Cultivating awareness. Simple ideas such as those found in the philosophy of yoga can be explored through practical experience and support us to refine what we do and understand ourselves better. Here I am going to present some ideas underpinning the practice of yoga which are taken from a text called Patanjali's Yoga Sutras which was compiled around 400CE. In the opening part of this text we are invited to practise cultivating good awareness through yoga in order to become more present, more stable, grounded and centred in ourselves and in our actions. This concept is embedded throughout the teachings of yoga.
Patanjali's Yoga Sutras are often referred to as the heart text of yoga. It is made up of 196 short sutras – carefully chosen sanskrit words which are threaded together to form short sentences or phrases. The sutras are deliberately sparse but at the same time full, rich and open to interpretation. Because the Sanskrit words rarely translate neatly into English we are encouraged to find different ways to explore the ideas to discover the essence of their meanings for ourselves by applying them to our own experiences or situation.
Atha Yoganusasanam is the opening sutra presented in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras and sets the tone for the whole text. I have translated it to mean that “the authentic and direct experience of yoga brings us back into the present moment,” Atha means now, a call to become more in-tune with ourselves and more established in the present moment. Yoga means to join, to yolk or to unite and can be seen as both a state of being and a practice, the process of bringing things together and creating a healthy state of unity. Anusasanam means living or direct experience taken from the root sastra, which means authentic. And so anything we do which focusses our attention back into the present moment can be seen as a process of yoga
The authentic practice of yoga brings us back into the present moment:
The ideas presented in the philosophy of yoga, are generally very simple and can help us to keep our feet on the ground without feeling overwhelmed. Each time we revisit ideas such as the sutra above we can explore them in slightly different ways and experience them in a different light to meet our current situation and needs; in this way the philosophy of yoga continues to evolve, to stay relevant and current. The ideas presented remain universal in the same way as Shakespeare or Aristotle. They capture something of the essence of human behaviour and psychology and act as a logical support which can inspire us to refine what we do and provide the space and awareness we need to work out what is important. My view of these teachings is that they provide a stable backdrop for the practise of yoga and act as a reflective tool for practitioners to maintain a grounded and logical approach. The longevity of the yoga sutras is inspiring and it is always humbling to me to think that these ancient ideas are still so current and steeped in logic and clarity.