Patanjali's Yoga Sutras
By Ajita Diamond
Yoga is sitting in the sun early in the morning soaking in the warmth and life-giving energy.
Yoga is watching the rain and listening to its tip-tapping on the leaves and roof tops.
Yoga is singing, dancing, working, walking, running, playing, laughing, eating…
The practice of yoga can present many challenges; the first one is probably lack of flexibility, and it's quite apparent that the goal of yoga is to achieve physical flexibility. However, Patanjali's Yoga Sutras aim at not just physical flexibility - the ability to contort one's body every which way – but also mental, emotional, and spiritual flexibility.
What is “Spiritual Flexibility”?
I was born into a family of mixed cultures. My mother was of pnar-khasi parentage and a member of the Laitumkhrah Presbyterian Church. My father was a Manipuri who came from a family of Krishna devotees and Sanskrit scholars. I grew up in a little hamlet called Lumsohphoh, Shillong, where the population represented an interesting religious and cultural melting pot. I had a ringside view of the various religious practices of the unconverted pnar and khasi people, the festivals and the blood sacrifices performed either to ward off plagues and epidemics or cure someone of an ailment. Holi, Id, Bihu, Shad Suk Mynsien, Beh Dieng Khlam, Durga Pooja, DiwaIi, Shad Nongkrem or Ka Pom Blang and Christmas…were observed and celebrated with equal respect and enthusiasm.
Baptism and Protesting Protestant!
To top it all I went to a Catholic school run by Irish nuns and simply fell in love with the rituals of the Catholic Church. To my parents’ alarm I declared at the age of ten that I wanted to become a Catholic. Well, my mother told me I could follow any religion I wanted as long as I waited until I was sixteen. Eventually, after my matriculation, following my cousin brother’s advice I was baptized in my mother’s Presbyterian Church, but I was not happy so began calling myself a "protesting protestant."
Atheism and Modern-Day Prophets
Then I fell in love with an atheist whose understanding of Jesus’ teachings was so profound that I had difficulty in believing his claims of atheism. During this time I was studying at the Yoga Institute, Santa Cruz (East) Mumbai. The course included the study of religious leaders, prophets and mystics. The life of Jesus was a part of this study, and thus began my journey back to Jesus and my Church. Last year I came across Sadhguru and Joyce Meyer.
I love Sadhguru’s view of life, humanity, the purpose of yoga, deep belly laugh, and sense of humor.
I love Joyce Meyer. She has made a great difference to my way of thinking, my understanding of the Bible,
and my practice of being a Christian. All I have to do is love.
Spiritual flexibility is an integral part of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras. It is this flexibility - practiced through the centuries - that gives Indian culture the ability to assimilate different religious thoughts and beliefs. So, for me too, this flexibility is about staying grounded in my faith and accepting and allowing all the people around me to practice what they believe. At the end of the day, my kindness, goodness and humanity is what matters. In this context, spiritual flexibility has the following traits:
Humility or the ability to overcome my pride, ego, and opinions
Acceptance of different perspectives, different ways of doing things
Surrender - and the fact that letting go - exhibits strength not weakness
Ability to learn - a child-like curiosity and eagerness to learn something new points to a flexible mind.
I remember one classmate at my yoga institute proclaiming how she couldn't change her food habits. Our teacher went out into the garden brought back a dry stick and asked my classmate to come to the front of the class. “Bend this stick,” our teacher said to my classmate handing the stick to her. She did and the stick broke immediately. “You see,” the teacher said, “when we are no longer able to accept or learn new ideas it means we are as dry as this stick.” It was such a novel way of explaining a mind that was dead: a mind that had stopped growing, learning, and had lost its flexibility. Therefore, flexibility means many things in a righteous, divine manner. My favorite example of flexibility is that of the lotus stalk.
The Lotus Stalk
Growing beneath the surface of the water, the lotus stalk is slim yet strong and resilient. It moves this way and that when winds and water currents disturb the lotus beds. It accommodates the fish that swim in, around, and through the lotus beds. With great humility and generosity it raises the flower up above the water for the whole world to admire. True beauty in a person is compared to the lotus stalk. It is a person who is flexible, strong, dependable, generous, forgiving, humble, and empowering. As a woman in her mid-fifties, in spite of my yoga background, I had become quite rigid about my world view: what kind of wife, mother, friend, I am and how people should behave. As a housewife my world had shrunk considerably and I eventually became a giant pain in the house for my wonderful kids and handsome hubby. Now the children no longer need my constant attention, it is time I went back to looking after myself. I want to become as beautiful as that lotus stalk as possible.
The Eightfold Path
Patanjali's Yoga Sutras elaborate upon the asanas which are a rather healthy away of exercising. Anybody at any age can do the asanas and will find them quite soothing. Yoga however is not only about asanas. While asanas help us to attain a level of physical fitness which will enable us to achieve physical health, we also need the yamas and niyamas. In order to do this all the ancient practices of yoga were collected into one treatise by the ancient sage Patanjali and came to be known as Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. These Sutras were also referred to as Ashtanga Yoga or Raja Yoga. Yoga is a science of healthy, disciplined, dedicated living with the ultimate objective of obtaining Samadhi or enlightenment. This science of living is achieved through the observance of Patanjali's Eightfold Path. The steps of this path are: Yamas, Niyamas, Asanas, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhana, Samadhi.
Samadhi is a stage where one is no longer afflicted or swayed by one’s emotions or external forces but remains steadfast in a state of uninterrupted joy, peace, and self-realization. With disciplined and dedicated study of Patanjali’s Eightfold Path, even ordinary mortals can achieve this blissful state of peace and joy. Well, I definitely need a lot of peace and joy, and, as I pick up the practice of yoga again, I will continue to share the steps with you.
Coming soon: The 5 Yamas: Ahimsa, Satya, Asteya, Brahmacharya, and Aparigraha.