Teacher Training Essays :: Chelsey Gardner

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, written hundreds of years ago in the 2nd century BCE is the foundation of yoga’s philosophy. The 196 aphorisms that make up the Sutras can be called the path to enlightenment and those traveling down the path, a yogi. Although Patanjali is not known as the creator of yoga, he has been quite an authority in the context and his writings have had much influence on what we know of yoga today. Steady devotion to the sutras is said to quiet one’s mind and bring inner peace. But how can these aphorisms or guides if written so long ago and translated by countless people; many teachings being passed on through the guidance of teachers, gurus, saints, gods and in spirit, still hold true and have a place in our modern, rapidly advancing, technology based society? If one applies just one of yoga’s first few teachings and core meanings, practice, they will surely come to notice slight changes and relate what this ancient practice brings. The action of practice enhances your self knowing. Being old in wisdom yoga is now more than ever applicable and essential to our wellbeing because it helps us focus internally and is an opposition to the distracted, all consuming, fast paced lifestyle we now live. We have made it a customary practice to check out of our minds and bodies, living unconsciously destroying our world and neglecting ourselves. “Know yourself, know what is good. Know when to stop.” ~Lau Tzu Although Lau Tzu was a chinese philosopher, his quote describes a sanskrit word Samkosas, which can be translated as habits. Habits are a collection of our experiences; these are as unique and individual as our DNA. What I experience forms my habits and my habits then form my life. No two people will have the same experiences in life, just as no two people will have the same DNA. Even identical twins have slightly different DNA make ups. As close as they can be in genetics, nearly identical in their physical body, their interests will differ, one may have a traumatic experience or even suffer an injury. All of us have an individual conscious mind. It is yoga’s focus on ever learning, experiencing, digging, silencing and just plain old practice that allows one to discover that it holds healing powers. I do not wish to make any scientific claims regarding yoga’s ability to heal; although, there are increasingly more and more studies being published. All I truly know is my understanding and the continued observation to which I have witnessed of yoga’s healing gift. I have experienced over and over again yoga’s healing ability, mind, body and spirit. The first difficult class where simply sitting crossed legged for 10 minutes felt like torture, both in my hips and mind, was not this wonderfully relaxing healing yoga class I had heard so much praise about. This wavering, wandering, list making mind of mine expected and wanted, no demanded results. It was not through my attachment of results, or through my expectation or desire to sit through pranayama that I become more capable. It was however, through continued practice, acceptance, contentment with where I was, and an increasing desire that I started to see my habits, better posture, and positive thought flow

more and more effortlessly into my day to day life. B.K.S. Iyengar writes about our habits, Samskara as being a lake. Our experiences cause disturbances, of varying degree, which then cause ripples in the water. The more often we repeat these disturbances the ripples will eventually move the waters below and reshape what is deep down at the bottom of the lake floor, making mounds, creating disturbances of thought. He says “Yoga never forgets that the end purpose is not just to remove bad Samskara. We also have to cultivate good deeds to build up good Samskara.” So our bad waves push around and build up unwanted/negative Habits and our good ones help to smooth the bad, create good and eventually, one day, maybe in our lifetime it will be completely smooth, neither good nor bad. This can take time, for most everyone it will not happen overnight, and the journey will never be the same for two people. It is through the Yamas & Niyamas, the avoidances and observances; one is pointed in the direction of this somewhat mythical glassy smooth lake. These Yamas & Niyamas are: Ahimsa – Non-violence, Satya – Truthfulness, Asteya – Non-covetousness, Brahmacharya – Abstinence, Aparigraha – Non-possessiveness, Saucha – Cleanliness, Samtosha – Satisfaction, Tapas – Discipline, Svanhyaya – Study and Isvarapraighana – Surrender to God. Sometimes referred as yoga’s ten commandments Yamas and Niyamas help us to slow down and assess what is truly important to us. By knowing what is important and having satisfaction with where we are in the present moment tremendous shifts can take place. They guide you through every situation in your day; from your interactions with your friends, to your families, to strangers, and perhaps most importantly to yourself. Combined they sooth, calm, and quiet the mind, then eventually your habits. This prepares your mind and body for pranayama and asana, breathing exercises and the postures that follow. Pranayama and Asana are said to originally be the physical preparation to Dhyana, essentially meditation. In which one sits in stillness for countless hours. This physical expression, Asana is what is most commonly known to us today. The breathing exercises and postures are possibly where most people will experience noticeable changes in their lives. As much as modern day, profit orientated major corporations want to heal by masking with magic pills, creams and quick fixes, they can’t fight the fact that the human body is an intricate, multi cellular, mechanical structure that more and more research shows has the ability to repair itself. In partnership with western medicine and yoga I have healed multiple physical ailments and physical injuries. With a little guidance of Samtosa, Tapas, Satya, Ahimsa, Aparigraha, and a little Isvarapraidhana I have been able to recover not only in less time than expected by western medicine standards but live through the recovery period in a more peaceful state of being than I would have pre-yoga. By practicing acceptance in my life and in my yoga practice I have begun to lengthen, strengthen, and straighten my physical, mental and spiritual body, beginning to align a lifetime of postures and habits. When my human condition of imperfection rears its all too familiar face, as it will, I have the tools to stay calm and accept where I am. Knowing that “this too shall pass” and again I

am reminded of the peace, balance, joy and knowledge of myself that yoga brings. Like a medicinal prescription, applying the yoga sutras to my way of life is me living by example, of taking responsibility for my happiness, health and wellbeing. At the same time, knowing we are all connected and although having different experiences we are joined in the end by the same Energy, Spirit, Divine, God, Atman. I believe in enjoying the journey with practice and non-attachment, looking only at yourself not at anyone else. However, watching the experience of others, as though they are teachers/gurus, friends living by example and embarking on their own journey to know themselves. “We feel happy when we are directing our own lives because we are experiencing a growing freedom. We are exploring the possibilities of life on earth through the release and realization of our own potential.” ~B.K.S. Iyengar

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