Although a large part of my 200 hour YTT course is practical (covering asana, anatomy and the various realities of being a teacher), a significant part of it is based in yoga philosophy. It’s a part that I love, and that I’m determined to bring into my teaching – there’s so much for all of us to learn from the yoga that isn’t physical practice and I’m convinced that it can significantly better both our lives and those of the people around us.
Our current focus of study is Patanjali. Often referred to as the father of modern yoga, it is he who is responsible (perhaps 1,700-2,000 years ago – though this attracts much debate) for putting into written form what had previously only been passed on via an oral tradition, distilling the practice of yoga into 195 verses (or, literally, threads) known as the Yoga Sutras.
You’ll most likely hear talk of the ‘Sutras’ when you enter into a discussion about defining what yoga is, particularly Chapter 1 ,Verse 2: “Yogás Citta Vritti Nirodhah”. Translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda in my version of the book as “The restraint of the modification of the mind-stuff is Yoga”, this means to say that if you can still the activity of the mind and come to a realisation of the ‘Self’ you are in yoga, or ‘union’ (the literal translation of the word yoga).
Key to achieving this quietening or union, are Patanjali’s eight limbs of yoga (Chapter 2, Verse 29). From the basic abstinences and observances (yamas and niyamas respectively) to be followed in daily life, to physical practice (asana) and breath practice (pranayama), to withdrawal of the senses (pratyahara) and concentration (dharana), to meditation (dhyana), and ultimately a spiritual state of consciousness sometimes known as enlightenment (samadhi).
Tasked with selecting an area of the Sutras to study and present back to the class next month I’ve decided on an experiment in actually living the very foundations of Patanjali’s yoga – the ten yamas and niyamas.
I have just about a month, so I’ll be working through one yama and niyama every five days, trying to ‘live’ them in every sense of the word for the whole of that time. At the end of it, I hope to not only have learnt something, but to have garnered a true understanding of their challenges and benefits along with their relevance in the world today, .
First up, starting today, ahimsa (non-harm or non-violence) and sauca (purity and cleanliness). Watch this space for updates…