Yoga - Lost in Translation
If you think yoga is about putting on some overpriced stretchy clothing and twisting your body into a pretzel – well guess again!
Yoga is not a workout, it is a work in. Yoga is a process for process for personal transformation. It prescribes a path to reconnect our mind, body, and spirit, in order to regain our true self.
The Roots of Yoga
Yoga is rooted in the ancient Indian Philosophy of Samkhya, a branch of the Vedic tradition. Samkhya is same philosophy upon which the Buddha based his practice, to eventually become "the enlightened one."
The Sage Patanjali is attributed to having codified the 5000 year old philosophy of yoga into the Yoga Sutras around 2nd century BCE. The Yoga Sutras consist of 196 short passages explaining how to practice yoga, in order to experience "Citta Vritti Nirodha" - ceasing (nirodha) of the racings and misperceptions (vrittis) of the mind (citta). Then Tada drastuh svarupe vasthanam, the Seer dwells in its own true nature.
It is secular in nature, though it does offer focusing on a supreme being or a higher power as an option for meditation.
Yoga Postures - Asana
When most people think of yoga, they think of practicing Asanas (postures). Yet the Yoga Sutra describes so much more! Of the 196 sutras, only three focus on Asanas. Asanas play a key role in helping us release tension built up in the body in order to prepare the body for the meditation.
These three Asana focused sutras state:
YS 2.46 Sthira Sukham Asanam - the posture should be steady and comfortable. So remember – use the pose to get into your body, never force your body into a pose.
YS 2.47 - Prayatna Saithailya Ananta Samapattibhyam - the posture is mastered by the elimination of effort and the meditation on the unlimited.
YS 2.48: Tato Svandva Anabhighatah - When the posture is mastered, there is cessation of the disturbances caused by the dualities - the parusha (true self/consciouness/soul) & prakriti (all that which is created)
When performing Asanas, use your breath as your guide, if it becomes laboured or strained, pull back until you reach your edge - the point where your breath still flows at ease. It is not a competition.
"No pain no gain does not apply to Yoga" Indra Mohan
Why practice yoga?
The main purpose of yoga is to slow the vrittis - the racing thoughts, the misconceptions and misperceptions which arise in our minds. These vrittis are influenced by our past experiences and the impressions they have left on us. These latent impressions are called samskaras. They "cloud" the lens through which we see and experience the world. Our samskaras effect our thoughts, actions, bodily sensations, and emotions. This then creates more thoughts and perceptions, which manifest in our minds and bodies, further affecting our actions, habits, and thoughts. Thus, carrying on the cycle.
This vritti-samskara cycle reflects what science has proven - that “neurons that wire together, fire together.” Our experiences cause neurons to fire together and get coupled to each other such that the next time a situation is perceived or experienced, we may subconsciously react in a similar fashion. We can see how this is mostly beneficial for our survival, but sometimes can interfere with our ability to function.
Food poisoning - if we eat bad food and get sick we may lay down an impression that then reminds us next time we see that food to avoid it. This is an evolutionary response that can be protective. Usually, we are conscious or aware of this cycle.
Walking - we learn to walk as a baby, and it eventually becomes a subconcious action.
Anxiety – if we have experienced an anxiety-provoking situation in the past, the next time our minds sense a similar threat, we may immediately feel anxious again in our bodies and our minds. Often, we are not conscious of this cycle.
In being unaware of our vritti-samskara cycle, we are bound to repeat similar patterns and habits. In repeating our patterns and habits, those neural pathways becomes stronger, and so does the automatic responses in our minds and our bodies. This can cause prolonged suffering in states of anxiety, anger, depression or pain.
In developing a practice of smrti (mindfulness) we can become more aware of what is actually happening in this moment. Through svadyaya (self-study), we may come t understand our vritti-samskara cycles. In developing a practice of maitri karuna (loving-kindness and compassion), we can self soothe and find the courage and strength for pratipaksha bhavana, "to begin to move in the opposite direction." With a conscious effort, we can change or reverse the vritti-samskara cycle, in our minds and bodies. As our practice strengthens, we may come to know who we really are, and hopefully free ourselves from the cycles that cause us to suffer.
The philosophy and psychology of many modern psychotherapeutic methods are reflected in the Yoga Sutra – including cognitive behaviour therapy, psychodynamic psychotherapy, mindful and compassion based therapies. Those who have studied the Yoga Sutras will attest that it is all there and is even the root source of many of these schools of thought. Although science is now proving the neurophysiology of these practices, it is not new knowledge. Our Ancestors have known this for thousands of years.
For more information on Yoga Philosophy please see the dedicated section in Recommended Reading. For more information on how yoga is evolving as a medical treatment, follow me on Twitter, Facebook (see links below), or join my mailing list!