In this week’s post I introduce the key philosophical text of yoga, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. In future posts I will delve into more detail about some of the teachings of this wonderful text.
One of my first yoga teachers once said to me “People start taking yoga because of benefits they hope to find in their body. They stay with it because they find something more.” That quote has always stuck with me, because I’ve found it to be so very true, not just for myself but for many I’ve taught over the years.
People in the West usually think of yoga as strictly a form of exercise. In reality, it is that and so much more! Yoga was originally developed as a method of calming the mind and connecting with the heart. These teachings are wonderfully conveyed in an ancient text called the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
Written sometime between 400 BC and 200 AD, this text describes in a compact and almost poetic form the teachings of yoga and how it can help us become more centered, balanced, clear and connected.
The first 2 sutras describe yoga’s purpose: Learning to control the random fluctuations of the mind. They then go on to describe how, in calming those random fluctuations, we can become more connected to our values—to who we truly are at our core—while being less influenced by our filters, projection, fears and anxieties.
This clarity of mind was the undeniable benefit I personally found in practicing yoga, long before I actually studied the sutras. I became clearer about who I am and the mark I want to leave on my world. Things that used to drive me crazy became interesting observations instead of painful traumas. Fears diminished. Courage returned. I’m not perfect by any means, but I’m hopefully getting a bit more balanced every day.
If you’re interested in exploring these teachings further, there are many wonderful translations and commentaries available. My personal favorite is The Essence of Yoga, by Bernard Bouanchaud. It is occasionally difficult to find in the United States, so I have some copies available it at Whole Life Yoga. But if you go to any major bookseller you will find many different translations of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali on their shelves.
Frugal yogis can also find many wonderful free translations on the internet. Swami J has a translation many of my students have found very useful. But my biggest advice is to be open to changes that happen as you continue your yoga practice. Listen to the voices of truth you may begin to hear. Yoga is not at all about achieving a certain posture. Release the shackles of thinking that it is all about “stretching” or even “exercise.” You likely will get stronger, leaner and more flexible. But the most powerful thing you can stretch is your mind!
Come visit Whole Life Yoga in Seattle!