What is Yoga?
When I tell people I teach iRest Meditation, they often ask me if I teach yoga as well.
The answer is YES! iRest Meditation IS yoga.
But I understand the confusion. While yoga is an ancient contemplative practice, it’s also a multi-million dollar industry that largely promotes advanced physical postures and a skinny body as the ultimate goal of yoga. But yoga is more than just downward dogs and sun salutations.
Commentaries of the meaning of the word yoga vary from union, to attaining what was previously unattainable, to directing all our focus on the activity in which we’re engaged, to being one with the divine.1
Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras
The meaning of yoga is presented concisely in the Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, a text that is considered by many to be the heart of yoga.1
While little is known about Patañjali, it is widely accepted that he was an authority on yoga, and complied and systemised the vedic knowledge of the time into sūtras that could be handed down orally from teacher to student, in a concise way that would make it possible to remember. It is estimated that Patañjali wrote the sūtras around the second century C.E. and that Vyāsa, the ancient sage who allegedly wrote the original commentary on the sūtras, Yoga-Bhâshya, wrote his commentary around the fifth century C.E.2
Figure: Patañjali and Vyāsa3
Yogaś Citta Vṛtti Nirodhaḥ
Patanjali’s answer to this question ‘what is yoga?’, is in chapter one, verse two of the Yoga Sūtras:
yogaś citta vṛtti nirodhaḥ (I.2)
Different commentators have interpreted this sutra in subtly different ways.
T.K.V. Desikachar wrote:
“Yoga is the ability to direct the mind exclusively toward an object and sustain that direction without any distractions.”4
B.K.S. Iyengar wrote:
“Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness.”5
Edwin F. Bryant wrote:
“Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of mind.”6
Georg Feuerstein wrote:
“Yoga is the restriction of the whirls of consciousness.”7
Judith Hanson Laster wrote:
“Yoga is the state in which the agitations of consciousness are resolved.”8
Richard Miller wrote:
“Yoga is when we knowingly live as the realization of unconditioned Stillness, whether thought is in movement or stillness.”9
However you interpret this most influential sūtra about the meaning of yoga, it’s clear that the yoga is related to understanding the mind, and has nothing at all to do with having a slim and flexible body that looks sexy in expensive lycra leggings.
What is yoga to you? Leave me a comment below? I’d love to hear it.
- Desikachar, T.K.V. (1995). The Heart of Yoga. Rochester, Vermont, US: Inner Traditions International.
- Feuerstein, Georg. (2002). The Yoga Tradition. Delhi, India: Bhavana Books and Prints.
- Feuerstein, Georg. (2002). The Yoga Tradition. Delhi, India: Bhavana Books and Prints (p.311)
- Desikachar, T.K.V. (1995). The Heart of Yoga. Rochester, Vermont, US: Inner Traditions International (p.149).
- Iyengar, B.K.S. (2002). Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. London, UK: Thorsons (p.50).
- Bryant, Edward. (2009). The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali. New York, US: North Point Press (p.10).
- Feuerstein, Georg. (2002). The Yoga Tradition. Delhi, India: Bhavana Books and Prints (p. 286).
- Lasater, Judith Hanson. (2014). The Ten Most Important Sutras.
- Miller, Richard. (2013). Level 1 Training Integrative Restoration (version 4.6c). San Rafael, CA, US: Anahata Press (p. xxiii).
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