Yoga’s purpose is to yoke body, mind, and spirit through conscious thoughts and actions – how can you cultivate your best life now?
In this two part series, we will explore the science of yoga outside of the physical practice, and how to transform the mind space we live in. You will learn how to break mental limitations through yogic study and how to establish a meditation practice that is both maintainable and consistent.
Part I: Sutra Study
Origins of Yoga
Yoga means “to yoke” or “to unite” our greatest self so we can live fully, and exist beyond the push/pull of the human experience (Vieira). Yoga is not limited to one belief or religion – it is an inclusive science that acts as mental, physical, and spiritual vehicle for unity, peace, and wholeness for both the practitioner and their collective community.
In the West, we often just know yoga to be a series of postures, (known as “asanas” in sanskrit) and a physical practice to stay well and limber. Yet, the physical practice, or Hatha Yoga, is just a portion of and is the most recent addition to the science, and serves as a way to prep the body for the ultimate vehicle of change: meditation.
Raja Yoga is the mental science and is the study of the mind and consciousness that has roots as far back as 5000 BC. Its goal is to break the common human experience filled with limits, pains, and pleasures and evolve the student to a sage with fixed joy, peace, and service to creation as a whole. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is the primary text for this system of yoga. The Yoga Sutras were compiled from 5,000 BC to 300 AD and served to both systematize and compile the existing ideas and practices of yoga. Sutras meaning “thread,” and each a thread where teachers can place their “beads” of experience to enhance teaching (Satchidananda, xi).
These “threads” of teaching help us broaden our attitudes, reduce selfishness, and make us better masters over our own body, senses, and mind. The Yoga Sutras are a practical handbook, and lay the path to live out Yoga to reach the highest, most liberated state, known as samadhi. 196 sutras were written by Patanjali, each to express a theory of yoga in a succinct, and digestible way.
My favorite sutra, and one I have found is potent for breaking patterns of pain, hate, and negativity is Sutra 2.33: “When disturbed by negative thoughts, opposite [positive] ones should be thought of” (Satchidananda, 120).
Here Patanjali gives us a start on how to control the mind and clear thoughts we don’t want. If a thought filled with hate comes to mind, we invite in love. If a thought of anxiety comes in, we invite in calm. With a heightened awareness on the inner dialogue, we can begin to control what thoughts come to actions, and what thoughts could use some “re-grooving” or “re-patterning” to positively affect our life.
Using this sutra as a tool, we have the opportunity to take harmful thoughts, feelings, and actions and cultivate thoughts, feelings, and actions of love, kindness, and compassion. Using this newfound positive outlook (no matter how forced it may be at first), we can create statements, or mantras, that can be thought and spoken repeatedly over ourselves for positive life change.
Take a moment to reflect on what thought patterns could use some revamping in your inner dialogue? What mantras can you speak over yourself?
An easy way to create a mantra is to start with “I am” and fill in the blank.
- Example: “I feel anxious and uneasy.” → “I am grounded and calm.”
Sutras in Action:
- Challenge yourself to a day of thinking the opposite of anything negative and affirming it over yourself and your life.
- For more focused change in “thought life,” choose one negative thought pattern that plagues you. Create the opposite, and speak it over yourself multiple times and repeat this throughout the day. Whenever the opportunity arises, speak kindness over yourself and others.
Stay tuned for Part II for more practical ways of implementing this sutra and how to finally establish a daily meditation practice that is realistic, maintainable, and consistent
Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda. 5th edition, Integral Yoga Publications, 2016.
Vieira, Prajna. “Origins of Yoga.” Nourishing Heart Yoga Teacher Training, Willow House, Bloomington, IN, May 2017. Lecture.