The simplest answer is that Yoga is union with the True Self – a union between the mind and the Spirit, or in the words of the ancient yogis, Samadhi, enlightenment. In the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Book 1 Sutra 2 states, “Yogas Chitta Vritti Nirodhah, or, restraint of the modifications of the mindstuff is Yoga.” Most of us have heard this sutra and considered its deep meaning, and yet it still holds mystery.
Generally speaking, we have identified with our mind - whether we have a spiritual bent or not. Even if we’re immersed in spiritual practice, the mind usually retains its strong hold on our identity. What if this basic assumption of who we are was wrong? What if we have been putting all our eggs in the wrong basket?
Working from the perspective of the mind, we think of ourselves as humans trying to have a spiritual experience. What if we turned that around and considered ourselves spiritual beings having a temporary human experience? Could that be the essence of Yoga: this shift in perspective so small, and yet so powerful?
This new perspective is a uniquely positive one: We are Spirit, and though our mind and body are limited by space and time, we are not. We are the source of our own joy, and we have what we need within. There is a famous fable of a musk deer that is used to express this teaching. This deer spends its life searching for the source of an intoxicating musk fragrance. The deer climbs over mountains far and wide in its epic search, never finding the source of this incredible scent. It turns out that the musk deer has a gland in its own forehead – read third eye – that exudes this fragrant musk. Like a rabbit chasing a carrot attached to a stick, the deer is searching outside for something found within. Are we like the musk deer, ignorant of the source of our own happiness?
The Yoga teachings can be very subtle, and the mind can easily lull us into a state of dreamy ignorance where we don’t bother diving deep into these truths. It can take a traumatic event or deep pain to wake us up from our slumber and force us to consider these questions. Let's not wait for pain to wake us. Taking time to reflect on the essence of Yoga can lead us to some important insights into who we are and what we are identified with.
Here’s a quick translation I did of the some of the essential sutras to shed more light on these essential teachings and make them understandable in contemporary language. I encourage you to find a translation of the Yoga Sutras of Patanajali and read it on a regular basis; randomly choosing one sutra at a time, or reading it straight through.
A quick review of Sutras 1-6, 12-16 from Book 1 of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
1. We’re doing Yoga now (stop texting).
2. In stillness you can feel your heart open.
3. Then you know you’re home.
4. Otherwise you’re lost in the endless worry, fear and anxiety of life. You think it’s all so important.
5. Sometimes you feel relaxed and sometimes stressed, but in the end you need to go deeper to find the truth.
6. Your mind is either right or wrong, or you’re just making stuff up. You like to sleep and live in the past, but neither one holds the answer.
12. If you really want to understand then practice Yoga and release your grip on the world.
13. Practicing Yoga means paying attention…
14. …for a long time, not just a couple minutes. You have to really want it.
15. In the end, letting go is always the answer.