24 Jan Moving on from the Sutras
My Yoga studies are evolving
I’ve gotten tired of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, to be incredibly honest, and I’m looking to other paths to the practice to reinspire me, and fill out what I’ve learned in the last couple years of Sutra studies.
Don’t get me wrong, the Sutras are important and foundational to an understanding of Yoga, and I don’t regret diving deeply into a traditional reading of them. It’s just that anything fundamentally dualistic is also fundamentally isolating.
The Sutras tell us that each of us is eternally separate from Nature, each other, and Isvara (a personalized god). I’ve found a lot of value in building this dualism out as a lens to understand the philosophy. I feel more aware of the what and why of Yoga.
Dualism is getting in my way
I’ve gotten to a point where studying Yoga from this dualistic lens feels at odds to what I’m trying to do in my healing work (read: therapy), which is to embody my experience and be present and interact with life, not to transcend it or disassociate from it.
In searching for another reputable English translator of the theory and practice of Yoga I found Georg Feuerstein. An academic and practitioner, Feuerstein explains the historical context and the modern landscape of Yoga and has a decidedly non-dual point of view.
Yoga has always evolved
Yoga has always evolved. After Patanjali wrote down the Yoga Sutras there came many more seminal works that carried the practice forward into practical application as the centuries unfolded. Notably, Tantra Yoga which bore Hatha Yoga, the most recognized form of practice in the west today.
In his book, The Deeper Dimension of Yoga, Feuerstein doesn’t dismiss the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali; he puts them into a wider historical and cultural context with the evolution of Yoga in the last 1,500 years. It’s helping me to reacquaint myself with the aspects of the practice that feel most applicable to my life and goals today.
Yoga is built from what has come before
In other good news, there’s nothing entirely new or off base in Feuerstein’s work. It all tracks with my studies thus far. Not that my understanding of Yoga is the litmus test of authenticity here, it’s just nice to know the whole thing’s not suddenly been turned on its head, nullifying the last eight years of my practice. Phew.
Let’s see if I can summarize for you in a few quotes from the book.
“[Yoga] seeks to liberate us from our limited notion of who we are…[misidentification] keeps us stuck in our behavioral grooves, causing us to experience suffering over and over again.”
Check. Yoga is a liberative practice which aims towards ultimate freedom from the lived experience of suffering. Misidentification is the erroneous conclusion that we are our component parts. As in, I am a woman so that means xyz and I identify with those traits whether they remain true or not.
“Yoga is a continuum of theory and practice…the exercises and techniques embodying its theories.”
Check. Yoga encompasses a philosophy and view of the world that is thousands of years old; that’s been developed and passed down by generations of South Asian yogis, gurus, and seers; and has in modern times spread to include teachers of all origins who influence the entire globe by sharing the Yoga practices. The theory and practice are most potent when learned together. Practicing moves the practitioner towards an embodied understanding of the theory.
“…all approaches [to Yoga] require a profound commitment to self-transformation.”
Check. To free oneself from misidentifications is to transform oneself from a limited, boxed in, habit-driven person to an expansive, self-realized, liberated being that can exist in harmony and service to others.
Or so we’re told. Let’s keep studying and practicing to see if we can find out for ourselves.