Pure coincidence…3 years ago I wrote a blog post with the exact same title “what is yoga?” Clearly, this is a popular writing because I also blogged on the thought “what is yoga?” back in 2007 too (read it here). The 3rd time is a charm, right?
Staying with the commitment I stated in my last blog post, 2012 is my year for digging deeper into my yoga book studies starting with The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Given I touched on yoga sutra 1.1 in the previous post, it seems logical to move to sutra 1.2 which is where Patanjali offers his answer to “what is yoga?”. Patanjali states: yogash chitta vritti nirodhah Translations of Patanjali’s sutra 1.2 include:
- Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence (Alistair Shearer)
- The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga (Sri Swami Satchidananda)
- Yoga is union -union of body, mind & spirit (which I touched on here back in 2007)
Over the years, the first image that has always frequently come to my mind when reading this sutra is a silhouette of someone meditating in a serene setting —such as by an ocean, on a mountain top or in a empty/quiet room painted in calm colors. On the outside it appears in my image one can easily “settle the mind into silence” by being outside in nature or an empty space clear of daily distractions, technology or life’s dramas.
The reality is it takes a lot of sitting to catch just a few brief moments of silence (i.e. settling the mind) and no matter how peaceful the external environment may appear, the internal environment is constantly challenged. Random thinking (aka modifications/fluctuations of the mind, vritti, thought-waves) is usually happening about a past event or the mind is fretting over a future task. This is true whether you practice yoga or not. Yogis and non-yogis alike are challenged every moment by mind chatter.
So I’ve come to conclude that yoga isn’t the only way to silence the mind. When one just feels 100% connected to the flow of life, moment by moment in a way that can only be experienced, and at the same time not fully explained, one is in a state of yoga. For instance, we’ve all read about athletes being in the “zone” —those brief moments where every movement just fell effortlessly into place (the mind is silent and the body just follows).
Or consider my Dad…this past weekend while I was home in Delaware for my Niece’s 4th birthday “princess” theme party, my Dad described how focused he is when he dances (he’s retired now so he dances daily & teaches periodically for fun —go Dad!). Even though he has never stepped on a yoga mat or sat on a meditation cushion (and probably never will), it sounded like he’s experienced yoga. When he dances he is so fully in the moment that nothing else matters (not event the chatter of my dear Mother speaking to him).
As for the 20 million+ Americans that practice yoga asana, I think the best (and most often) true by definition yogic experience according to sutra 1.2 that happens for many is in savasana (aka final relaxation or corpse pose). It’s in this pose that one can sometimes catch a glimpse of being at complete ease in the body, still in the mind and connected to a deep sense peace. I’ve often said if I could bottle this feeling, I’d be rich!
What I love about The Yoga Sutras is they are completely open to interpretation based on personal experience. Given there are numerous translations available (my yoga library alone has 6-7), I think you’ll agree. With that said, what is your definition of yoga?