What the Yoga Sutras reveal about nature of yoga
Yoga beginners often tell me I’m not flexible enough to do yoga or I need to get in shape first. In the West, we’ve come to think of yoga as synonymous with the practice (or sometimes performance) of physical postures and the development of super-human flexibility, so it’s understandable that a lot of folks feel they can’t do yoga. However, this is far removed from yoga’s original intention as a spiritual practice, and doing physical poses for their own sake isn’t yoga.
So if yoga isn’t headstand or touching your toes, what is it? When we dig into the philosophy of the yoga tradition, there are a few things that stand out. One key idea is that yoga has a lot more to do with the mind than the body.
Patanjali starts out the Yoga Sutras by telling us yogas chitta vritti nirodhaha. I’m not a Sanskrit scholar so I’m relying on the translation of others here:
- 𝘤𝘩𝘪𝘵𝘵𝘢: entirety of mind, consciousness
- 𝘷𝘳𝘪𝘵𝘵𝘪: oscillation, disturbances, fluctuations, turning/ rolling
- 𝘯𝘪𝘳𝘰𝘥𝘩𝘢𝘩: to restrict, restrain, still, quiet, suppress
Yoga is to still the fluctuations of the mind.
This tells us that the practices of concentration and meditation are central to yoga, not incidental. Yoga is, at its heart, restraining the whirling of consciousness so that we can unite with the deeper truth of who we are.
If the idea of controlling the mind seems impossible, there’s good news. Yoga provides us with tools to develop these skills. It’s not simply a matter of forcing the mind to a screeching halt. (If you’ve ever tried that, it doesn’t work very well.) Like any other skill, we start small and build ability and capacity through consistent practice, refinement, and patience.
The other good news is practice helps. Neuroscience tells us that the more we use neural pathways, the stronger they get, and the easier/ more likely we are to use them in the future. Regular meditation practice strengthens the meditation “muscle” so that we can return to a meditative state more easily and under more difficult circumstances in the future.
If you’d like community support for your meditation practice or want help getting started, join me online for Midday Reset, Wednesdays at 12:30 pm Pacific.
For a personalized practice with a focus on breath, concentration, and meditation, book an online private workshop and request the “Meditation and Breath” focus.