In this blog I would like to focus on the sage Patanjali’s most famous sutra: “yogas chitta vrtti nirodhah” often translated as “yoga is the calming/stilling of the thought waves of the mind”. In other words the practice of yoga aims to calm the mind down so that we learn to develop a steady attention.
Is this still possible in this day and age of modern technology and multitasking? In order to achieve Patanjali’s level of attention do we need to seek out our Himalayan cave and escape society or is it possible for us as modern city dwellers to achieve a hint of the peace that Patanjali is talking about?
There has been so much written about this sutra and great lengths have been taken to explain the key Sanskrit words, citta and vrtti but this is not my aim here. Please see various translations by the wise and wonderful such as Ravi Ravindra (www.ravindra.ca) Georg Feuerstein or Swami Satchidananda for example, for an in-depth explanation of the sutra itself. My aim here is to first identify what we mean by a calm mind (in the modern context, in daily life) and then to see if we can implement a few practical tips to help achieve a certain amount of peace.
As we all know we are daily, and sometimes unfortunately even nightly, bombarded by thoughts at the speed of light (or thereabouts). Commonly this erratic mind is referred to in yoga as “the monkey mind” because just like a wild monkey it jumps from branch to branch, never sitting still.
I like to compare the mind with the surface of a very choppy sea where there is a lot of movement and traffic created by the waves, the boats and the swimmers. With so much noise and turbulence on the surface it is impossible to see down to the beauty and to hear the silence lying below. So too with the mind … if we are continuously inhabiting the turbulent space of the surface we will never connect to the underlying peace and contentedness that is inherent deeper within ourselves. If we are continually engaging with the outer world and its noise there will never be enough space to listen to the silence, to see the beauty within and to connect to our innermost selves. Not only can we not connect to our innermost selves, we can also not truly connect with each other because we have no space to truly listen, to truly feel and to truly love. Therefore trying to find this calmness of mind is imperative not only for peace within ourselves but also for peace amongst ourselves, for peace with each other.
How do we access this peaceful state?
Patanjali, in his wisdom, spent the next 194 sutras explaining this. (Those of you interested in knowing a little more or getting your first taste of Patanjali are heartily invited to listen to our guest Ravi Ravindra on the 1st September 2014. Please see our workshops page for more information.)
I will however limit myself to giving you a few practical tips for daily life, most of which are already familiar to you.
First of all each one of us needs to identify what disturbs our mind the most. That takes a bit of self-study or Svadhyaya. I think I’m not wrong, however, if I broadly assume that for many of us modern technology, despite its many plus points, is definitely a disturbance to our inner peace.
Now it only remains for me to wish you all a wonderful summer filled with many peaceful, silent, contented moments as you dive deep, deep down away from the surface noise and into the silent depths of the bottom of a cool lake.
Hari om tat sat,
Long gone are the days when the word ‘yoga’ was confused with ‘yoghurt’, when your request to teach a few yoga classes in the local Church hall were met with a worried look on the face and the excuse that the church hall was full (although you knew that it was completely empty and unused during your requested times). Long gone are the days when yoga was considered foreign and subversive. These days yoga is a multi million dollar business with books and information on the subject available in every bookstore. Everybody knows something about yoga and new studios are popping up like mushrooms on every street corner as people jump on the bandwagon of its success. Every trendy young city dweller walks around with a yoga bag slung over their shoulder ready to hit the mat during their lunch break.
So what is yoga? What do we understand about it these days and why all the fuss? These and so many more questions I would like to share with you over the course of the next few blog entries in order to restore the vastness, the depth and the wealth of this tradition (no pun intended) which I feel has become lost in the jungle of our modern yoga practice. Leslie Kaminoff describes it in the following way: “yoga has been reduced to asana, and asana has been reduced to stretching the hamstrings”. What a beautifully succinct way of putting it, Leslie – thank you for your wisdom and wonderful way of expressing these things!
Like all aspects of humanity, once something becomes popular not only is it diluted but often it is reduced to its lowest common denominator. So what started off ca. 5000 years ago as an in-depth study of the condition of mankind and his existence on earth and subsequent spiritual journey back to the source has been reduced in our modern time to “stretching of the hamstrings”- not that this is a bad thing but just a very limited, reductionist approach to something that is aiming to aid mankind on all his levels of being – spiritual, mental, physical and emotional.
As most of you reading this will already know, the word ‘yoga’ stems from the Sanskrit word, ‘yuj’, meaning to unite, to yoke, to join (a symbol taken from joining the oxen to the cart in order to till the land). It is thus a joining of all aspects of our being so that the diverse parts of ourself learn to live in harmony with each other and our ever-fickle, unstable mind comes to peace and clarity. Patanjali sums it up as: “yoga citta vrtti nirodah” (Patanjali’s Sutras 1.2) – yoga is the calming of the thought waves of the mind (more about that later). It is also the joining of the microcosm of ourselves with the macrocosm of the universe – an understanding that we are part and parcel of our surroundings. We depend on the health of our environment in order to flourish and survive. And just coming to a true, deep understanding of this might wake us up to how much we need to care and look after our world.
The word ‘yoga’ also means relationship. What relationship do we have with ourselves, what relationship do we have with others? Are we peaceful, truthful, loving, kind or do we find this very difficult as we struggle to survive in an ever- competitive environment? How do we remain loving and compassionate when we are elbowed out of the way as someone takes our job? How do we remain open and accepting as our relationship breaks up and we see our beloved leave and walk off with someone else? So just in this introductory blog we can see the implications of a yoga practice. It is most certainly NOT JUST a physical exercise, it is most certainly NOT JUST the means to a healthier, sexier body, it is most certainly NOT a wellness holiday and has nothing to do with glamorous clothing, jewellery and whatever else is associated with yoga these days. These are just the glorious ramifications that we humans add to anything that becomes popular and sellable. The yoga market place has NOTHING to do with the true message of the practice, which is to strip away all the unnecessary outer layers of baggage that we accumulate during life and cut to the core of who we truly are. It is therefore not always an easy path as we find out a lot of things about ourselves that we would rather not know. As we shine the torch of the practice into the dark nooks and crannies of our bodies and minds we often see things lurking there that we would prefer to cover up with another layer of illusion and fluffy candy-floss dreams. So to conclude for today I would like to share my definition of the word ‘yoga’ with you: “It is a work in progress. It is a continuous shining of the torch of truth into ourselves, it is a breaking of the shell of our outer ignorance so that we may see who and what we are.”
Hari om tat sat.