While sweating your way through an intense yoga asana class is a great way to cleanse and tone the body and reduce the stress of day-to-day life, the practice of yoga goes much deeper than just the physical. The philosophy behind yoga practice comes from an ancient text called the Yoga Sutras, which dates back to approximately 200BCE. Although the text is over 2000 years old, the major themes of the book are still quite relevant today to anyone trying to live a conscious spiritual life. To the true yogi, ‘yoga practice’ is not just what we do in class when we roll out our mats to stretch. The real yoga practice is the way that we think, speak, move, and act through every moment of each day. In the same way that we learn to move and place our bodies deliberately through asana practice, we can learn to act in the world in a way that is deliberate and in alignment with our own highest truth. Every conversation or disagreement, every interaction, every task, every waking moment in fact becomes another opportunity to hone our skill of mindful, compassionate action.
In the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali identifies what he calls ‘citta vritti’ or ‘the turnings of the mind’ as the main cause of human suffering. From his perspective, what causes unhappiness isn’t so much the stuff that is going on in our lives as it is the way that we process it, worry about it, and replay it over and over again in our minds. It is these neurotic turnings of the mind that disconnect us from the truth of who we are and the beauty of our existence. The goal of yoga practice then is to still the mind so as to reduce suffering such that we can abide in the limitless freedom that is our true nature. Patanjali lays out an 8-limbed path by which one may arrive at this state of mental stillness. In the coming months, I will be expanding on this philosophy and offering a brief overview of each of the limbs of yoga to feed your growing understanding. I hope you find it helpful and meaningful.
Watch your thoughts, they become words; Watch your words, they become actions; Watch your actions, they become habits; Watch your habits, they become character; Watch your character, it becomes your destiny. (Anonymous)