26 Sep Yoga’s Mission Statement
What is Yoga about?
Yoga is a practice of organizing your efforts to support a calm and steady mental state. It’s basically all about calming the mind.
The first Yoga Sutra of Patanjali says atha yoganusasanam: now I’m going to tell you about Yoga. The second says Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah: Yoga is calming/restraining/minimizing (nirodhah) the fluctuations/movements (vrttis) of the mind (citta).
Yoga’s Mission Statement
I didn’t know this when I first started practicing yoga. Someone probably told me, but it didn’t register. Honestly, it’s still sinking in. You know the whole concept of mission statement or personal stake? It’s about getting really clear about what you’re doing and why, so when things get chaotic you can return to your core principle and let it guide you forward.
I forget that Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah is the mission statement for Yoga. Since Yoga is a life practice, as a dedicated practitioner that means that calming the fluctuations of my mind is my mission statement in life. This makes sense, because with or without realizing that it’s Yoga, mental calm is what I’m all about. I’m much more effective at all my responsibilities if I’m not anxious and mentally muddled when doing them.
The Sutras go on to touch on so many aspects of Yoga: what the practice is, why we do it, the many different ways how to do it, what we’ll get out of it along the way. It’s easy and actually useful to get into the weeds, to discover and contemplate and practice in as finite detail as possible. But it’s also easy to lose sight of why.
I’m doing yoga but what is Yoga?! I ask myself this in confusion on a regular basis. Come on Quinn, it’s right there! It’s about getting the mind to settle down. The practice of Yoga and the goal of Yoga is calming the fluctuations of the mind.
What sorts of things cause mental fluctuations?
All sorts of things!
We practice the yoga poses with the aim to be more flexible, stronger, and ultimately more comfortable in our bodies so the regular aches and pains of having a body resolve and cause fewer mental distractions.
We practice the yamas and niyamas (social and personal “ways to be in the world”) so we cause less BS to happen in our communities, homes, and private lives thus minimizing the stress and distractions that come when we act like assholes.
We practice breathing and concentration techniques so we learn how to focus the mind despite the aches and pains and assholery that inevitably linger.
Yoga is a life practice
It’s all there in the practice; it’s an ancient guide to organizing our external and internal context to support a calm and steady mental state. It’s inherently about stress-reduction, and not by sticking our heads in the ground. It’s stress-reduction by skillfully engaging in the comings and goings of life on all levels.
The Sutras would just stop after telling us citta vrtti nirodhah if the yogis of ancient India thought that was all we needed to get on with it. In passing Yoga down through the ages, they acknowledge that regular human life is incredibly distracting, hard to focus within, hard to keep up with, and while you’re in the whirlpool of decades of daily living, sometimes hard to feel like you’re making any real progress at all. Do you ever feel like you’re chasing your tail? Sure, but if you’re a yoga practitioner you’re also, day after day, calming the fluctuations of your mind. And who wouldn’t opt for a calmer mind?
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