Yoga and Individualism
(And Why Individualism, in Yoga or Elsewhere, Is Not a Bad Thing)
Sutra 1.2 reads “yogas citta vrtti nirodhah”. Yoga is the cessation of the modifications, or fluctuations, of the mind.
Whose mind? Not his, not ours, not theirs. Mine. My mind. Or your mind, reader.
Yoga is a fundamentally individualist discipline focused on the Self. With a capital ‘S’.
Why is this the case? How does this affect our practice and consequently our behaviour when we are not practicing?
I believe that, in fact – despite the conception often imposed on us by society – individualism is not a bad thing. Focusing on ourselves, resolving our issues first, allows us to then help others. Conversely, if we ourselves have a number of unresolved issues, it becomes very hard to support/mentor other people.
In this sense, yoga can be incredibly helpful because of its focus on bringing the awareness back to one’s body, mind, and spirituality. In doing so, the different practices which constitute yoga (asana, pranayama, dhyana, etc.) operate at all levels of the Self’s wellbeing. Through practice, one can reach homeostasis, harmony, stability at all of these levels, therefore allowing for greater calm and clarity of mind.
In addition to this, yoga’s philosophy focuses both on principles and guidelines for the Self (e.g. saucha, santosha, tapas, etc.) and precepts which can inform the yogi’s behaviour toward others (e.g. ahimsa, asteya, etc.).
Overall, by bringing attention to the Self, yoga also brings attention to the Self’s interactions with the Other. The focus on individualism is in no way selfish. Rather, its introspective nature allows us to better understand ourselves and the ways in which we may evolve our natural tendencies, intentions and behaviours in service of our community, or society in the broader sense.
M. Stella Scarpellini
YTT 200HR, March 2018