what is yoga

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Chapter 1 – Concentration/Samadhi Pada – Part 1

Defining – What is Yoga? – (Yoga Sutras 1.1 thru 1.4)

To sincerely begin the pursuit of Self-realization is a most significant step in life. When the highest goal of life is taken on as number one on your list of things to do the student must be prepared.

The first Yoga Sutra (1.1) – Atha yoga anushasanam

Atha is a most auspicious word. It is generally translated from the Sanskrit as “now.” Its purpose is to call our attention to the fact that a teaching of great importance is about to be given, right now, in this present moment. Not “once upon a time” or in the past, or even some time in the future.

Yoga is from the root yuj, meaning union; literally to “yoke,” which means to join together or to integrate. Anu is used as a prefix and it denotes after or following tradition; implying being subsequent to something else, in this case, the student’s prior preparation. Shasanam is from the root word shas, which means “to instruct.”

“Now begins the scientific discipline of yoga.” In just a few simple words, Patanjali, the father of yoga, is subtly telling you that it’s about being present. But it also implies that without your preparation and full commitment, you won’t succeed.

So, in essence this introductory sutra is referring to our many actions in life, including whatever preparatory practices we might have performed. Now, we are finally ready to pursue the depths of self-exploration and the discovery of the true “Self” (Atman); our eternal and identity.

The ancient sage Vyasa (organizer of the Vedas) elaborates on this sutra, naming five states of mind. Of thes five, the one-pointed state of mind (ekagra) is the desired state. for the actual practice of Yoga. It is a prerequisite to meditation. It is also the primary skill for attaining Samadhi. These five states of mind range from the severely troubled mind through “Ekagra” and finally lead to the most desired state of the completely mastered mind.

These five states are:

  1. Kshipta/disturbed
  1. Mudha/dull
  1. Vikshipta/distracted
  1. Ekagra/one-pointed
  1. Nirodhah/mastered

five fingers

To position the five states of mind on the fingers is a good way of learning to remember them.

The first two states may be qualified by today’s mental health practitioners as mental illness. The third is common but undesirable, and the last two are the most desirable. The Nirodhah state of mind is the desired state of mind for the realization of the true Self. It is extremely useful to be mindful of the five states of mind to better understand their relationship to this most desired state of mind.

The second Yoga Sutra (1.2) – Yoga Chitta Vritti Nirodha. Chitta, is derived from the root Chit, “To be conscious” and is the consciousness of the mind-field (mind “stuff”). Vritti is the activities, fluctuations, modifications, or various forms assumed by the mind-field. Nirodhah is control, regulation, mastery, stilling, quieting, and/or setting aside of Chitta Vritti.

A good interpretation of this sutra is; “Yoga is the control of the modifications (gross and subtle thought patterns) of the mind field.”

The third Yoga Sutra (1.3) – tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam. Tada means “at that time.” Drashtuh is from the root drash, which means “to see” (the soul or witness). Svarupe is from the roots sva “own” and rupa “form” and means in its own nature (or essence). Avasthanam is from the root the root stha which means “to stand” or “resting place.”

This sutra can be understood as; “Then the Seer abides in Itself, resting in its own True Nature, which is called Self-realization.”

The fourth Yoga Sutra (1.4) – vritti sarupyam itaratra. Vritti is the activities, fluctuations, modifications, or various forms assumed by the mind-field. Sarupyam, the root sa means “with”, and rupa means “form” suggesting similarity, identification of form or nature, conformity. Itaratra means elsewhere, at other times or when (the seer is) not in that state of self-realization.

So, this sutra means; “At other times, when one is not in self-realization, the Seer appears to take on the form of the modifications of the mind field, thereby taking on the identity of those thought patterns.”

~Rae Indigo

Coming next, Part 2: Un-coloring Your Thoughts (Yoga Sutras 1.5 thru 1.11)

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