Wednesday, February 8, 2012

Studying the Yoga Sutras, Part I

By Lisa Dawn Angerame

Editor's Note: Lisa will be writing a series of blog posts about studying the Yoga Sutras. This is the first in the series.

I bought my first copy of Bhagavan Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras almost ten years ago.  Perhaps you have the same one?  The cover is light blue and there is a picture of Swami Satchitananda in his flowing pink robes and gray beard.  The book is filled with Swamiji’s teachings on the Sutras, his commentary, and wonderful stories that bring the teachings down to earth.  Over the years, I have amassed my own small library of Yoga Sutras. To date, I count 25 different copies, two apps on my iPhone, and three recordings.  I have become a little obsessed!

One day, about a year and a half ago, I was on a retreat and the afternoon was dedicated to study of the Sutras. My teacher, Jeffrey, was explaining that to quiet the mind, there are many ways.  We could focus on cultivating positive attitudes toward others, or by regulating our breath, or by concentrating on our sense perception, or by focusing on the light of another, or by imagining a clear mind, or by meditating on the experience of deep sleep. Then he said that if none of these methods work, just contemplate on any object of your choosing, one that will bring about stability and tranquility. It was something about the way Jeffrey said “or.”  For the first time, I saw a flow in the Sutras. I could do this…or that…or this? With this revelation, I began my studies anew. 

Yoga is one of six philosophical systems from ancient India and the Sutras are essentially the yoga bible.  Having experienced transcendental states, going beyond time and mind, Bhagavan Patanjali compiled his teachings into four books in order that the rest of us could learn to do the same.  In 196 short statements, Bhagavan Patanjali teaches us practical methods to attaining ultimate freedom, yoga.

It is said that to understand the first four Sutras is to understand yoga:

“Now, I vow to you that yoga is when the activities of the mind are arrested and you abide in your own true nature.  At other times, you don’t.” 

Bhagavan Patanjali is vowing that based on scripture, scripture that he studied and practiced, he is now going to tell us about yoga. Yoga is the state of mind when we are able to hold on to one thought of our choosing, not allowing the mind to jump all over the place. When we are able to hold on to one thought, this is yoga and we dwell in and experience our own true nature. Our true nature is peace and happiness. When we are not holding on to one thought of our choice, and we are involved in the activities, the fluctuations, the whirlings of the mind, we are not experiencing our true nature.  

Contemplate this.  It is such a sweet, simple proposition.  But how do we accomplish it? Stay tuned.  This is the first of many posts on the Yoga Sutras!

Lisa Dawn has been studying the Yoga Sutras in depth with master teacher A. G. Mohan of India.  She has memorized all four books and teaches small groups. 

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