Yikes! It’s May 19th and I’m just now writing the wrap up for our March/April Bi-Monthly Focus of Transition & Balance. However, our 2nd month concentration on the Yoga Sutras will segue beautifully into our May/June class focus on yoga’s Eight Limbs (intro coming soon!).
At the end of April we rounded out our Transition & Balance theme by uncovering some of the tools and promises within the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Sutras are like the scriptures of yoga – spoken thousands of years ago by yogi Patanjali; eventually written down by ancient teachers; and later translated and commented upon by sages like Sri Swami Satchidananda and many more.
To me, this is the most important fact that Patanjali shared: yoga was invented so people could sit longer during a specific task.
Back then, yogis were sages who were meditating toward the highest state of peace, otherwise known as Samadhi. Patanjali’s system of Hatha Yoga created a process for practitioners to eliminate physical distractions such as body aches and digestive imbalances through Asana (poses); enhance detoxification and energize the body using Pranayama (breathing exercises); then, settle comfortably into long periods of contemplation via Dharana (concentration) and Dhyana (meditation). These are just three of yoga’s eight limbs, which are thoroughly explored within the Sutras.
Today, yogis are regular-old-people who are sitting through work days, concentrating on family affairs, digesting world crises and seeking peace in daily challenges. Personally, the Sutras have taught me tools for addressing all of this and more. And their eight limbs have been the greatest gift of my life. Thus far. When I look around my home town of Washington, DC and see yoga studios popping up on every corner, I feel deeply grateful.
Simply put, without Patanjali’s ancient wisdom, we might not have yoga – today’s accessible, coveted, health-enhancing, community-building practice.
Contemporary commentary on the Sutras has become progressive and expansive, enhancing what used to be mere physical exercise for many modern yogis. To inform our April classes, I was influenced by the following sources:
- The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali – translation and commentary by Sri Swami Satchidananda (www.YogaHealthBooks.com)
- Raja Yoga – by Swami Vivekananda (www.YogaHealthBooks.com)
- Why We Fight: Practices for Lasting Peace – by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait (www.HimalayanInstitute.org)
- Yoga Journal, May 2010 Issue – “Love In Full Bloom” by Frank Jude Boccio; “Journey to the Light” by Kate Holcombe (www.YogaJournal.com)
- Integral Yoga Magazine, Spring 2010 Issue – “Yoga Sutras Unveiled” section with multiple authors (www.IYMagazine.org)
In my understanding, Patanjali’s Sutras are recognized as the most comprehensive treatment of Raja Yoga – the philosophy and ethics behind the spiritual practice of yoga. When I say “spiritual,” I generally mean ethical, mindful and service-oriented; a spiritual life maintains these qualities. So in our March classes, we focused on the physical and tangible process toward Transition & Balance with Asana, Pranayama and Mantra. And in April, we contemplated the “spiritual” foundations of cultivating emotional and psychological balance within ourselves in order to share it with the world.
In my personal Raja Yoga practice, I turn to four favorite Sutras for nurturing balance in the midst of all kinds of challenge and/or change.
HOLLY’S FAVORITE SUTRAS FOR CULTIVATING INNER PEACE
1 – A PROMISE
Early in Book One, Sutra 1.2 says, “Yogas Citta Vrtti Nerodhah” or “Yoga restrains the disturbances of the mind.” We’ve probably experienced this at the end of a luscious Asana and Pranayama class! That remarkable liberation of the mind, free of worry and forgetful of fear, glowing with presence and brimming with confidence. So in the very beginning of Patanjali’s aphorisms, we are assured: using yoga, we can still the mind and show up for life with serenity and peace.
2 – A PRACTICAL TOOL
Sometimes I need more than my regular Asana class to restrain disturbances of my mind. If I sneak forward to Book Two, I find the remedy. Sutra 2.33 says, “Vitarka Badhane Pratipaksha Bhavanam” or “When disturbed by negative thoughts, contrary thoughts should be employed.” There are days when I find myself repeating “Pratipaksha Bhavana!” like a mantra, in order to snap out of negativity. My Uncle Bill (recently departed and revered in my April “Oh Death” post) was the king of replacing negative with positive. I remember one conversation in particular. I was feeling hopeless and believed I’d made too many mistakes during my early adult life to ever repair the damage and pursue my dreams. I’d been swimming in self-pity and doubt for a while. As I defended my despair, Uncle Bill interrupted – “Well, Holly,” he said with his soothing Tennessee accent and churchgoers’ faith, “I believe you sort of lived your life backwards – when you were younger, you made all of your mistakes and somehow survived all of your trials. Now you get to move forward based on what you’ve learned and live a better life!” And you know what? Since learning to replace negativity with positive or constructive thoughts, many of my dreams and intentions have been realized! Pratipaksha Bhavana, indeed!
3 – THE FOUR LOCKS AND KEYS
To further pacify the citta (mind), we backtrack to Book One. Sutra 1.33 says, “Maitri Karuna Muditopeksanam Sukha Duhkha Punyapunya Visayanam Bavanatas Citta Prasadanam.” The many lengthy translations and commentaries on this aphorism offer an overall belief that there are four locks in our own minds and in the character of other people: happy, unhappy, virtuous and non-virtuous. To confront these attitudes – whether ours or others’ – Patanjali suggests: “Befriend the happy; have compassion for the unhappy; delight in the virtuous; be indifferent toward the non-virtuous.” To properly discuss this Sutra would take many blog entries. I refer you to the Yoga Journal articles and Pandit Rajmani Tigunait book cited above for my inspirations to have mercy toward unhappy mindsets (i.e. being compassionate with myself when feeling low) and to compassionately detach from non-virtuous acts (i.e. the violence of murder – see my November 2009 “Compassion for Killers” post).
The previous Sutras offer immense assurance. If we practice yoga in this way, we can count on these results. When we show up for our practice in this way, we give back to the world with these offerings.
And then comes…
4 – THE ULTIMATE PROMISE OF ALL PROMISES
Sutra 2.16 is my most favorite idea in the whole-wide-world. “Heyam Duhkham Anagatam.” “The misery which has not yet come is to be avoided.” By using yoga’s tools on and off the mat, we can avoid future suffering! Yea! Not only can we decrease physical injuries by practicing Asana with respect for our bodies, we can also decrease mental anguish by embracing Raja Yoga’s ideas. This doesn’t mean that we can avoid bad experiences, because life will deal us whatever cards we are meant to hold. But we can avoid misery and suffering while going through any difficulties by utilizing some of the resources that we’ve explored during March and April.
As we move into the May/June focus of yoga’s eight limbs, we can reach back into our toolbox of Balance & Transition to deepen our practice, our inner peace and our connections among others.
OM Shanti, Shanti, Shanti.
P.S. If you are interested in “Raja Talk” – periodic get-togethers for sharing about the Eight Limbs and Sutras – please see the “Services” page of this blog and e-mail me!