This essay was written by one of this year’s graduating 200 Hours Part Time Teacher Training students. I am continually inspired by the capacity for growth, self-insight and change that can be achieved in a relatively short space of time through commitment to practice! Enjoy!
Patanjali defines his understanding of the word as The ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions.
Through consistent and appropriate practice for one’s individual needs we are then able to successfully move toward, reach and maintain the state of yoga. From a personal perspective I found yoga sutra: 1.16, to really resonate with my experience;
When an individual has achieved complete understanding of his true self, he will no longer be disturbed by the distracting influences within and around him.
Through deepening my practice, and spending more time each day in seated meditation, looking inwardly and dedicating a space for self-inquiry, I have found the ability to connect with my truest self. Every day I am able to live and make decisions from this place more consistently and I feel less and less influenced by many aspects of mundane society. Through my teenage years I was so absorbed by my physical body, often looking to change parts of me to ‘fit in’ in a sense. But I now have come to the realisation of how irrelevant it truly is to be consistently striving for others approval. The more I connect with my inner self, I am able to let these thoughts and emotions fall away and live from a space of truth and clarity. A beautiful quote to summarise this personal experience ?
It was when I stopped searching for home within others
and lifted the foundations of home within myself,
I found there were no roots more intimate
than those between a mind and body
that have decided to be whole.
The practice of yoga must reduce both physical and mental impurities. It is necessary to remove the obstacles in our life in order to achieve clear perception. The obstacles we face are misapprehensions, confused values, excessive attachments, unreasonable dislikes and insecurity. If these obstacles are present during the initiation or execution of an action the outcome will be undesirable or painful. If the mind is cleared of the obstacles that cloud real perception there can be no errors or flaws in perception. Actions are freed from regrettable consequences.
The eight limbs of yoga act as a guideline as to how to cultivate a purposeful, intentional and directed life. Each limb is part of a holistic focus which eventually brings completeness to the individual as they find their connectivity to the divine.
- Yama – Social code. Harmonising one?s interactions with others.
Ahimsa/non-violence – gentleness of speech and action
Satya/truthfulness of speech – refraining from deliberate untruths or covering of the truth
Asteya/honesty in action – non-stealing or to refrain from taking that which does not belong.
Brahmacharya/sensual restraint – moderation in all our actions and pursuits, particularly in the indulgence of sensory pleasures
Aparagraha/non-acquisitiveness – the ability to accept only that which we truly deserve or truly belongs to us.
I have found these codes to be of great benefit within my personal life. Whenever I feel conflict arising with someone, I am able to refer back to the Yama’s as a guideline for my actions. I feel as though I struggle with satya the most, as I tend to -sugar coat- the truth in order to please others and/or avoid conflict. This is something I hope to continue observing and working on.
- Niyama – Personal Code. Codes of discipline for oneself.
Shaucha/cleanliness – keeping our bodies and surroundings clean and neat, within and without.
Santosha/contentment – cultivation of the ability to be content
Tapas/austerity – the removal of impurities in our bodies and minds through correct habits of diet, sleep, exercise, work and relaxation.
Swadya/self-study – Knowledge of the self, through looking within and objectively observing our patterns and tendencies.
Ishwara Pranidhana/surrender to god – acknowledgement that there is something greater and wiser than ourselves in control.
When I can feel myself getting overwhelmed with what?s going on in my exterior life, I find working through the niyamas to bring clarity and fulfilment. The opportunity to practice the niyamas arise every day, I find these codes to not only be the foundation for bodily health but are also the doorway to deeper and more tranquil states of meditation.
- Asana – Physical Posture
- Pranayama – The expansion of the dimension of prana
- Pratyahara – Withdrawal of the mind from the impressions of the senses.
- Dharana – Concentration
- Dhyana – Meditation
- Samadhi – Union
Our behaviour changes gradually as we progress along the yoga path, a path that is determined by the desire to better ourselves by any means. In conception through a child?s full development, all the limbs of the foetus grow simultaneously; the body does not sprout an arm first, then a leg, and so on. Similarly, on the path of yoga all eight aspects develop concurrently and in an interrelated way.
In accordance to the teaching of Samkyha, the universe is divided into two categories: purusha and prakiti. Purusha is the soul, the self, pure consciousness, and the only source of consciousness. The word literally means ‘man.’ It is not subject to change. On the other hand, prakiti is subject to constant change as it is that which is created all matter, even our mind, thoughts feelings and memories. Purusha, pure and distant, is beyond subject and object. One cannot understand purusha, for that would make it an object. Purusha cannot know or understand anything either, for that would make purusha a subject. Purusha simply just is. Everything that falls into the category of prakiti has a common source pradhana, a word that refers to the original matter from which all things are formed, the spring from which all life flows.
The yoga sutra says that the purusha can only can only be seen by means of the mind chitta. Chitta is the vast data warehouse where all past memories, images, thoughts, feelings, desires, emotions, samskaras and other forms of impressions of an individual are stored. These memories and impressions may belong to the current life of an individual, or even his or her previous lives. If the mind is foggy then the perception will also be foggy, which will as a result affect the purusha. However if the mind is clear, then its powers of observation are at their best.
The conditioning of the mind that allows one to continually carry out the same emotional and mental patterns, as well as individual impressions, ideas, or actions make up our samskaras. It is the sum total of all our actions that conditions us to behave in a particular way. Through the practice of yoga we aim to create new samskaras that will have a positive impact on our life and smooth out the grooves that do not.
When the new behaviour patterns become stronger, the old ones have less hold onto our state of being. This year I have found many patterns of my existence that I thought were regimented have begun to fall away. I am able to see all the branches of Avidya were quite prominent in my lifestyle choices. Raga I feel as though I had excessive attachment to what I deemed as pleasurable thinking it was contributing to my happiness. I was constantly seeking happiness outside of myself, through possessions, people and relationships as I was under the impression my exterior defined who I was. Another root of my suffering was Dwesha ? which is excessive aversion or repulsion. I feel as though I rejected all negative emotion I was feeling, pushing it under the surface and not allowing my emotions to move through me. Through these old patterns I found many limitations and blockages on my path to self-discovery. As I have observed them fading away, a new spaciousness has begun to reveal its self, enabling me to step more and more into my being with comfortability and ease.
Patanjali describes the five functions of the mind to ultimately help us reduce our suffering. When one is able to observe without reaction, there is an ability to more easily differentiate the mind and all of its fluctuations from our true nature. Almost like stepping out of yourself and observing the functions of the mind, without being attached, just simply becoming an observer.
There are five main fluctuations of the mind known as the Vrittis.
Correct knowledge (pramana)
Incorrect knowledge (viparyaya)
Imagination or fantasy (vikalpa)
By being able to recognise these functions and learning how the mind works, the foundation to seeing our true nature as separate from the mind becomes clearer. The main purpose or goal of yoga is self-realisation. Pure consciousness; Samadhi, which means ?to bring together, to merge. Nothing separates us from the object of choice, instead we blend and become one with it.
I am filled with passion and love for this journey to yoga. It is so much more than a collection of asanas or devotional practices, it is an entire transformation of a body, mind and spirit in order to reach complete wholeness. I have learnt so much in this past year and am able to bring these practices into my everyday being. I look forward to where this pathway will take me as I feel it is only the beginning.
“Practice, practice.? All is coming.” – Pattabhi Jois