understanding the yoga sutrasBy Dr. Paul Jerard, E-RYT 500

How important is understanding the Yoga Sutras for teachers? Despite what you learned in Yoga teacher training, there are many who practice for the physical benefits only. I’ll never forget the first-time experience of teaching Yoga in a commercial health club setting.

After practicing asanas and pranayama, I mentioned that we would start a meditation session. To my surprise, two of the students stood up and left. This natural event in a health club is never seen in an ashram.

What am I getting at here? Teaching all aspects of Yoga training to everyone is sometimes like force-feeding a child. As Yoga teachers and interns, you should know all the benefits of Yogic methodology. Unfortunately, your students may not want to know anything except how to “shape that body.”

The philosophy and “big picture” of Yoga will have to be carried on by you and your most dedicated students. Keep in mind that each person will interpret the Yoga Sutras, written by Patanjali, differently. Just like reading the Magna Carta, the Bible, and the U.S. Constitution, there is always room for different interpretations. To reach an understanding of the Yoga Sutras will be a quest.

“Sutra” means, “to thread,” and there are 194 Yoga Sutras that make up the “tapestry” of Yoga. Within these verses are guidelines to self-discovery and purpose. The first four Sutras, of the first section, are said to be the foundation of the entire work.

1:1 “And now the lesson on union begins…” This could also be interpreted as, and now the instruction of Yoga begins.

1:2 “Yoga is settling thoughts of the mind into tranquility.” This can be interpreted into a number of ways. Quite simply, it is the settling of mind chatter into silence, which is the basis for meditation.

1:3 “When the thoughts have settled, the subject dwells in his/her own nature, which is unlimited consciousness.” This would be, when you have calmed your mind, by restraining the mind chatter, you are ready for meditation.

1:4 “Otherwise, our nature is overshadowed by mind chatter.” In other words, if you do not calm your mind, you will be overtaken by the endless multitasking, which happens during the course of a normal day.

1:5 There are five types of thought and they may, or may not, cause pain.

At first, this seems vague, but Patanjali gives a much deeper explanation in the next seven Sutras. Learning to classify mind chatter will teach us to prioritize, and therefore, make the most of the present moment.

1:6 The five types of thought are: Right Knowledge, Wrong Knowledge, Imagination, Sleep, and Memory.

1:7 Right knowledge is the ability to understand ideas based on correct perception, inference, and genuine testimony.

Our understanding of events, people, and philosophy, is founded in the idea that we are receiving reliable information from outside resources. These resources in the 21st century are many, but finding the correct information is not always easy.

1:8 Wrong knowledge is misunderstanding, illusory, and false.

Talk about profound words. At this time, it is wise to thoroughly research any subject before deciding whether it is true or false.

1:9 Imagination is thought that is founded on word knowledge which has no substance.

True imagination has no substance, but imagination is very creative and can benefit mankind. It can also be very destructive in the form of weapons. Lastly, it can be self destructive in the form of worry.

1:10 Sleep is a state of mind which is full of the sense of nothingness.

Sleep is as essential as food. Many books have been written on the subject of sleep and dreams. Deciphering dreams is not an exact science and you cannot spend all your waking moments worrying about what might be.

On the other hand – sometimes dreams give us answers to problems and cannot be entirely ignored. Hopefully, this will be food for thought and you might reflect on the writings of Patanjali. Understanding the Yoga Sutras is of primary importance for those who teach.


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