Yoga grounds itself in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
Sutra (get your mind out of the gutter) means “rule” or summary or a listing of “doctrinal summaries”. More simply put, they are teachings. Literally translated it means “a thread or line that holds things together”.
The Yoga Sutras are the basis from which yoga emerges.
Part of my training includes studying, pondering, trying to make sense of Patanjali’s sutras.
Who was Patanjali? He’s the guy who, thousands of years ago, wrote down everything a person needed to know in order to reach the goal known as Yoga.
No one really knows who he is. In his workshop, Michael Stone told us that Patanjali was mythologized even – half man/half serpent. Scholars, however, are of the opinion that he really existed.
The second sutra, according to Sri Swami Satchidananda – whose translation I am reading, actually sums up the end goal, and means to it, of yoga.
YOGAS CITTA VRTTI NIRODHAH
The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.
It’s deceptive in its simplicity.
“If you can control the rising of the mind into ripples, you will experience yoga.”
Yoga is union.
So, if the mind can be hushed and thoughts tamed so they are not running off with the slightest distraction, you have achieved yoga.
Yoga is not the physical practice – the “asanas” or poses. That is a simplification of itself. Asanas are practiced to help a person still the mind by learning to focus on breath through movement.
It’s another way to learn meditation.
Bet those Bikram people feel all foolish now seeing how it’s not an Eastern Jane Fonda way to yoga butt.
It’s deceptively simple though because – in case you’ve never tried – reigning in thoughts isn’t easy. Try it. Take a few moments and silence the parade of thoughts stampeding through your mind. Or, just try to herd one thought in a single direction and see if it doesn’t get away from you. Go ahead. I’ll wait.
(musical interlude for the lazy)
Not so easy, is it?
It takes no time at all for the mind to wander off to the day ahead or the troubles of yesterday or off into a daydream or lament or idle speculation about why I am boring you with my yoga training again.
Our minds are programmed to modify. It’s perfectly natural for thoughts to meander. Sometimes it’s a good thing. But just as often, it isn’t.
The modifications or “vrittis” are named by Patanjali, the man-serpent.
Right-knowledge, misconception, imagination, sleep and memory.
They are neither good nor bad except for – as Shakespeare would put it later in Horatio’s mouth – thinking makes it so.
There is no good or bad in the world because they are labels only and projections of human interpretation – figments of our mind-stuff so to speak.
The world itself is nothing more than a projection, a shared one sometimes, but it makes sense when a person stops to consider how differently a group of people can view a common event or idea.
Kat, my training instructor, asked us to come up with two examples – good and bad – for each of the vrittis and write about them.
Ah, you think, this is why she is torturing us with her Eastern mumbo-jumbo.
I have to admit that I am a bit stumped.
Right-knowledge is that which is a universal truth. But are there truths that everyone agrees on really? Human beings pay lip-service to truth more than they actually practice most of them.
Killing for example. The killing of humans is bad. Except if they have killed or if the killing takes place during war and they are on the winning side or in instances of self-defense or if a person chooses to kill his/herself unless they aren’t terminally ill and it’s okay for police officers and white people who need land and resources from browner people. Just to name a few exceptions to that “truth”.
All humans are created equal. Except, it doesn’t say that. It says “men” and thus begins the “excepting”.
Misconceptions are the “eye of the beholder” thing that gets most of us into trouble. It’s the projection of our perception onto others, events, universal truths. Its the way we read into everything regardless of the actual depth.
Imagination are the fanciful thoughts that lead us into trouble or inspiration depending.
Sleep is either in feast or famine and nearly always we control that.
Memory. Ah, memories. Faulty and more prone to misconception than our real time dealings, in my opinion.
I’d be curious – and most grateful – to know your opinions on the vrittis. How can they be both good and bad? Positive force or negative?
Examples would be appreciated.
5 thoughts on “Patanjali Says …”
i’ve read, re-read, and re-re-read this post several times. of all of the things i’ve read, observed or “felt” about yoga, this post intrigues me the most. struggling to provide any useful thoughts, i finally gave up tonight.
i keep coming back to my fundamental belief that there is no black/white in the world. just a million shades of grey. right vs wrong. good vs bad. always subjective.
examples? i’ve got nothing – other than a most treasured line from a Joni Mitchell opus (Shadows and Light): The perils of benefactors, the blessings of parasites.
Maybe “Yoga Butt”. There is good and bad. i want one – a selfish, pointless and meaningless thing – but to get one would require me to practice asanas, which would potentially teach me to better still the ripples and perhaps come closer to achieving yoga. Even though my primary motivation was a nice butt.
I appreciate the effort. It’s not an easy one. Sometimes asanas are easier than the mind-stuff stuff.
But it’s a dilemma, isn’t it. Yoga is like a trick question that doubles back and smacks you back of the head.
I wish I could help you with this, this is the stuff I take to my child. Maybe he has some advice for you. I’ll ask him at bedtime.
He is wise. Let me know if he has thoughts.