My yoga journey reads a bit like the tale of Hansel & Gretel – a kid, lost in the woods, somehow with the insight and wisdom to drop trails of rocks and breadcrumbs so as to see where I’ve been and, when the moment is right, to find my way back to where I need to go.
Let me explain…. For as long as I can remember, what I have wanted most is to serve humanity and leave a lasting, positive impression from my presence on earth. As a girl my hero was Mother Teresa of Calcutta, and I aspired to embody the compassion, love and grace that radiated from her being.
“I’m just a soul whose intentions are good.” So…. if this has been my highest aspiration, then how is it that I still lose my temper, get impossibly impatient, be harshly judgmental, sad, self-critical and even….*gasp*… self-absorbed?
“Sometimes I feel a little mad. But don’t you know that no one alive can always be an angel?” Given my lofty aspirations, when these whirlwind emotions blow into my clear blue, peace of mind, I start feeling lost – unable to find my way back to that center of compassion and goodwill, stuck in the turbulence of mind and emotion. This is exactly when my tendency towards self-criticism shows up – a mental finger wagging in my face and shaming me for showing up as less than my ideal, aspirational self. What unfolds is a maddening cycle of emotions & self-criticism. * deep sigh *
“Sometimes I feel a little mad. But don’t you know that no one alive can always be an angel? When things go wrong I feel real bad. I’m just a soul whose intentions are good.” From what I see of humanity, I’m not alone in this cycle; and from my experience with yoga, there are key practices that are truly helpful for guiding us from a place of dark confusion to moving towards our authentic, true nature that is our higher self. Indeed, the heart of yoga practice is to reduce suffering by aligning our ‘operational self’ (our day-to-day self that lives in the outer world) and our ‘aspirational self’ (the higher self that understands and embraces our core values and upper-most hopes for ourselves and the world).
In the words of Swami Rama of the Himalayan Tradition: “A human being is a citizen of two worlds, and he or she has to develop the ability to have access to both without any confusion. The external world dissipates energy, but the internal world showers blessings that fill the vacuum created by the world.” -The Essence of Spiritual Life
Or, more simply put by the rock band, the Animals:
Baby, sometimes I’m so carefree- With a joy that’s hard to hide- And sometimes it seems that, all I have to do is worry- And then you’re bound to see my other side- I’m just a soul whose intentions are good- Oh Lord, please don’t let me be misunderstood
So where do we go to find the most useful nuggets of yogic wisdom? The rocks that we can drop on trail, so when the path gets dark and we’re feeling lost we can still find our way back to our core being? The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is the source text of yoga –a detailed “how to” manual that shows us how to end the cycle of suffering and move towards more peace, ease and freedom. The Sutras are written in short and succinct statements that hold deeper meaning, and so the text is meant to be studied in translation with commentary written by modern teachers or scholars who interpret, explain & expand upon the work into its fullness.
The commentary I’m currently reading is one of the best I’ve found to-date, The Secret of the Yoga Sutra, by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait of the Himalayan Institute. What I appreciate about this commentary is how Rajmani brings an ancient text to life, making it accessible and practical for modern householders. The reader is taken in a linear fashion through some big questions of yoga:
What is Yoga? What is NOT Yoga? Why Yoga? How can I tell if it’s working? How/what do I practice in order to get the results I want? What about when things aren’t working? What can go wrong? What to do when things go wrong?
There are systematic descriptions of what creates suffering, followed (thankfully) by explanations of yoga’s antidotes and how to implement them. With this comprehensive and organized approach to skillful living we can retrace our footsteps and realign ourselves when we (inevitably) start to wander off our path. Like in the story of Hansel and Gretel, The Secret of the Yoga Sutras, helps us to leave a trail…a bright trail of hope that is leading us back to our true nature, living with more grace and ease as citizens of both worlds.
Written by Teri Sanders, C-IAYT