A Very Basic Introduction to the Yoga Sutras.
You've hopefully heard a yoga teacher reference the Yoga Sutras at some point during a class. Chances are, they didn't actually explain what they were, and you just went with it.
Don't fret, my pet. I'm here to explain!
The Yoga Sutras are the seminal text of the practice of yoga; the Do's and Don'ts of Yoga, if you will. They explain what yoga is and how to practice it. The entire text consists of 196 short but powerful verses.
Live Your Best Life
I think that the most important thing to understand about the Yoga Sutras is that they are not just about physical fitness, or mental wellness, or even spirituality. They are a combination of all of that, and then some. They talk about your relationship with yourself as well as the outside world, and how to conduct yourself in both regards. But, unlike most religious texts out there, they don't just list a set of rules. They also provide a set of tools, a daily practice that you can use to help yourself understand and live by the "rules" suggested by the text. The way I look at it is that they basically lay out a formula for living your best life.
The Secular Sutras
The most common misconception about the Yoga Sutras is that they are a Hindu religious text (like the Bible is Christian, the Q'uran is Muslim, etc.). But the truth is, they are actually secular. They are certainly spiritual, but they don't reference any specific religion or mythology.
Yes, "Yoga" is referenced in traditional Hindu texts. But that doesn't necessarily make it a Hindu text itself, especially since the Yoga Sutras don't return the favor (they don't specifically reference Hinduism at all).
And yes, the Yoga Sutras were written by a Hindu sage (Patanjali). But just because they were written by a Hindu doesn't automatically make them a Hindu religious text. That would be like saying The Da Vinci Code is a Christian text just because Dan Brown is Christian. (Is he though? I don't actually know...but you get the point.)
Also, the Yoga Sutras clearly drew inspiration from both Buddhist and Hindu beliefs and practices, which I think further supports the view that they weren't intended to belong to any specific religion. Rather, I believe they were intended to be a set of universal spiritual guidelines that transcended the cultural trappings and petty differences between organized religions. (MY words, not Patanjali's!) As you'll see once you explore the translations, they certainly read that way!
Livin' La Vida Yoga
Once you understand the Sutras, I think you'll find that they're not that hard to incorporate into your daily life. But the challenge is understanding them in the context of your modern, day-to-day experience. Unfortunately, Sanskrit does not easily translate into English. Also, the Yoga Sutras are OLD. So old that nobody really knows exactly when they were written; all we know for sure is that they are at least 1,700 years old. Probably closer to 2,200 plus. And, uh, language has changed a LOT since then. As a result, I've found that most of the translations and interpretations of the Sutras available in English are super esoteric and difficult to relate to in my real life.
So through the "La Vida Yoga" section of this blog, I will share my best attempts at translating and interpreting this ancient text. Because the fact is, once I started moving beyond the physical part of the yoga practice, and really began to study and apply the philosophical principles to my own life - well, that's when the magic really started to happen.
My hope is that by sharing my interpretations and real-life experiences with the entire practice of Yoga (not just physical part), you'll start playing with incorporating some of it into your daily life too. This is what I call Livin' La Vida Yoga.
But as with all things, I encourage you to take what serves you and leave the rest. If there are aspects of the practice that don't work for you or resonate with you, then cool - don't do them. After all, most people in America just practice the physical part of yoga, blissfully unaware that they are just barely scratching the surface of what this incredible, ancient practice has to offer. But they still get plenty out of it.
My favorite thing about the Sutras is that they are applicable on the mat and off. It all weaves together, and I think that's part of why the practice is so powerful. I mean, how incredible is it that the things we do on the mat so closely parallel our lives off the mat?
So as we dive into the Sutras together, I will provide "On the Mat" and "Off the Mat" interpretations of each verse. I don't think it will take too long before you're as sold on their magic as I am. ;-)