While I have been practising yoga for many years now, it always used to be mainly a physical activity for me which also had a sort of calming, meditative effect on me, which I appreciated. When I recently joined a yoga teacher training, I began to learn that there is a lot more to yoga than just its physical side. Following the mission of this blog, I want to share a bit of my newly acquired knowledge and thereby inspire others to look deeper into the story of yoga and what it has to offer. The concepts described below follow the books of A.G. Mohan (Yoga Reminder) and T.K. Desinkachar (The Heart of Yoga).
Why do we speak of ‘Yoga sutra’ and what does ‘yoga’ mean
Yoga is one of the six systems of Indian thought known as darsanas. It originates in the Vedas, which is the oldest record of Indian culture, but it was not systematized until the Indian sage Patanjali wrote it down in a structured “sutra” form. „Sutra“ is a style that uses very few words, but yet captures the essence and is thus very clear.
The word yoga has acquired several meanings. They usually centre around the following: “to unite”, “to attain what was previously unattainable”, focusing all our attention towards the activity we are pursuing at a particular moment, or also “to be one with the divine”. Essentially, it is about being mindful and attentive to our actions, which usually involves change.
Removing cloudiness from your mind and perception
There are some basic concepts that build the foundations of yoga. These include the concept of avidya. Avidya is expressed through its brances of asmita (the ego), raga (having demands), dvesa (rejecting things), and abhinivesa (fear), and through which, individually or collectively, our perception and mind are clouded and we end up feeling dissatisfied with the results of our actions. We want to reduce avidya, as the absence of it is recognised by the absence of unrest or agitation, and an internal feeling of peace.
Everything is subject to constant change
Another basic understanding of yoga is that everything is subject to constant change, a concept which is called parinmavada. The objective of yoga is to lift the veil of the clouded mind to see our deep self within, which is the one thing within ourself not subject to change. Ways of achieving this can be by tapas, to keep ourselves healthy and cleanse ourselves inwardly, e.g. by practising asanas, and pranayama. The second means is svadhyaya, which means inquiry or getting to know ourselves. The third way is the “love of god” or, in practical terms, a certain quality of action which in practise refers to pursuing a career or gain qualifications. It is these three actions that are known as the yoga of action (or kriya yoga).
Reach a state of lightness
Changing something in one’s life is often a motivation to start with yoga. A reason why we feel this way may be that our mind is in the state of duhka. The notion of duhkha refers to a feeling of being restricted in our possibilities, a feeling of being squeezed. The objective of yoga is to eliminate the duhkha and reach a state of lightness and openness within, which is called sukha. Avidya relates to duhkha in that every action deriving from avidya results in some form of duhkha. Duhkha can also be understood by looking at the three qualities of the mind which are described by yoga: tamas, rajas and sattva (all three together are collectively known as the guna). While tamas, the state of heaviness and lethargy, and rajas, the striving for action, restlessness, can produce duhkha, sattva, which refers to a clarity of mind, is the only one leading to a reduction of duhkha. The forces of duhkha limit our feeling of freedom and can limit us. Being aware of these forces within us is one step towards working to reduce duhkha.
I am going to stop here, since I am certain this is as much as someone can take when starting to dive into these old yoga concepts. But it already gives you an indication that yoga is, in fact, much more than some gymnastic or breathing excercises.
A much lighter read is A.G. Mohan’s ‘Yoga Reminder’. It is recommendable for everyone who would like to learn more about yoga, its concepts, meanings and different elements. Here are some quotes of the book that particularly stuck with me and changed the way I used to look at things and approached life:
„Unless we cultivate the ability to choose one peaceful thought over other thoughts, we will not be happy, even if all of our wishes are fulfilled“ (p. 11).
„From Steadiness arises the possibility of holding to positivity. A scattered mind cannot stay focused on a positive goal“ (p. 38).
„To bring steadiness and positivity to the mind, the body, the breath, and our senses, choices, and relationships – this is the goal of yoga“ (p.36).
Reading A. G. Mohan’s book made me realise some perhaps not so fruitful patterns in my lifestyle. The world is always changing around us. So indeed, the only thing we can control is how we approach and feel about these changes. Our minds might want to distract us, but the more steady our thoughts are, the more complete and content we feel. A scattered mindset can have an impact on our actions, as it diverts focus, and will make it more difficult to keep inner balance and positivity.
I hope this little glimpse into some of the concepts behind yoga will bring you some enlightenment as well.
T.K. Desinkachar: The Heart of Yoga
A.G. Mohan with Dr. Ganesh Mohan: Yoga Reminder – Lightened Reflections