Bringing the Yoga Sutras to Life

Lake and I are having a day of casual adventure, just the two of us. We borrowed a bicycle and bicycle trailer to cycle down to the nearby shore of Lake Geneva. From there we meandered along the shoreline pausing at inciting little enclaves: picnic tables, pebbled beaches, wooded trails and leaf-covered marinas. By some miracle Lake fell asleep in the bicycle trailer on our way there, so initially he napped while I meditated, wrote and reflected on some books I’ve been reading from a shady spot on the shore of Lake Geneva, swans floating and grazing nearby. Here are my notes from the field:

The Autobiography of a Yogi brought the Yoga Sutras to life for me. Especially some of the more esoteric and difficult to grasp sutras. Like miracles. Organizing matter, as an expression of cosmic light energy, to heal the sick, bring back the dead and stopping trains. Advanced yogis have truly unfathomable powers as to sufficiently boggle the Western Mind. It sounds fanciful, improbable, impossible, but yoga instructs that it is possible and even describes how exactly (spoiler alert: it begins with meditation). Paramhansa Yogananda, in his autobiography, documents the richness of his and other gurus’ contributions to advancing human consciousness through yoga, as originating in India and has travelled to us in the West.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are the texts that prescribe and define the science and philosophy of yoga. Yoga is the practice of that philosophy as laid out in the step by step manual. Yoga is Sanskrit for “yoke” or “union” and it actually refers to harnessing your self to the oneness of God. As Yogananda eloquently writes, “yoga, the science of personal experience with the divine.” To cease the fluctuations of the mind and to exist in the present moment as your highest Self. The one that you are that is indistinguishable from God is the Self. Yoga therefore offers a pathway to transcendent living in the midst of the suffering that is inherent in life. And why is there suffering? Yogananda suggests it is to keep us from being blind and complacent. So that we will pursue our path back to remembering we are divine beings not separate from oneness with the cosmic One, the universal consciousness. The Yogi offers a behind-the scenes glimpse of the Yoga Sutra’s teachings as fulfilled potential as practiced by the masters.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a surprisingly slim volume actually, comprises four chapters containing 196 terse aphorisms written in Sanskrit as a poem historically learned and shared through chanting. The first two chapters of the “manual” introduce yoga, as in 1. Atta (and here we have yoga, let’s begin). The third chapter describes and instructs on perfectly concentrated meditation that being it can be practiced , one will progress not by magic but by step wise fashion to yield the fruits of the labor as also described. And the forth chapter narrates the kaivala, The emancipation of existing in one’s own essence.

Like any of the great texts that survive the ages and offer instruction on living, the yoga sutras are worthy of a lifetime of study. And as the Yogananda somewhat confidentially illuminates, a few of those lifetimes are centuries or millennia long when the person in question is an avatar, a very advanced yogi here to facilitate the teachings.

The Yogi points out yoga is not immediately accessible for everyone. For hardly anyone, really. For me it’s taken several decades to tackle their surface and attempt to swim into their depths. But the deep experience of yoga can happen in a moment and usually does. It is then life changing, as in your knowledge of the world has morphed into wisdom. Perhaps you have met a yogi who is illuminated, or sat in meditation and met God. These experiences may draw you in to seek a greater understanding of the depths of yoga. You may be called to investigate the history, context and deeper teachings. Then the yoga sutras are available to read. Even when you haven’t read them, though, you may have realized some of their truths. Take Physics, for example. You don’t have to grasp or enjoy a physics class to experience and appreciate concepts that are elucidated therein like gravity, acceleration, and velocity. You feel its presence. Reading the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali or The Autobiography of a Yogi may not for everyone but as a scientist to physics, or a yoga teacher to the Sutras, it’s important to have that introductory series of instruction behind your degree. There’s at least an acknowledgement and understanding that the formulas exist.

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