Yogic philosophy is based on the teachings of Panatjai and are recounted in the Yoga Sutras. The Yoga Sutras are a collection of 196 teachings on the theory and practice of yoga. Collated over many years, it is thought that the text dates to 400CE, making it over 2000 years old. Encompassing many different, ancient teachings, the Yoga Sutras offer us an opportunity to understand the history of this practice and to enhance our own experience of our yoga by going deeper.
According to Patanjai, yoga falls into two categories – ashtanga yoga ‘eight limb yoga’ and kriya yoga ‘the yoga of action.’ The eight limbs of yoga detail the path towards ‘enlightenment,’ and define the elements that make up the practice of yoga – yamas (ethics), niyamas (observances), asana (physical postures), pranayama (control of breath), pratyhara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation), samadhi (absorption or enlightenment.)
From this we can see that the physical practice of yoga only accounts for 1/8 of the overall definition, and that the concept of yoga is all encompassing and complex. The Yoga Sutras almost look like a design for life or a guide on how to live a good and successful existence.
According to the first yoga sutra – yoga is defined as the calming of the fluctuations of the mind. That is all the nonsense our brains through up for us throughout the day (and night.) You know the thoughts I mean, the ones that are not productive but consume more worry time than necessary. While we are living in Lockdown our minds might be producing a wider variety of ‘fluctuations’ causing all kinds of disturbances. These can be manifest as sleep issues, over/under eating, excessive worry, negative self-talk, low self-esteem and self-confidence issues. If we are to understand Patanjali, by adopting a yogic practice which encompasses the eight limbs, we can expect the ‘fluctuations’ in our minds to settle and a sense of calm and easiness to pervade. Perhaps this is what enlightenment feels like?
Why do I need to know this?
You do not. If you’re reading this blog, I’m going to assume that you have some interest in yoga (or you’re my mum!) and that you’d quite like to learn a bit about this ancient tradition. But if you are quite happy scrolling through Instagram and looking at amazing people contorting themselves into seemingly impossible postures – that might be the extent of your yoga experience. And that is totally fine, I love nothing better than scrolling social media for inspirational images of postures I cannot do!
But if you are after a tiny bit more, just a sprinkling more philosophy, history and information – then this is when the yoga magic really happens. Taking a bit of time to understand the full system, as outlined by Patanjali, we can begin to experience even greater rewards – both mental and physical.
Next week I will be looking at the first of the eight limbs – the Yamas. These are guidelines on how to treat others. With social distancing in place we may not be in close contact with many people, but this doesn’t mean that we can’t have a few points to consider in this area.