What is yoga? Where & how do we begin the journey to end self-created suffering, to increase our intelligence, and to reach that joy which is ever new & always ready to receive us?
I always enjoyed listening to Guruji, my yoga teacher, the late Sri K. Pattabhi Jois say, “Yoga means controlling your mind (YS 1.02).” Such a simple succinct definition - precisely the definition as expressed by Patañjali in the Yoga Sūtras. For many of us however, the mind tends to be restless & easily distracted; it is seemingly impossible to control for longer than a moment or two at a time. Arjuna expressed this to Śrī Kṛṣṇa in response to his need to control his mind in order to skillfully accomplish the task put forth to him - “The mind is more difficult to control than the wind!” (Bhagavad Gītā 6.34).
As yoga practitioners we are very fortunate to know the body-centered tools of breathing, gazing & posture. The usefulness of these tools, though, goes beyond just the yoga postures in which we use them. They can be used anytime to bring us back to the here & the now (YS 1.01 - atha), to bring us from imbalance to balance. The key thing here is developing the ability to recognize when the mind has gone rogue and taken control of us. When the mind takes over, efficiency lost, our efforts to do the task at hand becomes impaired. Drama wastes precious intelligence directing it down an unproductive track. It also brings tension into the body and perpetuates our chronic physical issues. A balanced & focused mind harnesses creative thought, maximizes efficiency of effort & sustains our energy.
Let’s look at the different things that happen to us when the mind becomes imbalanced (YS 1.31):
Tightness in the face or chest (or tension anywhere in the body) arises from stressful responses to thoughts or situations - such as worry, grief or a hurt sense of pride - and our sense of joy is lost. This suffering is called Duḥkha.
Cursing others, thinking how little they deserve their good fortune, and the like fills us with negativity and does nothing to help resolve any issues. Rather it generally inflames situations. This negative thinking is called Daurmanasya.
Restless energy or nervousness wastes our precious vitality. This ungrounded energy should be calmed & settled to preserve our life-force, our nerve-energy; this will improve our focus, increase endurance and extend our longevity. Restless nervous fidgeting is called Aṅgamejayatva.
Clam even breathing is a beautiful sign of a clear focused mind. Breath always reflects the quality of our actions & emotions. The breath and the mind work together in perfect tandem. The breath is the link between the internal & external - literally! Energetically too it connects the subconscious functions of the body with our conscious motor functions. So, when the mind & emotions become imbalanced the breath reveals this by becoming uneven and / or rough. Interestingly, with intense emotions, the inhale becomes stronger than the exhale. Because of this, the strength of exhale needs to be developed first; it forms the foundation for mental emotional balance as well as stability in the central nervous system. Rough, uneven breathing is called Śvāsa-praśvāsa.
DEW: Ideally what we want is a healthy Distant Early Warning system in place so that we can restore our equilibrium before an imbalanced mind makes too many decision that we will regret later - ugh!
Yoga Sūtra 1.31: duḥkha-daurmanasya-aṅgamejatva-śvāsa-praśvāsāḥ citta-vikṣepa-sahabhuvaḥ
Happy practicing 24 / 7 / 365!
-- Based on the Yoga Sūtras of Mahā Ṛṣi Śrī Patañjali --
We are honored to have David Andrew at Ignite April 13-15. He will be offering workshops on Yoga Poses, Sanskrit & Philosophy.
Click here for more details and to sign-up
At Ignite Yoga, we believe that yoga is for everyone–For people of all ages and all walks of life.