If you really want to get a sense of how old Yoga is look at the sutras of Pantanjali.
The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali which are the foundational text of classical yoga philosophy are around 2000 years old.
They fell into relative obscurity for nearly 700 years from the 12th to 19th century and then made a comeback in late 19th century.
During the 20th century, modern practitioners of yoga elevated the sutras to common use translating it into various languages so it could be understood around the world.
Sutra in sanskrit means a rope or thread that holds things together.
The themes of the sutras are universal to the human consciousness and a way of mindful living and are still very relevant today, despite their age. As Patanjali writes, all that matters is that we begin here and now and commit to living and practicing with greater self-awareness and presence.
The sutras show you the lineage of yoga to help you get a better understanding of the history behind certain poses and sequences. From that you earn a certain respect and understanding of the asanas. They remind you of the true purpose of your practice and the sutras talk about the philosophy and helps you to understand the barriers to living a happy and fulfilled life and essentially on how to begin to live your yoga.
I want to end with a verse I found translated. I think it’s amazing how philosophy like this can withstand the test of time and still be as relevant today as it was around 2000 years ago.
“We are not going to change the whole world, but we can change ourselves and feel free as birds. We can be serene even in the midst of calamities and, by our serenity, make others more tranquil. Serenity is contagious. If we smile at someone, he or she will smile back. And a smile costs nothing. We should plague everyone with joy. If we are to die in a minute, why not die happily, laughing? (136-137)”
– Sri S. Satchidananda, The Yoga Sutras
You must be wondering, how this small, adorable little creature could have helped me in understanding profound Yoga philosophy concepts. Yet, the beautiful thing is also that the path of knowing is subjective to the individual and how each theory is contextualized in the lives of the students. In mine, I found my dog to be the best embodiment of Santosha.
Santosha is one of the 5 Niyamas under the second limb of Raja Yoga. Niyama refers to an observation within and how one handles themselves within the inside world – the internal battle. By achieving the 5 niyamas, the individual is on their way to the highest moral character and ethcial conduct.
Another word for contentment, Santosha refers to that inner peace of mind that should not be relied on external circumstances, since these external factors are always changing in ways byond our control. This requires us to enjoy exactly what each day brings, to be satisfied with what we have. In other words, the action of seeking ceases. By elimination the action of seeking, one also clears out worries and burdens, which are deriaritives of seeking.
A simple definition illustrated by Master Paaulu defined contentment as being in the center of happy and sad.
Like in many other moral concepts in life, finding middle ground is always the preferred destination.
We can always practice Santosha in the beautiful and joyous experiences of our lives. For example, getting a pay raise, celebrating your birthday, receiving gifts from people, etc. However, Patanjali encourages us to be equally willing to embrace the difficult moments because when we can be contented in the midst of difficulty, we are truly set free.
A second part to this niyama also talks about the world’s evils and corruptions, such as achievements and acquisitions. Although material wealth and success are not evil, they can never in themselves provide contentment. Therefore, it is up to the beholder of these assessts to ensure that inner contentment still exists. Neverthless, these world possessions opens up the floodgates for worries and burdens to set in, and Santosha to fade away, which is why many teachers may warn against materialism.
No, Cyci was not this master guru who warned me against materialism. He was in my opinion, the living example of what is meant to be contented. Midway during my 200hr teacher-training programme, Cyci was diagnosed with heart and kidney failure. Since then, he had to be hospitalized. My daily routine consisted of yoga classes till 3pm, then driving to the hospital to visit him before returning in time for dinner, and a few hours for me to read and write.
Although the first few days of his hospitalization wasn’t very smooth (his creatine levels were going up, and he was starting to have fluid in the lungs), my little boy was still extremely bright and energetic. To me, he looked like he had a perpetual smile on his face. (Trust me, you’ll learn how to judge a happy dog from a miserable one once you’re in the place full of sick animals)
This pained me terribly.
I couldn’t see the correlation between his inner body and his outer mannerisms. It was as though he did not know what was going on inside him. All he did was to look forward to seeing his family coming to cuddle and baby talk him. His innocence to his impending fate was so overwhelming and puzzling. I thought, he was not ready to leave this humanly world at all, he is still too happy!
Take this analogy for example. An old 90-year-old man being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer versus a 10-year-old child being diagnosed with stage 4 cancer.
Naturally, people feel more for the 10-year-old girl. But, why is this so?
My revelation came when I read deeper into Santosha. This 90-year-old man would evidently have had more possessions in the natural world – more success, more experience, more wealth compared to the 10-year-old girl. Therefore, people would have felt that death for the little girl was unjustified since she has yet to experience any of those of the man.
This emphasizes the fact that humans derive happiness from material and wordly possessions. One of the ultimate goals in life for many people would be material abundance and financial wealth. Like how a saying in Singapore goes about the 5Cs of life – Car, Cash, Condo, Credit Card and a Coutry Club membership.
Just like the 10-year-old girl, Cyci had none of these possessions. He didn’t care for any either, he never seeked. Despite his bobily weakness, his contentment freed him from all the unncessary worldy sufferings and explains his emotional brightness.
And when he leaves us, he leaves us pure, innocent, and untainted, with none of the world’s evil corrupting him.
As I write this article, Cyci has been discharged. He lies beside me right now, staring at me with his bright beady eyes. His heart weakens, his wheezing loudens, his kidneys slows…
Yoga Sutras describes the way of overcoming the afflictions of the body and fluctuations of the mind: the obstacles to spiritual development. The following summary is based on 5 sutras from each chapter. Chapter 1: Samadhi Pada-On Contemplation Verse 1: atha yoganusasanam
Now, seems to be the key word in this verse. You can relate it to “Carpe diem” a Latin term used to describe the phrase seize the day. Live like it is your last day, leave no room for procreation. To act now in the present. Verse 15: drsta anusravika visaya vitrsnasya vasikarasamjna vairagyam
This verse talks about renunciation and how non-attachment and detachment must be learned by will power. When the five sense of perception and five organs of actions have been silenced self realization is attained. Both abhyasa(path away from pleasure and pain towards bliss) and vairagya(path of detachment) are essential for self-realization. One should be indifferent from all thoughts and emotions and to lead one’s life through their citta (consciousness). Verse 33:maître karuna mudita upeksanam sukha duhkha punya apunya visayanam bhavanatah cittaprasadanam
Taking verse 15 as a reference, once you are able to plant the seed of joy, detached and indifferent from all thoughts and emotions, this mental adjustment and approach to life keeps the mind of the sadhaka (practitioner) serene and pure. Basically, to lead one’s life with your consciousness forward. Verse 20: saddha vira smrti samadhiprajna purvakah itaresam
To purse ones practice with faith and strength and to use memory as a guide to leap forward with wisdom, to be in total absorption and awareness. This state is called upaya pratyaya, once you have reached this state one should remember abhyasa and vairagya to break out of spiritual isolation which is not freedom. The practicner should use sraddha (faith with mental and intellectual firmness) to intensify his practice. If trust is instinctive, faith is intuitional. Lead your practice with intuition. Verse 41: ksinavrtteh abhijatasya iva maneh grahitr grahana grahyesu tatstha tadanjanata samapattih
Patanjali describes Samapatti , the balanced state of mind of the seer (soul) who having attained samadhi, radiates his own pure state. The citta (consciousness) is then like the still, clear water of a calm lake. It transforms itself to the level of the seer (soul), and reflects its purity without refraction. Thus experiencing the true state of the soul.
Chapter 2- Sadhana Pada (On Practice) Verse 3: avidya asmita raga dvesa abhinivesah klesah
To know the 5 afflictions of the brain which disturb the equilibrium of consciousness are;
1) Ignorance(lack of wisdom)
3)pride of the ego, sense of I
4) Attachment to pleasure aversion to pain
5) Fear of death (clinging to life)
Afflictions are of 3 levels, intellectual, emotional and instinctive. The sadhaka must learn to locate the sources of the affliction, in order to remove them through his yoga principles and disciplines. Verse 10: te pratiprasavaheyah sukamah
The 5 afflictions are to be eradicated by the process of involution, to look within yourself and silence the affliction at its very source. The mind’s focus is toward the seer (soul) by the process of pratyahara. Withdrawal of the mind from its contact with the senses of perception and organs of action; then the mind’s direction is towards the soul. In doing so one is ready for meditation. Verse 12:klesamulah karmasayah drsta adrsta janma vedaniyah
Karma or the universal law of cause and effect applies to past present and future lives. To be free from the wheel of desire and lead one life towards the sate of bliss through the practice of kriyayoga, to try and remove residual karma. Verse 18: prakasa kriya sthiti silam bhutendriyatmakam bhogapavargartham drsyam
This verse talks about the 3 gunas, sattva (brilliance), rajas (action) , tamas (laziness) that are established in the elements of nature, senses, mind, intelligence and ego, serving the seer (soul) for the purpose of experiencing pleasures or emancipation. The 8 limbs of Yoga will help purify the seer (soul) that is clothed with the 5 sheaths allowing one to experience freedom. Verse 33: vitarkabadhane pratipaksabhavanam
The principals that prevent yama and niyama are to be counted with right knowledge and awareness. One should learn to balance their thoughts by going deep into the cause o f his anger or violence and to study the opposite force with calmness and patience. Also known as paksabhava
e.g: Adjusting ones Asanas cultivates health on a physical level helping the organic system to function rhythmically at physiological level, which effects changes in the senses, mind and intellect at a mental level. This adjustment and observation in the practice of yoga fuses paksa (one side) and pratipaksa and pratipaksa (both sides) allowing one to free himself. The pose first brings inner balance and harmony, but in the end it is merely the outer expression of the inner harmony. In doing so one is able to meditate and free himself from uncertain knowledge. Chp 3: Vibhuti Pada (On Properties & Power) Verse 3: tadeva arthamatranirbhasam svarupasunyam iva samadhih
Subject, object, experience. When meditating become the object. For example; reader, book , reading. Become the shake not the shaker. When consciousness appears to have ceased and you have reached a profound state of serenity, Samadhi is reached. Verse 9: vyutthana nirodha samskaryoh abhibhava pradurbhavau nirodhaksana cittanvayah nirodhaparinamah
The silent moments between thoughts, where there is stillness and silence are to be prolonged into extra-chorological moments of consciousness, without beginning or end. So that, there is room for generation or restraint of thoughts. Consciousness has three dharmic characteristics; to wander, to be restrained and to remain silent. Transform the silence into single state awareness. Verse 14: santa udita avyapadesya dharma anupati dharma
The moulding of consciousness takes place owing to the change in the gunas of nature. Point zero indicates the point of balance and harmony at which we can unlock and liberate the knotty confusion of matter and emotion. Every moment in the present you are moulding your future. Live life consciously. Verse 24: maitryadisu balani
Be kind and compassionate to others around you in doing so one gains moral and emotional strength. To regards things impartially without becoming involved. Verse 48: grahana svarupa asmita anvaya arthavattva samyamat indriyajayah
When the organs of actions become passive and a state of quietness is experienced, the cultured intelligence will turn inwards exploring the realm of the seer so that the mind and ego are brought to rest permanently. Chp 4: Kaivalya pada (On Emancipation & Freedom)
Verse 2: jatyantara parinamah prakrtyapurat
With consistence practice the practicner afflictions and fluctuations can be brought under control and transformed enabling him to live in a pure dynamic state in this present life. Verse 7: karma asukla akrsnam yoginah trividham itaresam
This sutra talks about the fourth action one that is free from its fruits and duality. Ambition is transformed into spiritual aspiration. In doing so the practicner becomes refined, mind and consciousness become clear and action cleaned. To act without motive or desire Verse 14: parinama ekatvat vastutattvam
We see objects according to the predominating gunas in one’s intelligence, an object is perceived differently although its essence remains the same. Truth is one and we must experience it in its real essence. If intelligence and consciousness are filtered and refined, both subject and object retain and reflect their real essence. Verse 16: na ca ekacitta tantram ced vastu tat apramanakam tada kim syat
When intelligence and consciousness touch the supreme knowledge, one remains merely an uninvolved witness of objects. If an object does not stimulate the mind, it remains unperceived by the mind or the mind fails to grasp it. When the mind is freed from the play of gunas, it sees objects in their true reality, and remains free from impressions. The mind and soul become one, and are one with the essence of all objects. Verse 21: cittantaradrsye buddhibuddhehatiprasangah smrtisankarah ca
The practice of yoga disciplines and cultures the consciousness of the head, by which it perfects the art of analysis, judges precisely, experiences unalloyed bliss, becomes auspicious and moves towards matures intelligence (consciousness of the heart) and unalloyed wisdom. This return of the consciousness from the seat of the head towards the seat of the spiritual heart is purity of consciousness.