December 2005 – What is Yoga?

What is Yoga?

As defined by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras (YS 1:2) Yoga chitta vritta nirodhah. Yoga is cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.

Yoga is mind control, not stopping thinking. Yoga is not meditation, meditation is a tool we use to control our minds. Yoga is being aware of what we are thinking and how those thoughts affect us. We identify with what we are thinking whether it is truth or not. Our reality is in our heads, you choose to be happy or not.

So what does coming to yoga class and doing postures have to do with mind control?? Before we can work on the mind we need to have a healthy body, so the path to yoga includes postures (and usually begins with the postures). Practicing yoga postures keeps the body free of disease and stress; this allows us the energy to become aware of our thoughts.


Following the flow of the Sutras, verse 3 (chapter 1) goes on to say that yoga is two things, mind control and awareness of something greater in the Universe that we are all connected to.

What happens to consciousness when it operates with limitations (monkey-mindedness and un-awareness)? It identifies with what it is thinking; meaning if you think you are having a bad day–you are. (verse 4)

So what are thoughts? Verses 6-11 explains our thoughts in 5 categories
1. knowledge- sources of valid knowledge are direct perception, inductive and deductive inference, and testimony of a competent person.
2. illusion – mistaking one thing for another, illusion is mistaken perception. In illusion there is always an object though it is incorrectly perceived.
3. delusion or hallucification – is a psychological perception having NO object
4. sleep – is a special change of mind characterized by relative inactivity, reduced consciousness, and reduced external stimuli
5. memory – experience + object + exact presentation
Thinking is not bad, Discrimination of thoughts is required.

How is it possible to discern our thoughts?
Chapter 1 Verse 12 says through practice and detachment (abhyasa and vairagya)!

What is practice (verse 13)? Concentrated mental effort! Verse 14 states that when this effort is cultivated for a long time, constantly, consistently and continuously that your practice will be firmly grounded and energized by self-confidence and self–security.

What is detachment (verse 15)? Detachment is ridding oneself of material thirst.

Verse 16 states that renunciation comes easily by the power of self knowledge. If we focus on the benefits of renunciation and not on “what we are giving up” renunciation is easy. Give your mind something more attractive to think of, thus lower desires will fall away effortlessly.

Success at yoga requires practice and detachment. Practice consistently for a long period of time—not letting little excuses keep you from practicing (such as holidays, going out with friends, or appointments that can be scheduled around your practice, although practice intelligently, if you are sick do not practice!).
Detachment from the outcome of your practice will keep you from getting frustrated. Practice for practice sake, practice because it is good for you, practice because it is good for everyone else too. Practice without having to be rewarded is detachment. These two elements are key for success at yoga.

Verse 20 wraps this up by saying we will reach the mental state of yoga by self-confidence, self-security, self-discipline, tremendous enthusiasm and energy, attentiveness and vigilant practice of concentration, contemplation, and meditation preceded by self-analysis and self-knowledge.

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