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Yoga's Textbook: The Sutras

Updated: Feb 19, 2022

Now, the discipline of yoga begins.


Each time we start our yoga practice, we clear our minds and prepare for what's to come. We bring ourselves into the present moment - the NOW. Without knowing it, we are living out Sutra 1.1 - Atha yoga anushasam (now, the discipline of yoga begins).


Each major belief system is guided by a text or an oral tradition. In last week's blog Respecting the Roots of Yoga, we discussed that while yoga was born from Hinduism and later Buddishm, it is also an entity of its own. Therefore, it has its very own text!


The commonly accepted “textbook” for yoga is known as The Yoga Sutras, written by a Sage (a person who has attained wisdom) named Patanjali around 200 CE.


The Sanskrit word “sutra” means “thread”, and we can think of the English word “suture”, or stitches. The Yoga Sutras, then, are written in the form of short statements that allow us to stitch together the meaning of yoga.


There are four chapters, with 195 or 196 short statements (sutras) within. These sutras were written in Sanskrit, and have been interpreted time and time again (which is why some people believe there are 195 or 196 sutras). They are short so they can be remembered, but are also meant to be studied with a teacher. Traditionally, the Sutra is chanted in Sanskrit, followed by an explanation by the teacher.


I have *humbly* chosen three Sutras that I feel are important as we (me + you) are just beginning to truly dive deeply into the history, philosophy, and true meaning of yoga.



 


1.2 Yoga citta vritti nirodhah: Yoga is the resolution of the agitations of the mind.


  • The choice of the word "agitate" caught my eye. I haven't used that word in a very long time, and when I thought about it I'm not even sure how that word is different from just being "annoyed." So I looked up the word root (classic me) and found that the Latin translation is "being active." FASCINATING, right? Not even a hint of being annoyed, just active. When our mind is active, it's going to jump around and find things to latch onto, and alot of those things are going to end up annoying us. Perhaps because they ARE annoying, but maybe also because they'll just SIT in our mind for so long.

  • Yoga slows our mind. It brings silence. It brings presence. It tells our brain "STOP BEING ACTIVE FOR ONE MIN, PLEASE"

  • Think of the agitations of the mind like waves on the water. The waves are constantly there, moving, changing. We can't stop the activeness of our brain. But, YOGA. Yoga is learning how to surf on the waves of life, no matter the conditions.


1.3. Tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam: Then the seer abides in its own nature.


  • For the past 14 years, I have driven the same route coming back to Massachusetts from New Jersey. 14 years ago, there was this baseball field on the side of the road that no one seemed to use. As I continued to pass by it, trees and weeds began to cover it. Each time I went by, the overgrowth got bigger, deeper, wider. Each time I wondered - is someone going to do something about that?!! It was just so sad looking! Today I passed by it again. There are now SO many trees and weeds, you can no longer even see that there was a baseball field there. I thought of the saying "Who were you before the world told you who to be?" Because THAT was a baseball field that believes it's a forest now.

  • As we grow older and experience the difficulties of life, we lose sight of who we really are. Who are we really? Well, it certainly depends on you. I'm still figuring this one out, but what I know is that we are often clouded by trees and weeds in our own minds.

  • When we are free from the agitations of the mind, we are free to be just as we are (before the world told us who we were).


1.12 Abhyasa vairagyabhyam tan nirodhah “By practice and detachment these agitations can be stopped.”


  • We know there will be waves, agitations, in life. The Sutras say there can be a release from the suffering. It starts with practice - the discipline - of yoga. When we apply our minds to the practice of yoga, we can be released from suffering. It takes work - and you are doing the work (right now in fact!) That work is being done every time you show up for class and work through the poses (asana). Everytime you breath deeply and intentionally (pranayama). Each time you put your phone down and close your eyes for a few minutes (pratyahara). Each time you choose to act compassionately and honestly (Yamas). Each time you study your deeper self and find contentment in the present moment (Niyamas).

  • Our practice also includes detaching to release from suffering. Detaching from who you thought you were supposed to be, for example. And just BEING, instead.


 

I wish you all calmness on the sea of life. I wish you to see yourself for who you truly are, underneath all those trees and weeds.


Thank you so much, always, for being with me as we go.


Namaste (bowing to you in respect, love, and light),

Christina


p.s. if you want to read a little more, check out this article with more examples of Sutras:






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