Until I went for my yoga teacher training at the Swami Satchidananda Ashram in Yogaville, VA in 1996, I had never heard of Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Before that my yoga practice consisted of about a 40 minute session of a few asanas which I practiced, on an average, 3-4 times a week. The only other "yoga" training that I had prior to that was introduction to Transcendental Meditation â„¢ for which I had gone to the Mahesh Yogi ashram in Rishikesh in late sixties. In the beginning I practiced meditation twice a day for 20 minutes each, as guided by the TM teacher. Unfortunately, gradually my meditation practice became irregular and I started skipping days or even weeks at a time. During my TT course at Yogaville, in addition to the asanas we were introduced to different types of pranayama (breathing) practices and meditation. After this training my own individual practice became much more well-rounded and integrated and now includes asana, pranayama, meditation and study of scriptures.
It was during this 4-week training at Yogaville that I got my first exposure to yoga philosophy. Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (YSP) and Bhagavad Gita (BG), two of the main scriptures related to yoga, were part of the study curriculum for the course. Even though YSP was covered in brief over maybe 8-10 hours, I found it fascinating because the whole treatment of the subject seemed highly scientific and logical. What really intrigued me the most was the very definition of yoga
Up until then, like most other people, I had equated yoga with simply asanas. What was emphasized during the TT program was that yoga was much more than simply a practice of asanas. This definition clearly showed that yoga was more about making the mind steady and calm than simply making the body strong and flexible. This brief introduction to YSP and the Gita piqued my interest enough that I was motivated to study them further after the course was over.
After the course, I decided to go through the commentary on YSP by Sw. Satchidananda like a story-book, basically to get an idea, at a very high level, of what it contained. And that’s all I really got as a result of that reading. But this reading convinced me that I needed to spend much more time to grasp the various concepts given in the text. I then started going through the text a little more carefully trying to grasp the deeper meaning of the sutras. However, I found the going quite tough as the sturas are very terse and cryptic statements. Even with the commentary I found it hard to grasp the full meaning of several of the sutras. At that time, I decided to establish a study group with a few interested members so we could collectively make the effort to untie some of the tough knots in the text. Despite my best efforts I couldn’t gather more than 4 people to join the group. We started meeting twice a month. Unfortunately, even this group of 4 was unable to meet on a regular basis. So, after about one year the group just disintegrated and I was again left to my own individual efforts. In the meantime, I had also joined a Bhagavad Gita Study group where we read the commentary on the Gita by Swami Dayananda of Arsha Vidya in PA.
After moving to North Carolina in early 2006, I was able to form a new study group to study the sutras in depth. The group has been meeting twice a month for the last four years now. We are studying commentary by three different authors and are currently studying the second chapter. Studying the sutras from three different viewpoints, supplemented with discussion within the group, has truly been a most enriching experience.
Studying the sutras has truly been a transformational experience for me. The concepts have been presented in a very scientific and logical manner and are of immense practical value in molding our day-to-day life. The main theme of the sutras is to analyze the mind thoroughly and understand its functioning at the deepest levels. The sutras make us understand that most of our problems are created by us in our own minds. In order to solve these problems we have to develop a deeper understanding of the mind and then work on cleansing it of all the negative emotions and tendencies. By working on the mind repeatedly we can gradually make it sharper and cleaner so that our intellect can function at a level which is not influenced negatively by the ego.
Patanjali has given us the eight limbs of yoga – Ashtanga Yoga – as a set of tools that we can practice.Â When practiced diligently over a long period of time, these tools can bring about the desired result of cleansing and purifying the mind so that it can stay calm and collected even in the most dire circumstances.Â
In some of the future blog posts I would like to cover various aspects of Ashtanga Yoga and how we can apply them to enrich our daily lives.