Whether your life is punctuated with bouts of joy or sadness, depression or contentment, or longer, deeper experiences of trauma and turmoil, you are not alone. In the Yoga Sutras, yoga is defined to mean, “the yogic experience.” Yoga is often translated as “union” of mind, body and spirit. Classically, yoga is understood as the science of the mind so the yogic experience is that which is gained by controlling the modifications of the mind. Sri Patanjali, considered the “father of yoga,” is credited with compiling the Yoga Sutras (the threads of yoga), which date anywhere from 5,000 B.C. to 300 A.D. In the West, yoga is primarily thought of as asanas (postures), breathing (pranayama) and meditation (dhyana) because many experience relaxation and ease with the practice of yoga, yoga is considered a mind-body exercise. The underlying premise of mind-body exercises is that the physiological state of the body may shape emotions, thoughts and attitudes.
So diving into the world of yoga philosophy will help you in discovering that suffering (known as dukha in Sanskrit) is a part of the process of life. Any sort of suffering can be seen as what is known as a klesha – an obstacle on the path to freedom and enlightenment. Overcoming these obstacles is what a yoga practice is all about, and if we’re going to overcome suffering, all the physical, mental, emotional and energetic tools need to be brought forth.
Calming the ‘Citta’- Chatter
The second sutra of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali reads;
Yogas citta vrtti nirodha
Yoga is the calming of the fluctuations of the mind
These fluctuations of the mind are what cause us to experience momentary joy or sorrow and can cause us to wallow in sadness for months or years, or scatter the mind in all directions so we feel anxious without knowing why. When the mind is in a state of chattering away, fluctuating from attachment to hatred, happiness to sadness, and self-doubt to delusion, all of our mental energy is scattered and figuratively ‘leaks out’ of us. When the mind’s energy is leaky and scattered, this has an instant impact upon how we act physically; the breath will usually become shallow and short, and the muscles held more tense than necessary so all these things send messages back to the mind that it should be wary, scared and stressed, and without interrupting this fluctuating cycle, we find ourselves locked in a state of dukha or suffering.
It is these ‘diverse streams’ or fluctuation and energy – as Dr. Ananda Balayogi Bhavanani puts it – that are concentrated and unified into one place through the practice of yoga; “The central theme of Yoga is the golden mean, finding the middle path, a constant search for moderation and an harmonious homoeostatic balance. Yoga is the “unitive impulse” of life, which always seeks to unite diverse streams into a single powerful force. Proper practice produces an inner balance of mind that remains stable and serene even in the midst of chaos.
If yoga had a ‘goal’, it would be to attain freedom and liberation from all suffering; the practices involved in the yogic process have the by-product of helping us live as healthily and harmoniously as possible, in contentment and peace. Dr. Bhavanani explains how this harmony is brought about “….right-use-ness of the body, emotions and mind with awareness and consciousness. It must be understood [however] to be as healthy a dynamic state that may be attained in spite of the individual’s sabija karma that manifests as their genetic predispositions and the environment into which they are born”.
Whilst yoga philosophy may focus on uniting the scattered mind, calming fluctuation thoughts, and balancing the amount the mind takes in and processes, nowhere does it actually say that we’re supposed to be happy all the time. This ‘end goal’ of yoga doesn’t translate as happy or joyful, rather Samadhi would refer to the ability to witness and understand reality as it is. Rather than following the scattered thoughts of the mind, believing everything we think is true, holding onto the past or fretting about the future, or getting caught up in the narcissism of ‘I, me, and my’, Samadhi is about being here right now, experiencing the feeling of now-ness, not grasping for a fleeting feeling of joy.