Yoga for the mind

It is still fascinating as a Yoga teacher how many times I have heard people who “do yoga” say they had no idea that yoga is primarily for the mind, “isn’t that what mindfulness is for?” is the most common answer that I hear. This is also apparent in many Yoga teachers/associations who constantly seek approval of the benefits of Yoga from psychologists etc.

Examining why this misunderstanding or ignorance occurs, it becomes obvious how Yoga itself has been packaged as a physical practice with some funky breathing exercises and many different styles. This short blog will hopefully shine some light on the yogic use of mindfulness (not the nauseating modern type) as a tool to differentiate all that is the soul from what is not the soul (awareness)

The Yoga sutras of Patanjali (400 BC) written long before the discovery of psychology (to which I pay respect) has 195 Sutras in which the main focus is the mind. These Sutras are broken down into 8 limbs. The purpose of these are to lay the path on how to reach the goal of Yoga, which is to firstly arrest the fluctuations of the mind and eventually move beyond mind.

The limbs being

1. Yama (Restraints)

2. Niyama (Observations)

3. Asana (Physical posture)

4. Pranayama ( Restraint of the life force initially involving breath awareness)

5. Pratyahara (The senses moving inwards)

6. Dharana (Concentration)

7. Dhyana (Meditation)

8. Samadhi ( Absorption).

Is it this simple? In theory Yes, however the practice is a lot more challenging.

Let’s look simply at these limbs.

Yamas (restraints)

1. Ahimsa (non-violence) in thoughts and actions

2. Satya (Truthfulness) needs no explanation

3. Asteya (non -stealing) if it’s not freely given it shouldn’t be taken

4. Bramacharya (control of sensual desires)

5. Aparigraha (non possessiveness) letting go of what we don’t need.

Niyamas (observations)

1. Sauca (cleanliness) purifying body and mind

2. Santosa (contentment) acceptance of things as they are

3. Tapas (burning the seed of discomfort) involves willpower, seeing through difficulty, delaying gratification

4. Svadhyaya (self-enquiry) through mantra, study of texts, experiences

5. Isvara Pranidhana (surrender/faith in a higher force) do your best, leave the rest, there are greater forces at work.

The explanations above are very simple, brief and certainly not definitive, as we practice these the depth becomes obvious. Yamas and Niyamas are hard work and are the foundation of mindfulness which is generally non re-active. The Yogic approach adds with particular reference to Tapas, Svadhyaya and Isvara Pranidhana which is known as Kriya yoga, the steps of action. Example, “ I shouldn’t eat bread but , I am mindful of the amount I have”. Obviously, this is not enough to change, the actions laid out consisting of willpower (tapas) , self – reflection (svadhyaya) and (Isvara Pranidhana) faith are what will prevail.

The sutras go further than this and explain in detail the reason for mental/ emotional afflictions known as the Kleshas.

These are

1. Avidya: Lack of awareness, ignorance, dull state of perception

2. Asmita: Egotism, thinking less or more of yourself by comparing to others.

3. Raga: Attachment to past pleasures

4. Dvesa: Aversion, attracting negativity, misery.

5. Abinivesha: Fear of the death, the inability to surrender the sense of I.

These points only scrape the surface of a very deep and detailed map to inner peace. However, it is worth noticing that all of the above can be known at a superficial level ,the depth can only be experienced through practice.

As the infamous saying in Yoga goes, “The mind is the king of the senses; the breath is the king of the mind”.