Yoga means different things to different people. For me, following the classical yoga path (Raja yoga) through Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (196 short verses, or sutras, which documented the teachings of raja yoga previously passed down from teacher to student. They are ‘threads’ of the teaching, providing guidance for living a meaningful and purposeful life).
Yoga Sutra 1.2 is ‘yoga’s citta-vrtti-nirodhah’ and translates to ‘Yoga is the inhibition (nirodhah) of the modifications (vrtti) of the mind (citta). We often paraphrase this to ‘the aim of yoga is to still the incessant ramblings of the mind, in order to realise our true nature, and abide in that awareness. Once the ‘noise’ of the mind is quietened we begin to be aware of our true nature; we are able to reduce the ego (our identity with the mind and it’s thoughts) and the suffering it brings with it, as part of being human - primarily attaching ourselves to, or clinging to things, or avoiding things.
Patanjali writes of the 8 limbs of yoga which are the yamas, niyamas, asana, pranayama, pratyhara, dharana, dhyana and Samadhi. He speaks of asana in sutra 2.46 ‘sthirasukhamasanam’ as a steady (sthira), comfortable (sukham) posture (asanam). As you can see, he just provides a ‘thread’ as guidance. And from this, the various asana variations have emerged. Traditionally in yoga the asana was the easy pose ‘sukhasana’, simple cross-legged position. From this the yogis progressed to practice breathing techniques and withdraw from the senses, build concentration and then meditation, to move to Samadhi often referred to as bliss or enlightenment; or self-realisation.
In western civilisation we’ve taken the 3rd limb, asana (physical aspect of yoga) and focus on this. Why? I expect it is because this is the easiest aspect for us to relate to. We are very familiar with physical fitness and it’s been expounded as a critical element of good health. Another reason is that we live such busy lives that for us to move towards the deeper aspects of yoga it would be too much of a leap. The physical poses (asana) provide a way for us to begin to still the incessant ramblings of the mind.
In addition to Raja Yoga there are 3 other main paths, each appealing to a different personality. These are:
Karma Yoga, the yoga of action, or selfless service, as a way to transcend the ego which is always wanting recognition and an outcome.
Bhakti Yoga, the yoga of devotion which may involve chanting or devotional mantras as a way to stay aware of the ‘divine consciousness’ or something greater than ourselves, and connecting in to that. In bhakti yoga the path to self-realisation is through having an experience of oneness with everything.
Jnana Yoga, the yoga of knowledge or wisdom. Jnana yogis contemplate and search to know the self. The result being a transcendence of the identification of the mind and thoughts.
Our self-enquiry this week – what does yoga mean to me? Is it a physical practice, or a psychological practice to moderate the ‘monkey mind’ as it is often referred to in yoga? Or is it a combination of both? There’s no right or wrong, just considering why you come to yoga each week. Taking this time to contemplate your yoga practice. And considering whether one of the other paths appeals to you, to infuse in some way, in your day to day life. Does a degree of acting without expectations (karma yoga) appeal as a way to keep the ego in check; or perhaps a devotional chant or mantra gives you a sense of connecting with something greater than yourself (bhakti yoga) or are you interested in contemplating the nature of the human mind (jnana yoga).
Wishing you all a wonderful week ahead, contemplating your yoga practice!
Yoga classes in bayside Melbourne on Monday, Tuesday & Thursday evenings and Wednesday mornings.
Movement & Meditation class on Wednesday mornings.
Introduction to meditation courses running throughout the year.
Wellness coaching for individuals.
Available for corporate wellness workshops and meditation courses.