I woke up one morning, a tad bleary, a little unstable on the feet, with my mind going. yes… yoga.. but actually.. Zzzzzzzz…
Some days! I find this state is temporary and you literally go ahead with the toilet and sink duties of waking up and you’re totally ready to begin your morning practice. On the other hand, other days, when your body is swaying with every stroke of the toothbrush to your teeth, the ‘totally ready to yoga’ bit doesn’t quite arrive at where you’re standing. And it’s those days I take a more Yin (relaxation) practice, or on this particular day, very strangely for me, I really wanted to sit and read the next Sutra in the Yoga Sutras.
Ok so for some background knowledge, just a month ago I was quite a skeptic about the Sutras. Perhaps out of ignorance. But all the Sanskrit kinda scared me a little. It felt to me a total separate thing from what I was doing on my mat. Fast forward just a month (oh how much can change in a month!), my mind seems to be running on it’s own path, surprising me at every turn (or in this mornings’ case, at every toothbrush stroke). If it was left up to my conscious mind, would I have arrived at this seemingly strange decision, appearing in my mind akin to The Simpsons intro, fading in through the clouds as I swayed there looking in the mirror? Who knows. But in this half awake state where perhaps my subconscious was having a field day, my mind told me (ah! Char’s gone nuts again) that I wanted to read the next Sutra. And so I sat on my mat and got quite excited to find out what the next Sutra had in store for me..
For continuity’s purpose, I will talk about Sutra 1.2 (chapter 1, sutra 2) even though the one I did read with the above backstory is actually Sutra 1.3. Because I haven’t yet written about Sutra 1.2 yet and we totally shouldn’t miss this one.
As before, I made a mind map! It is the best way for me to process knowledge and I hope you find them useful too. The download link is right below the mind map image at the start of the post. Have a read through the breakdown of the Sanskrit on the mind map before reading on.
Yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ = Yoga is the restraint / suspension of the modifications / fluctuations of the mind.
How many times do we try and practice yoga at home, see a dirt spot on the floor.. or, look at the dishes in the kitchen.. or, see some socks lying on the floor that you hadn’t spotted before.. and you just had to break out of your practice to sort it out? Or, not even get started with your practice at all. We get too busy in our minds, eager to get on with the day – what’s for breakfast? Whats on the agenda today?
This to me is a pretty good dialled down example to illustrate this Sutra. Our minds are always full of chatter. And in fact, I don’t know about most of you, but I think the chatter can be quite nice and a little addictive. Even right now. I am writing this while listening and watching a podcast on the TV (it’s a really good one), and paying attention to Charles (my cat baby) claw at his (yes, his) yoga mat. I am getting better at being in a quieter, more focussed state than this, and yoga helps immensely, but generally the more background chatter around me, the more comforted I feel. I feel more surrounded with things, with noise, with a good bustling environment. I don’t feel alone. It deletes any existence of loneliness.
Yoga practice is one of the handful of times where I can be in a dead quiet room and breathe, focus, and flow with the asanas. Previously, my mind was easy to wander. I needed music.. maybe a podcast going while I’m practicing. My eyes were darting everywhere, the focus wasn’t on my breath. I guess you could have called it a shallow practice at times, a practice heavy on ahamkara.
I’ve said before that my practice has taken a turn into a deeper dimension and this Sutra completely rings true for me. Patanjali is defining Yoga with this Sutra. If we achieve suspension of the mental modifications of the mind we have reached the goal of Yoga.
In your next practice, have a go at finding the meaning of this Sutra for your own understanding. You know those moments that you feel extremely focussed during a class? Try and keep that going for longer. Keep your focus internal, keep the eyes focused on the drishti (focal points) in your asanas. You heard a sound outside? Take the focus back to your mat. Dial it in to listen to your body, to keep the breath, to keep the flow of your practice. This internal focus takes me into a mindful, mind-relaxed, trancelike state where I am not even quite aware what my mind is thinking of.
Why do we do this? Why is this important?
The yoga practice really does go deeper than the physical. Of course, you are the architect of your life – each of you personally decide how deep you want to take your yoga practice and some might say ‘ah hey! I just want to stretch, don’t want no hippy dippy internal stuff’. – Totally fair. It’s your call about how you want your practice to go in your life.
However, I would say, be open! Have a stretch and have yoga fulfil exactly what you need for your life but perhaps don’t totally shut off and close the door with a bang on some of these deeper points.
Why? I don’t want to go deeper.
Haha, we are getting into a little serious stuff! OK! Well. Speaking from personal experience, whenever I have had a serious resistance (be it in the form of anger, irritation, madness) to an idea / concept put to me, I have started to question myself Why. Why are my reactions as such, why does it wind me up so? Why am I annoyed? Instead of simply being always in the reactive state, look internally. Why am I reacting as so? Who am I? This is something that has come from the internal reflection and suspension of the mind-noise from my yoga practice #lessonsfromthemat
There is a Sanskrit saying (quoting The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali with translation by Sri Swami Satchidananda pg 5);
‘Mana eva manushyanam karanam bandha mokshayoho’ = As the mind, so the man; bondage or liberation are in your own mind.
Yoga is such an internal practice because it works on changing the perception of Self, to realise your true Self, without bothering to change the world we live in. Simplifying the above saying further, ‘If you feel bound, you are bound. If you feel liberated, you are liberated.’ It is indeed our attitudes and reactions towards things that bind and liberate us in this world.
I am now going to quote directly this paragraph from the book mentioned above, because it is a brilliant, brilliant example to illustrate this.
— “That is why whenever I speak to prison inmates I say, “You all feel you are imprisoned and anxiously wait to get outside these walls. But look at the guards. Are they not like you? They are also within the same walls. Even though they are let out at night, every morning you see them back here. They love to come; you would love to get out. The enclosure is the same. To them it is not a prison; to you it is. Why? Is there any change in the walls? No, you feel it is a prison; they feel that it is a place to work and earn. It is the mental attitude. If, instead of imprisonment, you think of this as a place for your reformation where an opportunity has been given you to change your attitude in life, to reform and purify yourself, you will love to be here until you feel purified. Even if they say, ‘Your time is over; you can go,’ you may say, ‘I am still not purified, Sir. I want to be here for some more time.” In fact, many such prisoners continued to lead a Yogic life even after they left prison, and they were even thankful for their prison life. That means they took it in the right way.” —
I leave it as so, after typing much more than I set out to I hope you enjoyed.