Yoga Sūtra Verse 1.12
July 4, 2012 § Leave a comment
abhyāsa – practice; repeated or permanent exercise, discipline, use, habit, custom
vairāgyābhyāṁ – detachment, dispassion, vairāyga=absence of worldly passion, freedom from all worldly desires, indifference to worldly objects and to life; also change or loss of colour, growing pale; + abhyam=strongly, to attack or advance, to the point of pain
tat – that, those [vṛttis]
nirodhaḥ – controlled, restrained, overcome, re-channeled, redirected
“The [mind’s habits or influence (vṛttis)] are overcome by practice and by detachment for those things we cannot control.”
To understand why this all important verse taps into yoga’s very essence we will turn to the other great text on yoga – the Bhagavad Gita. We will explore one of the essential yoga lessons, taught in the famous dialog between Arjun-the world’s greatest warrior and Krishna-the incarnation of God taking the role of a humble chariot driver.
Catatonic on the battlefield
Cowering on the floor of his chariot, gripped by anxiety and deeply depressed, Arjuna, the once mighty hero and mystically imbued warrior, begs his friend and chariot driver Krishna for guidance.
Thus begins what is arguably the most important conversation in the history of yoga. Buried deep within the Sanskrit text called the Mahabharata, this conversation is known today as the Bhagavad Gita. In these 700 short Sanskrit verses, yoga’s essential meaning and its profound psychological and spiritual impact is poetically and tersely laid out.
Because yoga is a deep and profound science of the mind and soul, many people question what is the connection between yoga’s psycho-spiritual origins and today’s plethora of poses and postures. A connection does exist. The nature of this connection may come as a surprise to some. Understanding this connection will also give us a sense of how you can pursue the journey of self-realization and develop your untapped potential.
From down-dog to being calmed down
Yoga exercises in and of themselves can have a healing effect on the nervous system and by extension, on the mind. But most types of physical exercises: stretching, running, swimming… will have a similar effect. So what distinguishes yoga exercise from regular old exercise?
The answer is complex. We begin by distinguishing the ancient science of yoga from the current tighten-your-abs-yoga. Consider yoga’s underlying philosophy: you are not your body. This is the first issue that Krishna brings to Arjuna’s attention. The responsibility of waging an unavoidable war overwhelms Arjuna, despite his training as a great leader and hero. Seeing his friend in such anguish, Krishna (an avatar of God) lovingly tells him, “Silly man, you agonize unnecessarily. A wise man mourns neither the living nor the dead. After all, never has there been a time, not will there be a time, when you, I, or any of these great warriors cease to exist. “
Krishna tells Arjuna, not only are we not the body, we are also not the mind. We are something far subtler, subtler than we can imagine. We are indescribable, indestructible, spirit. Unfortunately, we identify with the body and the mind, thus severing our capacity to see beyond the mortal coil. Krishna describes the soul as an immortal being, a distinct personality of immutable character. Such a notion appeals to our sense of the mystical and transcendent, yet it taunts the limits of our imagination. Who can fully comprehend the implications of being an eternal soul?
According to yoga philosophy, it is this incomprehensibility that is at the core of the human dilemma. Unable to experience spirit we settle for body. The problem of identifying with the body and mind is their impermanent nature. Identifying with impermanence is like tying the psyche to a roller coaster.
So, our principle psychological problem is a crisis of identity. Fortunately, yoga’s core function is to heal identity. Yoga does not tell you who you are; it gives you the tools to discover who you are. To do this, yoga offers an escalating range of practices and experiences. These range from the mystical-the process of sitting in trance for thousands of years; to devotional-following the simple practice of being a servant of the servant of spirit.
Unfortunately, much of what yoga describes in the ancient texts is untenable to modern man. Even to Arjuna, who was hearing about meditational practices thousands of years ago, it appeared as too much. After Krishna describes the austere practice of mystic yoga, which requires living in a secluded place and intense practice to overcome the mind’s influence, Arjuna glumly states, “It would be easier to subdue the wind than to control the mind.
Krishna answers that success is possible if the seeker pursues the proper practice with the proper attitude.
The modern yogi’s practice: willing to feel
So what is that proper practice and attitude in modern times? One name for it is buddhi yoga. Buddhi yoga means the yoga of discrimination, also known as the yoga of mindfulness. In this practice, the modern yogi uses the fabric of daily life as fodder for practice. Gradually, connections between material activities and the nature of spirit begin to emerge. In one example, Krishna tells Arjuna, “I am the taste in water,” so we can remember that each sip connects us to spirit. Learning to see Spirit in everything is also known as Bhakti Yoga – the yoga of love.
This brings us to the connection between body work (asanas) and the yoga of mindfulness. Physical yoga is a chance to feel the body in a whole new way; by noticing what it feels like as an object of gravity or exploring fearlessly the sensations of inflexibility. In becoming available to new experiences, the relationship between the mind and the body begins to shift and reveal itself. [See box for sample exercise] Grounded by the feeling of existing separately from the body, the yogi is ready for the next stage.
Pranayama and meditation when done properly, deepen the journey. A journey, that inevitably becomes your unique journey of self discovery. Naturally within this journey, each of you must face your own mental barriers and release the dark luggage of your heart. In order to experience who we really are, we have to journey through who we are not.
Yoga, practiced with mindfulness, can teach you to feel. In fact meditation is a synonym for feeling everything. When a you become willing to feel everything, you become increasingly fearless. This in turn increases all the qualities of a great person: empathy, courage, adaptability, and responsiveness… all crucial traits for warriors, athletes, executives, and leaders.
A well-known saying in the American lexicon of idioms is, “nice guys finish last.” According to yoga philosophy this is partially true, but for a surprisingly different reason than one might expect. It is not that niceness, or kindness, or sensitivity are not desirable traits in a great person, they are absolutely desirable and essential. The problem is that simply being nice is not enough. Along with being nice, you must also be courageous.
In the modern practice of yoga, courage is born of the willingness to experience all aspects of the journey of self-realization. Remember that mindfulness and meditation are synonyms for, ‘the willingness to feel’. As you begin to heal your identity, you come in contact with many different experiences, some bright and enlivening, others dark and heart splitting. As a modern yogi you must be ready, even enthusiastic, to face the dark and the light. Otherwise, you will fail to heal your psyche. You will remain a victim. If you have the courage to face your fears and feel your body’s emotional pain, that changes everything.
Currently, the majority of yoga practitioners are women; this is a good time for them to start educating men in the importance of a holistic yoga practice. A complete yoga practice should teach mindfulness, courage and increased sensitivity. These are certainly the qualities of a heroic man. Since every man fantasizes about being a hero; what better way to encourage yoga practice than by teaching them to become modern yogis. In fact we should all endeavor to follow in the footsteps of Arjuna. By the end, Arjuna dedicates himself to mindfulness of spirit, and becomes the personification of service, kindness, and courage; in other words, a hero.
Sitting comfortably with your head neck and truck straight, eyes open (so you can read,) become aware of your body where it comes in contact with the earth.
Notice how the earth is providing continual support.
Notice what it feels like to be supported.
Now become aware of the sensation of weight.
Notice what it feels like to be an object of gravity.
Feel the sensation of weight in different parts of your body – from your head, to your shoulders, to your chest, trunk, hips, legs and feet…
Avoid using thoughts, rely instead on physical sensation, and really examine what weight and gravity feel like.
Now you are grounded.
Turn your attention to your breath.
Feel the breath as it comes into the nose and as it goes out of the nose.
Examine what it feels like to breathe, as if you were noticing it for the first time.
Feel the breath as intimately as you can.
Now you are centered.
Practice these simple steps as you walk about, drive a car, do yoga exercises, and when you meditate. Just feel weight, feel the breath, pick your favorite mantra, and gently whisper it into your own ears, focusing on what it feels like to hear… the results may surprise you.