How to Practice Yoga on the Mat & in Everyday Life.
WHAT IS YOGA?
Yoga is often thought of as a physical exercise that happens in a gym or on a mat. This idea of Yoga misses a huge part of what Yoga is about. Yoga actually describes a way of being that occurs both on our mat and in our life. It involves every aspect of ourselves including body, breath, mind, behavior, emotions, and spirit. It impacts every aspect of our life from our health to our relationships and how we feel about what is happening in our life. The practice of Yoga may happen on a mat, but it also is meant to happen throughout the day as we go about our life because Yoga is quite literally intended to change the way you perceive your world and how you experience the events in your life.
WHY ARE THE YOGASŪTRAS IMPORTANT?
Yoga techniques, including āsana (posture), prāṇāyāma (breathwork), and dhyāna (meditation) help us in the moment-by-moment practice of Yoga. But remember, like any practice, they should be understood as preparation for the main event. How we learn to BE while practicing creates the foundation for how we ARE while living our life. How this works, the relationship between practice and life is set out in Patañjali’s Yoga sūtras.
Patañjali’s Yoga sūtra is one of Yoga’s core texts and it is quite literally a manual for living a satisfying and purpose-filled life. It’s teachings provide clear insights into who we are, what our relationship to the world is, how our relationships work and how they go awry, and how to correct/prevent that from happening. While the text is quite short, its teachings are profound and touch upon every aspect of living.
“It not only provides insights about Yoga’s tools but how they can be applied to create personal transformation.” -Chase Bossart
Understanding the Yoga sutras allows us to see how Yoga is a life path, and how all the different aspects of Yoga hang together as a coherent whole. It is the key to BEING Yoga.
THE MEANING OF YOGA
As a practical teaching intended to be implemented in our life, Yoga has two main steps. In the first step, we change how our system as a whole is functioning by gradually developing balance. As the operation of our system shifts and our mind, body, and emotions become more balanced, it shows up in our life as more mental attention and focus, more ease in the body and breath, and more feelings of peace and security. Developing these qualities are a primary intention of Yoga practices involving the body (āsana) and breath (prāṇāyāma).
As we become more balanced, the work of the second step becomes possible. This work is healing the specific wounds that each of us as individuals picked up during childhood and young adulthood. The main tool for this step is meditation (dhyāna). It is important to note, that since each of us has wounds that are individual to us, the focus of our meditation must also be specifically chosen as well. One size fits all practices are fine for general work, but deeper individual work is best accomplished in a relationship with a one-to-one Yoga mentor.
This two-step process is described in the Yoga sūtras of Patañjali, which is why it is so important to have an understanding of what it says.
THE STRUCTURE OF THE YOGASŪTRAS
The Yoga sūtras were composed by the sage Patañjali in India over 1,700 years ago in a style that emphasizes brevity. Indeed, this Sanskrit text is only 195 sentences (called sūtras) in length! They are divided into 4 chapters. Though short in length, it’s very, very long in meaning. Here’s a short overview of the content of each of its chapters.
- Chapter 1 is called the samādhi-pādaḥ, the chapter (pādaḥ) on samādhi, a mental concentration that is so strong it transcends the person’s sense of identity. This chapter gives a great overview of the theory and process of how to work Yoga’s process of personal transformation.
- Chapter 2 is the sādhana-pādaḥ. Sādhana means “leading straight to the goal”. This chapter gives detailed instructions on attaining a state of Yoga, especially how to bring yourself into balance and maintain that balance. The principles underlying the well-known practices of āsana and prāṇāyāma are discussed in this chapter.
- Chapter 3 is the vibhūti-pādaḥ. Vibhūti translates as extraordinary capability or special power. This chapter explains the process of healing deeply-rooted patterns, and what is capable for a person when they have fully healed. It explains how meditation works.
- Chapter 4 is the kaivalya-pādaḥ. Kaivalya means independence or freedom, which is the ultimate goal of Yoga. This chapter explains the processes of transformation and describes their internal workings.
The Yoga sūtras present concise yet complete instructions for practicing Yoga, both on the mat and in daily life. It explains how all the different aspects of Yoga are interconnected in a single path for daily living. And as we begin to unpack the richness of the sūtras and apply their principles to our life, we are able to experience the potency and transformative nature of this text.
HOW TO STUDY THE YOGASŪTRAS
The study of the Yoga sūtras is a lifelong learning. Patanjali’s Yoga sūtras allows us to consider the way in which we perceive our world, and provides us with tools to change how we experience the events in our life—daily! It is not something that is simply learned—it is a way of living. Each teaching requires time to integrate into our life. And as our life changes, we change. This means that the text will provide new insights each time you engage with it. By embodying the teachings, we can transform our suffering, liberate our life, and experience ‘what Yoga is about.’
“The best way to study the Yoga sūtras is to live them!”
There are many ways to study the Yoga sūtras. The study of Patañjali’s Yogasūtras can be a life-changing experience and the study of a lifetime! The Yoga Well Institute has different offerings designed to support you in furthering your studies, see our recommendations below:
- Download our free ebook: Understanding Patañjali’s Yogasūtras. Our ebook is meant to provide you with an understanding of the overall presentation of the ideas in the text, their flow through the text, and how they are interlinked.
- Join us for Yoga sūtras in Action a pre-recorded series that explains how Patañjali’s teachings apply to everyday living. Over 8 classes, we explore the richness of Yoga that extends beyond the poses and breathing exercises and discusses what it means to be in a state of Yoga off the mat. You won’t just study Yoga—you will discover how to live it!
- Explore the 2nd Chapter of Patañjali’s Yogasūtra: Achieving a State of Yoga a pre-recorded word-by-word deep dive into the meaning and application of Chapter 2, the sādhana pāda. Sādhana means “leading straight to a goal.” This extremely practical chapter focuses on how to attain a state of Yoga—and how to live and be Yoga.
- Get a Yoga Mentor for individualized one-to-one support in your practice and your life! Mentorship, or personal guidance, plays a vital role in understanding Patañjali’s Yogasūtra and the Viniyoga tradition. The one-to-one teacher-student relationship is how Yoga has been passed from one generation to the next down through the millennia. This unique relationship brings the context of the practice into the context of your life and can involve both practice and/or textual studies.