Sunday, September 26, 2010

Where the Rivers Converge.

. . .there is no one right way for people to live.
There never has been and never will be.1 - Daniel Quinn

I find yoga to be in agreement with this statement by the writer Daniel Quinn. There is no one way to practice yoga. Instead, there are many diverse ways for people to reach the state of yoga just as there are many rivers that empty into the same ocean. The Yoga Sutras recognize this by including many different paths of yoga; it provides a place for the rivers to converge.

A big chunk of Chapter I (see I:23-39) is basically a list of choices on how to practice yoga. Choices! How refreshing! In a world that seems to want to move towards one large mono-culture, yoga may be able to help us value tolerance and diversity instead. One of my favorite sutras in this list is:

I:39 yathabhimata dhyanad va
Or by meditation on anything that appeals to one as good.2

This sutra really highlights the universality of yoga. Anything you choose can become your focus of meditation. It doesn't matter what religion, or non-religion that you may practice. There is still something for everyone. While reading a new book that I got from the library, The Mirror of Yoga, I came across the following bit that expresses a similar idea to sutra I:39: "We hone the skill of focusing the mind on whatever pattern of perception it lights upon; whatever we are thinking, feeling, sensing, emoting becomes the object of meditation."3

So, there are many ways to still the mind, perhaps as many as there are people. In the beginning of our practice we should be encouraged to use a process of trial and error to find out what works for us. Chapter I (Samadhi Pada) of The Yoga Sutras gives many different 1-step plans to reach samadhi (the ultimate state of yoga). For some, putting into practice just one of these sutras (I:23-39) will do it for them. Although I find the 1-step plans in Chapter I inspiring, I don't think I'm quite cut out for one of them. I still cling to too much baggage, so I can't just jump on the next flight on standby with no check-ins or carry-ons. But fear not! For people like me there is Chapter II, where we will turn to in the next portion of Yoga Goggles.

A little inter-spiritual extra credit: Can you find any similarities between The Yoga Sutras and texts from other traditions like The Tao Te Ching, The Dhammapada, or The Bible?

1. Quinn, Daniel. Beyond Civilization. Three Riviers Press. NY, 1999. (pg. 96)
2. trans. by Swami Vivekananda. Raja-Yoga. Revised ed. Ramakrishna-Vivekananda Center. NY, 1955. (pg. 134)
3. Freeman, Richard. The Mirror of Yoga. Shambala, Boston and London, 2010. (pg. 14)

Sunday, September 12, 2010

Are the Batteries Included?

Yoga Sutra I.12: abhyasa vairagyabhyam tan nirodhah
The mind can be stilled with practice and detachment.

Yes, a "yoga battery" is included! It can be found in sutra I.12. On the positive side we have practice (abhyasa) and on the negative, detachment (vairagya). This is the first sutra to answer the question "how do I still the mind?" And the answer is the same way a battery makes things work: with a positive and a negative charge. It needs both to function. All yoga practices should be balanced with detachment from the results.

As a teenager, I loved basketball. I practiced shooting hoops everyday. My goal was to make the highly competitive basketball team at my school. When try-outs came around, I played poorly in part because I was so worried about what the coaches were thinking that I couldn't focus on what I was doing. The other part was that my practice to prepare for try-outs was centered around shooting baskets and I failed to improve the most important part of the game: defensive skills. Worst of all, after getting cut, I just quit playing all together. I was attached to the results of my practice to the point where I lost the enjoyment of the game.

Asana (yoga postures) is the most well known yogic practice in the Western World, and is often practiced without detachment. Asana is a great way to explore the body and prepare it to sit in meditation, but without detachment you risk becoming an asana junkie. I almost became one myself.

Another risk is allowing your yoga to be aligned with materialism, commercialism and consumerism instead of detachment. Don't get sold on the false idea that before you can practice yoga and be happy you need to go out and buy a bunch of stuff like a high performance yoga mat with a designer mat bag, a strap, block and ball as well. You will also need some fashionable yoga clothes, a couple pairs of yoga toes and yoga paws, a box of Power Bars, a case of Vitamin Water . . . the list can go on and on. Instead, try lighting your load by giving away stuff.

More on The Yoga Sutras: Sutra I.12. is the key to all the other sutras that prescribe practices. For example The 8 Limbs of Yoga that are introduced in Chapter II all have aspects of both abhyasa (systematic practice) and vairagya (detachment). Some, however, are more dominated by practice while others by detachment. Thus, The 8 Limbs can also be grouped into two larger categories: limbs 1-4 fall under abhyasa, and Limbs 5-8 fall under vairagya.

A parallel reading to sutra I.12 can be found in The Bhagavad Gita (6:35).