What is yoga? Is it exercise? Relaxation perhaps? Or is it a lifestyle choice? This was one of the first discussion topics we had on my teacher training course. We all got into groups to discuss what yoga is in one sentence. We threw out phrases such as “spiritual practice”, “union of mind, body and spirit” and “holistic lifestyle choice”.
We then re-convened with the whole group and discussed what we had come up with. Our tutor then pointed to Pantanjali’s yoga sutras and in one statement both summed up yoga whilst completely baffling us all at the same time.
“Yogas chitta vrtti nirodhah”
What went through my head at that point went along the lines of “what now? I don’t speak Sanskrit- maybe I’m not supposed to be a yoga teacher.” Thankfully she elaborated otherwise I wouldn’t be a teacher now. “yogas chitta vrtti nirodhah” is the second of Pantanjali’s yoga sutras and is translated as:
“The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is yoga.”
Don’t worry if this still does not mean much to you – it took me a two hour lecture to fully understand it. In simpler terms it is about training the mind to be free of its busyness and drama. To quieten those thoughts that do not serve us, to be free of attachment to pain or happiness and to eventually reach a state of Samadhi – a state of bliss or enlightenment. Yoga is a process in which we train our minds to be still, strong and resilliant.
In the west some people may choose to practice yoga to look after their bodies and some want to come to relax and unwind. Yoga has eight limbs to it and Asana practice – the physical practice that is offered in a western yoga class, is just one of the eight limbs of yoga. I like so many other people in the west went to yoga as it was good for strength and flexibility and it made me feel good afterwards. Yoga is sneaky though as my teacher once told me and I have to agree. The physical elements are powerful but the mental and spiritual aspects start to creep in and in my experience the more you practice the stronger this becomes. The easier it is to find some peace of mind
and this really seeps out into everyday life. When we are in a challenging posture it is so often at the point of discomfort that the mind starts to wonder. With practice we can bring the attention back to the breath and to our alignment, allowing the thoughts to come and go free of judgement. It is a process of simply being a watcher in the present moment of your mind. When we practice in this way we are practicing with a sense of mindfulness and that is how we start to train our minds.
A lot of things that used to trouble me I have learnt to overcome and I am much more resilient now. I would like to stress that things do upset me and sometimes I feel down just like everyone else but I am able to really work through this. For the most part I can prevent full blown panic attacks or bounce back from them quicker and I have learnt to let go of some things that do not serve me or work at letting go of them. I’m still at the start of my yoga journey but it’s already impacted my life hugely.
A lot of people who come to yoga want to tone up, strengthen or stretch their bodies and that it great –
nothing is wrong with that in fact that is why I originally started to go to yoga. A lot of people associate it with big high street clothing brands, leggings, green juices, yoga studios and standing on your head. However over time it has become so much more. For me it is about a stable regular practice, it is a safety net to fall back on, it is a source of nourishment but above all else it is a way for me to de stress and find some mental space. For me chitta vritti nerodhah is what yoga is all about.