Sutra 1.2: What is yoga?

This February Satmato Yoga Therapy turned 3, I am celebrating 10 years of teaching yoga, and it is one year after we launched a successful crowdfund to fund and start Rainier Beach Yoga! We are chugging along with the studio construction and we hope to be open in the next couple months!

Last month I shared the first sutra of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali: Atha yoganusasanam, “Now begins the instruction on the practice of Yoga.” If you want to read more about this sutra go here.

If we are going to learn about the instruction of yoga the first question might be what is yoga? Union? Balance? Strength? Meditation? A pretzel-like shape made by the body? Connection? When you think of yoga what does it mean to you?

The topic of the second sutra answers this questions. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait translates it as, “Complete mastery over the roaming tendencies of the mind is Yoga.” Yogaschittavrittinirodhah, for you Sanskrit lovers.

So Yoga is all about the mind! How to attain this “complete mastery” is the focus of the entire text, but this sutra is helpful in teaching us more about the intention of our practice.

There are many benefits of our physical practice that are not to be discounted, and according to the Sutras our physical practice helps our body get ready to sit, meditate and know our minds. Through getting to know these “roaming tendencies” of the mind we can start to work with them more skillfully.

When I teach series classes on depression or trauma we inevitably focus on the mind-stuff (chitta vrittis) that happen during a challenging experience like living with depression or recovering from trauma. The mind affects us, and yet a lot of what is happening in the mind is completely out of our awareness. We are not aware of the stories that depression or trauma tell us and yet these thoughts are incredibly powerful. Getting to know these thoughts can be painful because they are not usually compassionate, kind or gentle. They can be harsh, critical and downright mean!

For many years I lived with the thought of, “I can’t.” This thought was with me in regards to physical activities, running a business, or basically doing anything out of my comfort zone. I was not aware that this story was running the show until I started yoga and meditation. “I can’t,” is not gone because I am aware of it, but it has lost a lot of its power. When the old “I can’t” comes into my awareness now I can watch it with spacious awareness, which can give me a sense of “complete mastery.” When Pandit Rajmani Tigunait says “complete mastery” I do not think that means our minds stop, or our old habits and patterns die, or that we never get angry or experience pain. In my understanding at this point in my practice I see this mastery as 1. getting to know our roaming tendencies and 2. letting them move through us without letting them run the show. I can watch the “I can’t” and still move forward in opening a business, doing a handstand or setting a boundary.

What thought patterns or roaming tendencies have you noticed in your life or practice? What helps you shift those patterns from mastering you to you mastering them? I would love to hear!

I look forward to seeing you on or off the mat.