I am not yet a ‘seasoned professional’ but I am gregarious and spend a lot of time trying to understand the world of others- Trying to accept people for who they truly are as opposed to who I might expect or like them to be. Then the idea is to have a dialogue, which, when supported by an intimate relationship, can hopefully lead to some insight and growth on my part and theirs.
A recent graduate, I have my Masters in Counseling and will continue to work as a Registered Mental Health Counselor Intern until I earn enough hours to become licensed (credit to: Columbia University Teachers College). In my past life, I must have been a yogi because two years of daily practice and a 200hr teacher training later, I am head over heels in love (credit to: Sonic Yoga, NY- gurus Lauren Hanna, Jo Aldrich, Jeffrey Duval, Keith Partington, Tracy Mohr).
For years before I began to read the ‘Yoga Sutras’ for my teacher training, I understood and practiced only yoga asana (the poses). But the yoga sutras, or threads, are an integral part, and some would say the only part, of truly practicing yoga. As a psychology student and someone with a fairly open mind, however, it was simple for me to at least contemplate the sutras. It became even simpler for me to accept the sutras, finding honesty and guidance in each lesson. Following are small explanations of each of the four portions of the text.
Portion on Contemplation:
In the Samadhi Pada, or portion on contemplation, Patanjali communicates what yoga truly is; a practice that intends for us to refrain from getting caught in our minds and egos. “Did I make the right decision?” “Should I say this?” “Do I love him/her enough?” “I can’t.” “I’ll be embarrassed.” We look to society to tell us who to be and our confidence is contingent on our successes and on the opinions of others- “If flowery words make us happy but insults upset us, we know our minds are not yet strong” (Book two, pg. 147). Only when we are able to let go of that constant analyzing and modifying, can we maintain or return to our innate blissful state. This state is one of freedom- freedom from selfishness, guilt, fear, confusion, jealousy, and ultimately, suffering. If you have trouble believing that everyone’s true self could be similar to the peaceful nature of the Buddha or Gandhi, then think about what you would really have left if you shed all of the mindsets and habits that do not serve you. In book one, verse 33, Patanjali describes four attitudes that will allow us to maintain this peace of mind. Cultivating friendliness towards the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard for the wicked, we are able to retain our minds’ undisturbed calmness. Are these not words to live by? They certainly seem to solve all of life’s troubles. Someone is treating you badly? Stop seeing them. Your friend just met the ‘perfect guy’ while you are unhappily still single? Be glad for them and recognize your desire to find something similar. It is an antidote that dispels any thoughts that will most likely cause us to feel miserable and it is a gem of an idea to hold onto.
Portion on Practice:
In the Sadhana Pada, the portion on practice, Patanjali describes the way in which we tend to create our identities. Often we look to the physical world, or Prakriti, to define and fulfill us- “I am an artist, I am a brother, I expect my partner to behave this way, I want to be happy.” All of these expectations and stipulations amount to our frustration, disappointment, and worse, leave us farther away from our true nature. The world really becomes what we make of it, how we project onto it. If our mind is calm, accepting, and purposeful then we can come to realize these aspects of the environment. If we are stressed, hectic, gluttonous, ruminating, then our world is full of disease. Of course, there is the notion of nature and nurture, and sometimes our environment is sick even before our thoughts come; then we can realize that our environment is for work and for play, nothing else. It does not define how we feel, who we are, or what the meaning of life is- that portion remains inside of us, in our connection to a higher self. This self is present in everyone and everything and it is what is meant by ‘yoga.’ Patanjali introduces the eight-limbs of Raja or Ashtanga yoga in this portion, encouraging that we establish external-observances, such as not stealing from others, and self-restraints, such as abstinence. Non-stealing, or Asteya, can be seen in the example of a parent and child. The mother who allows her baby to go off and explore and then welcomes them back with open arms will foster a healthy relationship. Further, although abstinence, or Brachmacharya, may initially cause you to roll your eyes and sneer, it is a great example because it shows the realistic nature of this text. Patanjali says, “That doesn’t mean you must completely stay away from sex. Instead, be moderate. Finish your studies and then go into partnership with another person.” Sounds good to me.
Portion on Accomplishments:
As Americans, we have to love this portion of the Yoga Sutras, as it tells us what results we can expect to see from our yoga practice. Patanjali refers to these results as some sort of super-natural powers that we will be gifted if we focus our efforts on the last three limbs of the eight-limbed path. Concentration, meditation, and contemplation are by far the most difficult and the most elusive aspects of the practice of yoga in the West. For Dharana (concentration), we can think of what the psychology field is now coining as mindfulness. Bringing our attention and thoughts to the “here and now,” to a fixed object, to an intimate moment, we are able to temporarily refrain from interacting with the calamity waiting for us in our minds. Of course, there is always a next step to strive for, which includes Dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (contemplation, or bliss). It’s a bit disappointing to find out that meditation isn’t just sitting with your eyes closed and trying not to fall asleep, I know, but dhyana is essentially the point when you can meditate without even realizing that you’re doing it. Seconds turn to minutes, minutes turn to hours, and the bell of your alarm awakens you from this deep peaceful state that you’ve apparently and unknowingly entered. So if you do in fact know that you are meditating, then you’re really only concentrating. Isn’t that a hoot. I won’t get into the Samadhi (bliss) state because I just don’t really know what it truly is but in a few words I would say it is utopia in your mind, not here, but floating there, somewhere, where you can levitate from the ground and choose when you die- literally. Oh, and don’t count on reaching it until you eat, sleep, and breath this stuff for the rest of your life and many other reincarnations to come.
Portion on Absoluteness:
Again, another dicey section of the Yoga Sutras but one that I translate to mean that you were silly for thinking that your goal is to keep your mind peaceful, because it is actually to “rise above the mind and realize the ever-peaceful Self” (Book four, pg. 216). Again, it’s about realizing that you are not the environment (Prakriti), but the Purusha, or the perceiver/seer. We constantly get caught in believing that what we see is what is real and what matters. But this is all a trick, an illusion (Maya). Our minds and egos want so badly for us to believe that they are real, so they try and try and try to get us to personify their experiences. “Hey look at this! This matters. No? What about this? No? Okay… this? Yes! Gotcha!” The true practice of yoga lies in reminding ourselves, probably every day- yes, every day- that we are not our minds. In fact, we are much, much more than that. And isn’t that special?