“Yoga is existential, experimental, experiential. No belief required, no faith is needed- only the courage to experience, to experiment, to take the jump into the unknown. Patanjali does not say, “Believe and then you will experience.” He says, “Experience and then you will believe.” And he has made a structure how to proceed step by step. Through yoga you will come to the truth, not through belief, but through your own experience, through your own realization.” -Osho

I have been studying The Yoga Sutras for over a 10 years now and feel deeply connected to its wisdom, techniques and philosophy. While I am still naive about so much of the depth the sutras have to offer, what I have explored and experimented with has empowered me to create valuable shifts within myself and given me momentary glimpses of understanding about the bigger picture from the yogic perspective.

Here is a review of a few of the tid-bits from The Yoga Sutras I’ve shared so far. The Yoga Sutras are essentially a study and discipline of the mind. Most people when they think of yoga identify with the physical practice of yoga postures (asana in Sanskrit) and special breathe techniques (pranayama). From the perspective of The Yoga Sutras, asana and pranayama are only a small part of the practice of yoga. These physical practices are intended to support the health and well-being of the body, so that the practitioner has the energy and aspiration to explore the deeper aspects of themselves and existence. If the body is not healthy, a person has more pressing matters than to explore who they are, why they are here and how to be happy. According to Patanjali’s system, being able to stand on our heads or our hands does not reduce suffering, make us more loving or bring us more joy.  For many of us struggling with some of the tricky poses, that’s good news :-)

The Yoga Sutras define yoga as a state of being where the fluctuations of the mind have completely and totally stopped. All that chatter that has been going on in your head since you started reading this is considered to be the source of suffering and the reason why we are not completely content and at peace all the time. This is a powerful statement for two reasons: 1) it implies that the root of our suffering is within and therefore within our power to overcome and 2) contentment and peace are available to each of us at all times regardless of external circumstances.

To me yoga is ultimately a system of practical techniques and tools we can use to heal. This is how I understand it… How we relate to life, each other and ourselves is determined by our minds. Our mind perceives the world through the filter of our beliefs about our past experiences, most of which were formed in our childhood before we had the power of reason. The mind generates our thoughts, which produce our emotions and motivates our actions, which in turn validates our beliefs… and on and on it goes. This cycle is more often than not unconscious and causes us to continually recreate our past in the present. Once we set the clear intention to turn to look at the mind, its misperceptions and beliefs (in other words, ourselves) we can finally begin to enjoy the freedom of living here and now rather than from the wounds and limitations of our past experiences.

Mediation and self-reflection are two of the major keys Patanjali gives us to unlock the full potential of this present moment and ourselves… more on these later. In the meantime, may the asana practice continue to make you feel good and may it energize and inspire you to explore the deeper dimension of yoga and yourself.