What is Yoga?
Whether you've taken a yoga class before or not, you might still find yourself asking at some point: what exactly IS yoga? To answer that big question, we turn to the big, old, yoga texts.
The yoga sutras are one of the main ancient yoga philosophy texts. They provide a wide variety of practical knowledge and suggestions for healing the mind, body and spirit. There is so much to be gained by reading the sutras and they provide a firm foundation for any yoga practice. Without an understanding of the reasons behind yoga, it's easy to fall into a mindless practice.
Today we'll be breaking down and reflecting on just one sutra, Sutra 1.2, which describes exactly what yoga is:
“Yoga is the reflection of the fluctuations of consciousness.”
Swami Satchitanada’s translation says: “Yoga is the restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff.”
So when we think about 'yoga,' we might think of the western ideal of a traditional yoga asana (posture) class. But nothing is mentioned here about the body, stretching or yoga asana. (In fact, asana is only actually mentioned ONCE in the entire book of the sutras!) Sutra 1.2 is suggesting that yoga exists within the mind; from there, we have 5 types of yoga to offer us various ways to achieve restraint of the mind. Asana is just one of those paths.
Another thing to take note of about this definition is that we're not trying to 'empty the mind' completely. Rather than trying to force out thoughts, yoga asks us to begin by simply noticing how the mind fluctuates. We can then begin to notice that many of our thoughts are repetitive, negative, past, or future-oriented. You might even find that certain yoga postures result in certain types or qualities of thought. Once we notice the patterns of our consciousness, only then can we begin to develop some restraint.
"The mind is a busy thing. It is always moving. Even when we sleep, the mind is fluctuating, making up little stories, tossing flashes of color and light around, reenacting or inventing conversations and scenes that feel like reality while we’re experiencing them. Only when we wake up do we realize our dreams were “just dreams,” no matter how real they felt. We’ve all heard of lucid dreaming, right? Some people learn to recognize that they are dreaming while it’s happening, and that changes the dream. Similarly, we become lucid in our waking life when we learn to tell the difference between what is real and what is just mental noise." - MissDirt.net
To practice restraint is an active process. There is much intention behind the practice and it's most useful when we can incorporate it into our daily life. It would behoove us all to slow down, and allow enough time for stillness to listen to our thoughts. The quality of our day-to-day thoughts can often be surprising, but this process is what makes yoga so incredibly life-changing.
Our perception of reality is a direct result of the quality of our thoughts.
And it takes time to change thoughts. Many eager students, (myself included) hope to pop right into a deep state of blissful meditation without having dedicated the time and practice needed to notice and alter thoughts. Noticing 'the fluctuations' has to come before the refining process...so begin there. Begin with just a few breaths of attention. A few moments dedicated to non-judgemental acknowledgement of your thoughts. Practice easing your way into a sense of patience throughout those fluctuations. Before you know it, you're practicing yoga and mindfulness meditation. :)