You have heard the common expression — “You are not your mind.” This statement traces back to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, several thousand years ago. It’s not just you who has trouble quieting the bombardment of thoughts in meditation. According to Patanjali, who recorded the wisdom of sages centuries earlier, the purpose of yoga is to quiet the automatic ramblings of the mind so that you can reach a peaceful place inside.
As an ongoing newsletter feature, each month we will explore a few key yoga sutras (threads of wisdom) from the text that has become our basic yoga philosophy, The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. More than 3,000 years ago this Indian sage recorded 196 aphorisms about how to deal with the ups and downs of life and the problems that go with being human. They are divided into four books: Contemplation; Spiritual Practice; Super Powers; and Freedom. The sutras, originally written in Sanskrit, appear in numerous translations. One that I recommend is Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, by BKS Iyengar (1996, Thorsons-Harper Collins, San Francisco, CA).
Yoga Sutras Book I, 1-4: Let me paraphrase these four sutras—
- I,i: Now begins the complete experience of yoga
- I,ii: Yoga is the stopping of the thought forms of the mind
- I,iii: When that is achieved, you dwell in your true splendor
- I,iv: At other times, you think you are your thoughts
These first four sutras tell us that the purpose of yoga is to still the mind so that we can access the joy within. They warn that if we do not do this, we will identify with the rampant thoughts of our minds instead of experiencing our true essence.
The primary goal yoga practice is not to master the most difficult poses, though we all would like to achieve perfect alignment. The true purpose of yoga is to access the connectedness, the oneness within. It does take a bit of practice to quiet the constant stream of thoughts so that we can get a glimpse of that peaceful inner place. We use the breath as the bridge from the mind to the body, and the poses are the vehicles that take us from the body to the heart space, that’s if we do them with a sense of inner directedness. I invite you to make sure your yoga is more about tapping internal wealth than efforting to achieve external feats.
To learn more about Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, join us for a four-day camping trip in Sedona in April or Kauai in August, where we will discuss the sutras every evening and earn ten continuing education credits. Next month, we will discuss the sutras that are specifically about the way to do yoga poses. How many of the 196 yoga sutras do you think are about yoga postures? Take a guess.