Prior to joining YTTC, I knew yoga meant union and I took it to mean union of the mind and body. I saw yogis on social media always preaching love and compassion but I did not know the origins of those teachings. I thought it was just part of yoga marketing. Just like how eroticism is linked to the sport of pole dancing. The rest of the world probably sees it the way I saw it. People who practice yoga and expound on its teachings are hippies and hedonists. We judge before even knowing what something is all about.
After taking up the YTTC , I discovered that what I once thought of as sacrilegious or “satanic” for lack of a better word, actually has no sign of religion tied to it. At the heart of it, the yoga teachings, also known as the 8 limbs or steps (Ashtanga) come from the yoga sutras, which are basically a set of 196 aphorisms (think Aesop’s fables) put together by this great Indian sage, Patanjali. Patanjali compiled all the scattered ancient material about yoga into the yoga sutras. These teachings date back to thousands of years ago. They are essentially practical steps on how to be a better person, how to live life more unencumbered, how to discover our true nature.
Yoga is not stretching. It is not an exercise. Yes, yoga practitioners get fit and healthy through practicing yoga but that is a means to an end. Pantanjali made it very clear in sutras:
योग: चित्त-वृत्ति निरोध:
— Yoga Sutras 1.2
Yoga is the cessation of the modifications of the mind. Ok, I probably just lost you there. Let me attempt to explain. The mind controls every aspect of our lives. It controls our body, which is actually just a machine. The thing is, the mind is volatile and cannot be controlled at will. It can’t be trusted very much as well due to it’s volatility.
For example, if A says I can’t do the job, I add a story to it. I take it to mean that A thinks I am incapable. I then perhaps infer that that A doesn’t like me very much. Very soon, I end up believing that A hates me. What I have just done is, I have created a story based on one statement, all in my mind. It is not necessarily the truth. Likewise, in life, every one of us keeps adding stories to anything that happens and we can only see life through those stories. The scary thing is, those stories become real to us and we become characters in the stories we create. What is even scarier? What happened was in the past but our stories keep staying in the present. The neglected child growing up to be an insecure adult. The abandoned wife turning to infidelity. The reality, which we think we see, is not reality, but based primarily on our perceptions. These are the modifications or fluctuations of the mind. They distort the truth and cause misery.
When the mind is still, the vision is clear and the Truth emerges. A still lake reflects the mountains. A lake with ripples reflects a distorted image.
The practice of Yoga, which comprises 8 limbs, with asana practice (the physical aspect we are familiar with) being just one of the limbs, is the process of the discovery of one’s true self, through the control of both the mind and the sense organs. No religion. Just a whole load of logical thinking and reasoning.
These teachings from the Yoga Sutras, which contain so many gold nuggets of wisdom, are seldom taught in yoga classes for the masses. I have never once attended a yoga class where the philosophy of yoga was even briefly mentioned, let alone explained. If I do become a Yoga teacher one day, my students will not just be learning asanas from me. I will do my best to distill the teachings which I have been blessed to become privy to, into my classes, to push my students onto a journey of self discovery.
200 Hr YTTC Weekday September 2015.