Sorry again for my inconsistency in writing lately, and again I’m going to blame it on the knee. I’ve started back to work full time, and between work and recovering, that’s about all I’ve got energy for these days. I continue to be amazed how healing one small piece of my body affects my whole being.
As far as yoga, I’m getting back into some standing poses, focusing on the basic sun salutation and some core strengthening poses. This time around, I am noticing the leg strength needed for each one, and my right leg’s lack of stamina. Being ok with going slow and a less-is -more approach is still my biggest lesson right now.
As I wait for my body, I am continuing to exploring yoga through my reading. This week I finished The Yoga-Sutra of Patanjali: A New Translation with Commentary, by Chip Hartranft. (I wrote about other yoga reading I’ve done in this and this post)
The Yoga Sutra is a classic yoga text, probably the classic yoga text. It’s author, Patanjali could be considered the grandfather of yoga, but not much is known about him (her? them?). Nearly 2,000 years old, the Yoga Sutra was written in a time when not many students were able to read, so it was done in a terse, quite poetic style in order to be easily memorized and recited by students. This type of text often needed the aid of a teacher to interpret, as it was written as a very sparse guide.
A guide to what?
Put simply, a guide to enlightenment. Patanjali outlines the yogic path to Samadhi, enlightenment, or as Hartranft translates it “oneness, integration.” This is definitely some heady stuff to wrap our minds around, but that’s just the thing –one can’t really wrap a mind around enlightenment. It is beyond the mind, beyond the self. Reading about it is very interesting, because it is, of course, all theoretical. I am not reading this as something I myself have experienced. And in the end, it really all comes down to the experience –the experience of reality, not through the lens of self, or even consciousness, but an “integration” with reality that us humans can’t really tap into through our daily lives as most of us live them.
So, is this discouraging? Yes, and no. Reading the sutras, I found myself frustrated with my own meditation practice at times –why am I so far from even glimpsing what Patanjali writes of? But then I remind myself, wherever I am on this yogic path is perfectly ok, because I am on it. This text is a beautiful affirmation of the heart of yoga, why we practice, what we can achieve, no matter where we are on this path.
Now, I don’t want to summarize the sutras, nor could I after only a first read. But it was a great introduction to a very dense text that anyone serious about their yoga practice should not only read, but read often (and by often, I mean I want to try to read it once a year). I will say that the yoga Patanjali describes is far from the asana-heavy yoga most of America currently practices today. In fact asana, as we know it, doesn’t really factor into Patanjali’s yoga.
So my big question now is how did we get from there to here anyway? I’m currently in search of a good book on the history and evolution of yoga.
I’ve been eyeing The Yoga Tradition: Its History, Literature, Philosophy, and Practice, by Georg Feuerstein as fitting the bill.
Has anyone read it?
A few last thoughts on the Yoga Sutras
I enjoyed Hartranft’s knowledgeable and scholarly translation of it. He also includes an interesting essay on its relevance and relationship to today’s yoga. I liked that he included a commentary-free English translation of the entire Sutra in an appendix, which I read first, then read the sutras with his commentary interspersed, which is the main portion of the book.
Other versions of the sutras I would like to read include B. K. S. Iyengar’s (Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali), and Swami Satchidananda’s (The Yoga Sutras by Patanjali).
And I wanted to leave you with what I found to be the most poetic passage of Hartranft’s translation, as a little taste of the sutras. In Chapter 1, Patanjali makes a list of distractions (like apathy and doubt) that act as “barriers to stillness” of consciousness, then lists ways that one can subdue these distractions:
1.33 Consciousness settles as one radiates friendliness, compassion, delight, and equanimity toward all things, whether pleasant or painful, good or bad.
34 Or by pausing after breath flows in or out.
35 Or by steadily observing as new sensations materialize.
36 Or when experiencing thoughts that are luminous and free of sorrow.
37 Or by focusing on things that do not inspire attachment.
38 Or by reflection on insights culled from sleep and dreaming.
39 Or through meditative absorption in any desired object.
40 One can become fully absorbed in any object, whether vast or infinitesimal.
I just think that’s such a lovely list.
One last thing, since we are in the month of May, I thought I would share again this post with the recipe for May Clove Water. I’m continuing this practice for my allergies this year, since it seemed to help last year.
And if you have any recommendations for books on the history of yoga, leave them in the comments.