Articles Tagged with: Patanjali
A great question

Those of you who come to the shala regularly will know Joanne. She’s there a lot, and she’s very chatty!

Anyway I love the way Joanne thinks about the practice, and about life in general, and she asked this great question just before we went on our retreat last weekend:

“Whilst struggling with marichasana A Suzanne said to me, “this is preparation for putting your leg behind your head”. Since then I’ve been asking myself, why on earth does one need to be able to put their leg behind their head?”

Before you read on, I’d like you just to have a think about that. It’s easy to get so caught up in this ashtanga yoga practice that we stop questioning it at all. You might think to yourself, “well it’s so that you can do supta kurmasana when you get to it” or “it opens up your hips”.

But that doesn’t answer the question really. It just creates another question: “why do you want to open up your hips?” for example.

We could ask a similar question about every yoga posture really, and the range of answers from most people would be the same: So that you can do the next posture , or so that you can lengthen the hamstrings/open the hips/build more strength etc.

But doing the next posture isn’t really the point of yoga practice. Neither is lengthening the hamstrings or making your back more flexible. Not really anyway. Not really really.

Patanjali is very clear right at the beginning of the yoga sutras. In the second sutra he says:

“Yogaś citta vṛtti nirodhaḥ”

Yoga is the stilling of the mind

So, in that context why would we want to get our leg behind our head?

Because it takes such a monumental effort of concentration (it’s not something one does absent-mindedly is it!) that we have the potential, in that moment, to come closer to stilling our minds than ever before.

The same applies to every other posture. And that is why, as one posture starts to become easy we are given the next challenge along the road. The postures are simply tools that we can use to still our minds. When this becomes our focus it all starts to make more sense.

So go forth and be still!

Thanks Joanne.


A note on shaucha

 

Your mother always told you that cleanliness was next to godliness and Patanjali agrees. It turns out that your mother is a great yogi!

The word ‘ashtanga’, as many of you already know, means eight limbs. The limbs, as listed by Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras, are Yama, Niyama, Asana (we recognise that one), Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana and Samadhi. If you want to know what they all mean have a read of the ‘What Does Ashtanga Mean‘ article on our website.

The first two limbs (yama and niyama) each have five sub-limbs. Think of yama as being a set of morals and of niyama as being a set of personal observances (together they form a rough guide on living harmoniously with the world both inside and outside ourselves).

The first sub-limb of niyama is often the first one to become most pertinent in a class of sweaty students (and teachers for that matter).

Saucha can be translated as cleanliness or purity, and your mother was right; it is next to godliness.

I have seen and heard so many conversations (online and in the real world) between ashtanga yoga teachers about this subject. Ashtanga yoga is a sweaty practice and some people’s nostrils are more sensitive than others.

Guruji says:
* “There are two types of purification: bahir shaucha (external purification) and antah shaucha (internal purification).
* The first involves washing the body with red clay and water. By rubbing the body with clay, sweat and dirt are removed, and the body becomes soft and shiny.
* The second means viewing everything and every being as a friend, and treating all with affection (maitri). This means engaging the mind with the supreme feeling that all are our friends, and considering everything to be a reflection of God.”

We say:
* Please shower before you come to class in the morning.
* Please wear fresh clean clothes to class (as once you start to sweat in previously-sweated-in clothes they really start to smell; you may not notice this but everybody else does).
* Please air your wet yoga mat after class if possible and wash it regularly (if you sweat a lot then regularly means once a week).

Then, perhaps, you and all of your fellow students (who you now love due to your new-found maitri) might get that little bit closer to the eighth limb of ashtanga yoga: Samadhi (bliss).

Who said yoga philosophy was complicated.