Yoga Practice (Part 2) – Quieting the Mind
The mind thinks 72,000 thoughts a day.
Okay, you think that’s a high number. Then set your watch to beep in five minutes and just sit quietly counting your breaths and see how many thoughts pop up in your brain.
Now do you believe?
Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodhah
“The restraint of the modifications of the mind is yoga”.
This is from Patanjali’s sutra’s written 2,500 years ago. Before that were the Vedas…poems stories, epics, songs, of ancient India. Patanjali was an ancient scholar who read through the Vedas and extracted its most important teachings which he summarized in the Sutras. Kind of a Yoga for Dummies of the ancient texts.
A sutra is a strict concise saying of truth. Sutras are the heart of yoga. The teacher is the prana (life force) that brings them to life. Like a good Shakespeare teacher, a good yoga instructor can make the sutras seem like laser beams of wisdom. I heard somewhere that doing yoga without studying the sutras is like having spaghetti without the sauce, and well while some people might like the plain noodles, most prefer to be cleaning the plate with a soft baked breadstick.
So what is the goal of yoga? What is the point of some of these crazy poses we put you through?
The goal of yoga is is clear your windshield of dirty thinking. Imagine your mind is a windshield. Ideally you want a clean windshield (VIDYA) which enables you to percieve life clearly, calmly, and peacefully. When your mind is clear, you can see the truth and then take the appropriate action. However, according to the sutras, our minds are dirty like they’ve been in the Baja 100 race. Instead of correct understanding (VIDYA), we have incorrect understanding about life (AVIDYA), So with this dirty windshield, we go through life discontent, anxious, angry, fearful, unhappy, and other assorted ailments because we don’t see life correctly but with a twisted warped perception.
For example of this, say you have finished a hard day at work and return home. You planned to run (Intention) 40 minutes as part of your training schedule. Then a little thought comes into your brain “but its cold outside”. The thought then gets worse, “and I don’t have any warm running gear”, and “besides, its getting dark”. Then the thought comes across your mind, “I won’t run tonight”, “I can run tomorrow”. But your intention all along was to run. In this way your actions now contribute to an even greater level of misunderstandings until it gets to a point of habituation called SAMSKARA.
This SAMSKARA now becomes your life. You sit driving to work. You sit at work. Your thinking prevents you from working out at night, and then you sit in front of the TV eating junk to hide the guilt you have from a broken obligation to yourself to go for that run.
So yoga can help us break this cycle. Yoga allows us to take action mindfully, gracefully, elegantly, with strength, focus, and breath all of which we work on in practice. So by cultivating a focused mind in practice, and by doing all the other wonderful things such as elongating the spine, opening the lungs, stimulating the inner organs, stretching the muscles, we open ourselves to new possibilities in our bodies. We learn the truth about our bodies, our strengths, weaknesses, flexibilities, tightnesses. We learn some truth about how our bodies move and breath.
And all this knowledge will illuminate all aspects of your life. You won’t even have to strain or overexert yourself. Your life like your practice will find more peace, grace, and energy.
And you can come home, put on running shoes, leave your house and have the most amazing spiritual run noticing the thousand colors of a late fall in our beloved Southern California…without your mind getting in the way.
Ultimately, this creates more focus, and the ability to see situations for what they really are. Thus we don’t see through a dirty windshield anymore, but rather the light of life comes shining through so clearly that we know what to do for our health, happiness, prosperity, spirits, and relationships.
This is the promise of yoga.
How can you apply this to your practice and your life?
1. Quit thinking so damn much.
2. Roll out your mat everyday and do your yoga. Don’t think about whether you’re doing it right or wrong. Just do it.
3. Tune into your breath in your practice instead of your scattered mind.
So today after you’ve practiced your yoga, and had 71,599 thoughts instead of 72,000 then you’ve been doing your yoga.
Gary Yoga teacher and fellow overthinker