What better way to understand our practice of yoga than to go back thousands of years and understand it from the very beginning? This is what part of deepening our practice is: studentship. We come to a point when we understand the basic structures of poses, we (somewhat) recognize the names of poses (something-asana?), and we are beginning to see the benefits of yoga and meditation for our minds and souls. At this point, questions start to arise, naturally. Questions about the intricacies of poses. Questions about the subtle body. Questions about the nature of meditation. And finally, questions about the history of yoga.

Dont worry, I won’t be going into a long history lesson this week. We will be reading 2 simple phrases (yes, just two) from the “Yoga Bible”– the first written document about yoga and all it’s glorious details: the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. And trust me, the answer to many of our questions can lie right here, in the first two phrases (or sutras) of this book. Especially this one: Why do we practice yoga?

atha yoganusasanam

yogah cittavrtti nirodhah

How these two small verses are translated can take up books in itself. However, the consensus lies in something like: “Now we begin to explore the sacred art of yoga with it’s guidelines and instructions .” (That’s number 1) “Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness.” (Number 2) On first glance, these two verses seems only introductory, simple; yet, it is looking at them in context that brings their importance to light.

First of all, these two loaded verses were written over 2000 years ago. Yet, as we think of how relevant these are today, we understand the beauty of this writing. When we start to question, “Where am I headed with yoga? Am I on the right path?” the second verse can bring simple answers. Yoga is the cessation of the movements of the mind. Yoga’s purpose is to still this ever-chattering mind we have. Nowhere does it say that yoga is looking great (although it may be one of many benefits). It does not say that attaining yoga occurs when your every limb can bend in a different direction simultaneously. Yoga is not attaining the most difficult physical pose. Stillness will be yoga. (Yoga also meaning this integration between all layers of Self that we seek.) The practice of yoga will bring us yoga. Yoga is a means and an end.

What I find so beautiful is that something that seers and yogis realized thousands of years ago applies more than ever to our society. We practice yoga to clam these fluctuations in the mind, the wavering between concentration on mind, on self, on ego, on intelligence. What do these fluctuations cause? In my opinion, the “un-stillness” within in which we so often find ourselves causes many diseases and psychological unrest. Why does our society suffer so much from anxiety, depression, image disorders, and emotional lability? In addition, (although my thoughts on this may be slightly controversial) perhaps the root of conditions such as cancer, autoimmune disease, and neurological illness is psychological unrest, suppression of emotions, and unresolved pasts. We are ungrounded, and yoga is here to help us bring back some grounding (especially in the mind). I think we can all attest to this: by focusing for an hour on our body’s movement, on opening up channels of energy, on consciously breathing, we find a sort of peace of mind that is pretty difficult to get otherwise. And this is the first step. If we can stop our mind chatter for just moments at a time, simply by bringing more awareness to the integration of every layer of our body, we can train ourselves to do this for longer periods of time, in more situations. If a minute fraction of that awareness goes into your everyday life, just imagine how in tune you can become. Imagine how peaceful life might be. That peace is health. That peace is yoga.

“Yoga is the teacher of yoga; yoga is to be understood through yoga. So live in yoga to realize yoga; comprehend yoga through yoga; he who is free from distractions enjoys yoga through yoga.” ~ Sri Vyasa

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