According to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, yoga is the calming (or stilling) of the fluctuations of the mind. This second sutra lays out a definition and purpose of the practice of yoga, which influences everything that comes next. The Yoga Sutras are a definitive text for yoga practitioners, offering guidance on their journey and opportunities to understand the context of the whole-body experience of yoga.
But back to calming the mind. In Buddhism the mind is often compared to a monkey – it flits from tree to tree, always on the move, never pausing. When we engage in a practice like meditation or yoga, we make momentary eye-contact with this monkey, and it pauses (ever so briefly) before continuing its movement. In this moment, when we notice our thoughts, we are practicing the art of mindfulness.
I’ve been thinking a lot about this over the last few weeks, and my classes this week have explored the idea of remaining in the present moment, allowing our thoughts to calm or still. It’s not been easy but it has been worthwhile. The average person has somewhere around 6,000 thoughts per day (Exploring human mind | Queen’s University Gazette (queensu.ca)) making it even more challenging to catch one of them in the present moment.
What are your thoughts?
What do you think about when you step onto your mat? Do you find it easier to tame the monkey mind during a flowing practice or is it easier in the stillness of yin to find that moment of calm? We’re all different and all need different things in different moments. Sometimes moving through a set sequence of poses offers exactly the right kind of opportunity to drop into the present moment. Moving and breathing in synchronisation can become a moving meditation, much like the Ashtanga sequences. On the other hand, a yin or restorative practice might be just the remedy for an overactive mind at a different.
When I’m practicing yoga in a studio I find that my mind wanders, it tells me stories and works very hard to distract me from the present moment. At home I engage in imaginary conversations with friends, family, and work colleagues. My mat space becomes a battle ground as I go through imaginary conversations and arguments, rehearsing what I’ll say in the unlikely event I have the chance.
Finding your way
Over the last couple of months, I’ve been unwell – flu, conjunctivitis, COVID and migraines, which have all impacted my ability and motivation to get on my mat. But I have still maintained a regular yoga practice using yoga nidra, guided meditations and relaxation. These practices have helped calm and slow the thoughts racing through my mind and allow me the chance to heal.
There are lots of ways you can benefit from yoga at home, which don’t involve getting on your mat. When we take time to remember that yoga is the calming (or stilling) of the fluctuations of the mind, then we can apply this to plenty of things. Here’s a few ideas:
- Cooking – following a recipe with full attention (and then enjoying what you’ve made!)
- Gardening – keeping your focus on whatever job you are working on at that moment.
- Playing with a child or a pet – staying in the moment and allowing yourself the time to enjoy being there.
- Reading – allowing yourself time to read for enjoyment and becoming immersed within the plot
Yoga doesn’t have to be moving on your mat every day or attending a class, it can encompass plenty of other options. The thing to focus on here is where we place our attention and remembering to try to ‘catch’ the monkey in-between its’ leaps. In these moments we are truly experiencing what yoga really is.
If you’d like to learn more about yoga and the philosophy behind it, why not join me for a class.