Yoga Sutra 1.2: What is Yoga?
* *The estimated reading time is 4 minutes + Free Yoga Practice.
I recall taking one of my first yoga classes as our teacher guided us through a series of physical poses (asana), breathing instructions (pranayama), and meditation. It was love at first sight. As I embarked on my journey, I delved deeper into the study and practice of the yogic texts. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali played a crucial role in transforming my life. Yoga Sutras are very poetic, with each sutra being like a magic thread weaving a rug for us to stand and sometimes to fly on. Firstly, Yoga Sutras are highly rational and logical. It is not based on blind belief. Instead, we are asked to practice reasoned convictions to stay on the path, unlike the blind belief that can sway us away like a feather with a wind. As a result, we gain mental clarity through rational knowledge and practice. Secondly, the text is a comprehensive guide to attaining yoga by incorporating physical fitness, breathing exercises, study, and reflection or meditation. Together these practices are called yoga. So, as we study the sutras, we learn to know ourselves. In other words, the Yoga Sutras guides us in a precise scientific method towards the path of freedom and happiness. Traditionally, when we are ready to remark on the path, we find a teacher – a yogi (a person with a refined and clear mind) – who can help us study the text.
There is nothing else in the world to give us greater peace than health, knowledge, and understanding. We can find peace within us through the simple daily practice of yoga.
Are you ready?
Before we delve into the second sutra, let’s discuss the very first one: “atha yoga anushasnam.” Typically in the yogic tradition, the text starts with the word “ahta,” which translates to “now.” You are here. You are ready! Imagine that all your life events led to this precious moment for you to embark on the path. “Atha” is an auspicious sound, a commitment. The word “Anushasanam” means that there were other texts. Yoga is a long-existing tradition explained in ancient Vedic texts, including The Upanishads and The Bhagavad Gita.
Yoga Sutra 1.2
The second sutra defines what yoga is.
Yoga is the ability to direct the mind towards an object and sustain that direction without any distractions. In other words, yoga is a game of attention.
Let’s unpack this powerful poetic verse.
Citta – the field of consciousness, the received. The word originates from the root “cit” – to think, consider or fix the mind on.
Citta consists of three elements:
- Intelligence (buddhi) is an aspect of thought connected to judgment, discrimination, knowledge, and will. It’s an essential aspect of the mind and a link between mind and consciousness.
- Ego (ahankara) is self-awaance. “I am that” – the field centered upon the focal point of the ego.
- Thinking faculty (manas) is the part of the mind through which it interacts with the external world and takes in sensory impressions and data. Manas is the questioning and doubting agent.
Vritti – mental activities, moment, fluctuation. There are five activities of the mind or vrttis (defined in Yoga Sutra I.5) that are:
- Direct sensual perception (pramana)
- Incorrect understanding (viparyaya)
- Imagination (vikalpa)
- Dreamless sleep (nidra)
- Memory (smrti)
Nirodhah – the process of ending, Nirodhah – master, control, restriction, restraining, disciplining.
We practice physical fitness (asana) to make the body strong. Breathing helps us further to clear the mind; meditation trains our minds to focus. Finally, studying the text helps us understand ourselves and the world around us.
Clear Mind is a Happy Mind
I often imagine a path of yoga is like a shining light in the twilight. The mind plays one of the critical roles in happiness, and the fluctuating mind is not happy.
Once we can cultivate a clear mind and ability to focus, we will be able to:
- Align our actions, intentions, and desires.
- Cultivate the connections and relationships we need.
- Maintain a clear positive frame of mind as we go through life experiences.
- Even if we falter in our progress, we will be conscious of it.