It’s a relatively well-known fact that one of the founding Yoga texts, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, doesn’t mention much about asana. In fact, the only reference the sutras make to physical postures rather plainly states the importance of sitting comfortably.1 This might seem at odds with the plethora of physical variations of yoga now readily available. So if the physical stuff has evolved from somewhere, what’s at the beating heart of yoga?
If it’s not physical, what is yoga?
“Yogas Citta Vritti Nirodhah”
Yoga is the cessation of the modifications of the mind-stuff.
– Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
Yoga is a deeply psychological practice. Patanjali explains, during the four books of his iconic Yoga Sutras, how yoga can bring about a stilling of the mind, and with it, a deep peace. One that allows us to disengage from some of the heavy mental noise roused in us by our busy daily lives; and potentially to reach a lighter, perhaps more enlightened, way of being.
Yoga is about awareness and perception
It’s about being able to see. Not just to see what you want to see, but to see things as they really are. Yoga asks us to look more closely at all aspects of our lives – to investigate and question ourselves, our assumptions, judgements, likes and dislikes, as well as own practice. It is a thoroughly demanding yet ultimately forgiving discipline.
Yoga offers insight into things as they really are
Yoga believes that it is through reflection and self-study that we gain insight into who and how we are – individually, to start with, but ultimately as a collective, as a whole. Yoga believes that we as individuals are part of a greater, global whole that includes everything in the universe. But we are also whole within ourselves. The teachings of the Vedic texts suggest that within each individual (atman, the individual self) lies the collective, higher consciousness (brahman, the unifying, transcendent, immanent nature of reality). So, we are connected, and we realise this connection through awareness. Awareness grows as we learn to pay attention, learn to live more fully in the present moment, seeing things as they are, without distortion. For when we see without distortion we comprehend that the present moment is the only place we have in which to live.
Connected: everything is yoga, yoga is everything
Seen from this angle, an integrated perspective, yoga becomes the calming down of the frantic oscillations of the mind. And we might therefore start to recognise it in other parts of life. You might think, ‘I’m really in the zone when I’m cycling.’ Or baking. Or reading. Or carpentry… singing; climbing; mending grandfather clocks, whatever brings you peace. Really, it could be anything, if it is done with a particular kind of attention that makes you feel more at one with yourself and with life.
Some of the most yogic people in the world might never go to a yoga class in the entire course of their existence. This is possible because yoga transcends what you do. It’s all about how you do it. Yoga is the experience of union with oneself, and with life, and once we understand that, we may find yoga anywhere and everywhere.