. Thus Sūtra can be defined as any short rule, or a string of words woven together to form an aphorism (an observation which contains a general truth).
The very first sutra of Patanjali’s yoga sutras reads: atha yoga anushasanam.
Interpreted as: Now, after having done prior preparation through life and other practices, the study and practice of Yoga begins.
The interpretation of each word as follows (Because sutras are a string of words, it’s important to know what each word means):
atha = now, at this auspicious moment; implying the transition to this practice and pursuit, after prior preparation; implying a blessing at this moment of transition
yoga = of yoga, union; literally, to yoke, from the root yuj, which means to join or to integrate; same as the absorption in samadhi
anu = within, or following tradition; implies being subsequent to something else, in this case, the prior preparation,
shasanam = instruction, discipline, training, teaching, exposition, explanation; Shas implies the imparting of teaching that happens along with discipline
My interpretation of this sutra, is that it is a warm blessed welcome and beginning to this practice. Once you have picked up the Yoga sutra book, or started to read it even, the practice has begun. “Atha” interpreted as “now”, where we are encouraged to be in the present. And in this present moment, we are going to unite all our prior experiences that has brought us to this point in our lives, with the methodical teachings of Yoga.
The next sutra that follows is Yogash citta vrtti nirodha.
This sutra can be interpreted as: Yoga is the control (nirodhah, regulation, channeling, mastery, integration, coordination, stilling, quieting, setting aside) of the modifications (gross and subtle thought patterns) of the mind field.
Simply put, Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind.
yoga = of yoga, union; literally, to yoke, from the root yuj, which means to join; same as the absorption in samadhi
chitta = of the consciousness of the mind-field
vritti = operations, activities, fluctuations, modifications, changes, or various forms of the mind field
nirodhah = control, regulation, channeling, mastery, integration, coordination, understanding, stilling, quieting, setting aside of
The sutra briefly explains what Yoga is all about.
To me, it also very nicely sums up the reason why I practice yoga at all. Like I mentioned on top, practicing yoga helps me to be present in the moment, and not be distracted by all the thoughts in my head. I focus on my breath, how my body is moving and how it feels like, instead of living in my head and what I perceive. However, something I can further work on here is to to actively make my mind be still, work on being conscious and present, rather than let it happen passively in physical practice.
I think it’s quite amazing how these texts were written maybe thousands of years ago. Now we are here, learning and practicing these teachings to continually discover and improve ourselves. It makes me feel grateful to be able practice and learn the art of yoga that was passed down from many years before.