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About Karin

Yoga teacher, practicing yoga since 1997, teaching since 2003, writer/translator, global soul, world traveller (and sometimes beyond), passionate about eastern philosophy and western psychology, especially its application in mind-body practices such as yoga and somatic movement therapy, deeply in love with life, knows that our greatest teacher lies within, also sometimes a total mess - it's part of the package!

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    Recent Entries

    The 196 Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

    Sunday, March 8. 2009

    I've searched the web and numerous printed resources for a clear and concise translation of Patanjali's yoga sutras – a translation that is easily comprehensible for the majority of yoga practitioners, including those who are new to yoga or for those with little knowledge of Sanskrit and its meaning and complex relationship with English.

    I believe Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati's translation of Patanjali's yoga sutras comes closest to fulfilling that aim. His remarkable interpretive translation of this beautiful ancient text from Sanskrit to English can be downloaded on www.swamij.com (PDF; 63 pages; 264 kb). I highly recommend Swami Jnaneshvara's translation to anyone who wants to gain insights into the workings of the mind and to learn more about the real meaning of yoga.

    The Real Meaning of Yoga

    Sunday, March 8. 2009

    In Sanskrit, yoga means to yoke (from the root yuj which means to join). It refers to the union of the parts of ourselves, which were never divided in the first place: the union of the individual with the universal, self with other, inner with outer, and finite with infinite.

    Patanjali is generally considered to be the "father" of yoga, not because he invented yoga, but rather because he compiled the Yoga Sutras - 196 aphorisms estimated to have been written around 2500 years ago that outline the art and science of yoga in an extremely organized and terse way. A beautiful interpretive translation of the original Sanskrit text into English can be found here.

    The Yoga Sutras are universally considered to be among the most important texts in the field of yoga, if not THE most important text. Before Patanjali systemized the practice of yoga however it was mainly an oral tradition with its teachings (to attain physical, mental and spiritual strength) passed directly from master to disciple. Archaeological evidence and other ancient texts suggest that yoga was practiced as early as 5000 years ago. Some historians state that the period may be even longer. Though extremely brief, the Yoga Sutras were an enormously influential work on yoga philosophy and all later schools of yoga practice.

    Sutra means thread in Sanskrit. Divided into four parts, the Yoga Sutras describe the nature of human consciousness, the means to overcome its conditioned limitations, the attainments to be gained, and the fruits of liberation. They give a very detailed account of the context and stages or limbs of yoga (ashtanga = the eight limbs), which lead the practitioner systematically along the path to self-realization. As such, they perhaps come nearest to being a definite text-book for the practice of yoga.

    Patanjali applies the word yoga to both, the process or practice of yoga (which brings the individual into direct relationship with the flow of reality) as well as the goal or being state of yoga (embodying the innate unity of the individual and universal principles). He defines yoga as:
    Yoga is the control of the fluctuations of the mind
    (yogash chitta vritti narodha)
    Then the seer rests in its true nature, which is called self-realization
    (tada drashtuh svarupe avasthanam)
    Narodha means control or mastery - not in the sense of suppression, but rather in the sense of channelling or regulating. Regulating the fluctuations of the mind means to seek, identify and remove all the barriers within ourselves that we have built against bringing about a merging (yoga) of the individual with universal principles, and in a larger view the absorption of the finite into the infinite - liberation or enlightenment, or whatever we choose to call it.

    There are many technical frameworks, methods and systems of yoga practiced today. Developed over thousands of years, each has a different emphasis but all have a common purpose, similar effect and shared result. Their purpose is to liberate the practitioner from unnecessary confusion and pain. Their effect is to quieten the mind. Their result is peace, joy, and happiness in a rich, fulfilling life.

    All these frameworks, methods and systems of yoga are the natural development of an ancient science and philosophy which sees the individual as a composite of several separate principles and explains that the harmonious evolution of these separate principles calls for the unification of the different individualities which - until that harmonization or union is achieved - live together at odds and cross purposes within the same organism. To become aware of these inner conflicts and to pacify them, it is necessary that we, as individuals, rise above the delusion that we are essentially our body, or our feelings, or our mind. We must learn - through an inner realization - that we are none of these and that our real self simply uses them as a means to recognize its own nature. And for the self to recognize its own nature, it must first become ignorant of its nature - only then can it recognize itself again.

    The wise may now wish to ponder on this for a while before reading on. :-)
    Take you own well-disciplined strengths
    and stretch them between two opposing poles.
    Because inside human beings
    is where God learns.
    - Rainer Maria Rilke (Translation by Robert Bly)
    In short, we simply must endeavour to recognize ourselves as being the supreme, divine, universal principle. Only then will we cease to commit the error of identifying ourselves with those temporary and transient aspects of the human principle, which we so long mistook for our real self.

    A kind of involution needs to take place, where we as individuals become conscious of the primal building blocks of our minds: the various gross and subtle levels of individual consciousness and the false identity in our mind field (the barriers!). The process of systematically encountering, examining, and transcending each of these barriers will then allow us on the physical plane and in our physical brain to become aware of what lies beyond. Patanjali says:
    Then, by the removal of those veils of imperfection, there comes the experience of the infinite, and the realization that there is almost nothing to be known
    (tada sarva avarana mala apetasya jnanasya anantyat jneyam alpam)
    This insight, which brings about the orientation of ourselves from the lower manifestations of consciousness into the higher manifestations of consciousness, releases us from all the pain and distress that, until then, confirmed our illusion that we are the impermanent lower self, or our body, or our feelings, or our mind.

    So, removing the veils of imperfection and ignorance, and realizing our supreme identity within universal consciousness is what constitutes the real meaning of yoga.

    The wisdom of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras is as applicable today as it was thousands of years ago when it was first weaved together. It is pointless however to try to intellectualise the 196 aphorisms. Insights do not come from intellect but only through deep inward focus, careful self-assessment, quiet reflection and contemplation, and ultimately through the direct experience of discovering one's true nature. Still, intelligence occupies the highest place in the hierarchy of human faculties. The mind is considered to be the highest expression yet reached in our evolution but I believe it is not the highest of which we are capable.

    Realizing the highest state of awareness - universal consciousness - is the goal of yoga practice. It is the very ground from which all phenomena, including humanity, arise and dissolve back into. What this implies is that, even though there may be a mechanistic component to evolution, the real trigger to development in an evolutionary sense is related to an expansion of individual consciousness, because the more we open up to the universe, the more the universe within ourselves is revealed. If every human being realized this profound universal connection, it is almost unimaginable as to what benefits would ensue from such a human potential. If we all followed Patanjali's simple instructions, practiced and investigated the eight limbs of yoga, noted and recorded our observations, and learned from our experience, our rational human mind would go beyond of what we currently think it is capable. We would gradually discover our true nature, the cause and reason behind every happening, and eventually transform our perceptions of this universe of mysteries and miracles, and create a peaceful and happy world in an instant.

    Further reading:
    - HRIH.net currently lists many English translations of the Yoga Sutras, as well as numerous translations in 34 other languages.
    - For a remarkable interpretive translation of Patanjali's Yoga Sutras see www.swamij.com (PDF; 63 pages; 264 kb). Highly recommended!
    (Page 1 of 1, totaling 2 entries)

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