Many (I would argue most) of us come to yoga looking for a way to get fit, toned & relax and let go – but aside from the physical practice of yoga, the asana, there is so much more behind this ancient philosophy – and many of us only begin to scratch the surface of this after months – or even years, of dedicated asana practice.
But what is the point to educating yourself about the philosophy of yoga? One blog I came across recently compared ourselves to a broken clock – practicing yoga and getting good at the sequences and physical practice is like shining and resurfacing the outside of the clock, it looks good, but it makes no difference to the essence of the clock within. By looking at yoga holistically, and exploring the philosophies that are essentially entwined within it – we open ourselves up to gain much more than just a flat stomach.
In general I think that yoga philosophy helps us cultivate equanimity because it provides an alternative way of thinking about our lives. Every day in our society we’re bombarded with advertising that tells us that in order to be happy, we must buy more and achieve more. That’s just due to the nature of capitalism, as, of course, various companies and individuals wanting to make money need to persuade us to be unhappy with our current situation and urge us to improve ourselves by buying their products and/or services. Striving for material success – whether that’s by achieving at work, getting a better car – or that fancy juicer - also seems to be built into our culture. Unfortunately, for most of us, this pressure leaves us feeling continually unhappy and stressed out, caught in an endless cycle desire and dissatisfaction. What yoga philosophy does is remind us that there is another way thinking about our lives, and provides us with a different goal we can aim for: equanimity. The following quote from the Bhagavad Gita describes the yogi who has achieved equanimity.
He who hates no light, nor busy activity, nor even darkness, when they are near, neither longs for them when they are far.
Who unperturbed by changing conditions sits apart and watches and says “the powers of nature go round”, and remains firm and shakes not.
Who dwells in his inner self, and is the same in pleasure and pain; to whom gold or stones or earth are one, and what is pleasing or displeasing leave him in peace; who is beyond both praise and blame, and whose mind is steady and quiet.
Who is the same in honour or disgrace, and has the same love for enemies or friends.
Although it is obviously a lifelong quest to achieve the state of equanimity described above, the philosophy of yoga is often a helpful tool to get your mind back on track when you find yourself in a difficult place – emotionally, mentally or spiritually.
Where can you begin your educational journey? The two most frequently read yoga scriptures these days are the Yoga Sutras and the Bhagavad Gita, and these books are a great place to begin to explore the ideas within yoga.
The Yoga Sutras is likely the most commonly cited scripture these days and dates to 150-200 C.E. written by Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras is a short, concise work of aphorisms – advice designed to guide you back to a healthy spiritual path, and to learn to feel contentment and counteract t
he distractions of life. Patanjali’s school has come to be considered the authoritative system of the yoga tradition referred to as “classical yoga.”
The Bhagavad Gita, often referred to as simply the Gita, is a 700 verse Hindu scripture in Sanskrit that is part of the Hindu epic Mahabharata. It is a conversation between Arjuna, a supernaturally gifted warrior about to go into battle, andKrishna, his charioteer. In the course of giving Arjuna all manner of spiritual and material advice, Krishna explains karma, the self, the Supreme Self, the purpose of yoga, the difference between our self and our material body, how our environment affects our consciousness, and how to attain the perfection of life.
Even just beginning to dip your toe in the water of yoga philosophy can be a fantastic journey to begin to delve deeper into your practice. After all – if you are unaware of where you have come from, how can you know which direction you’re going in?