These words in the ancient language of Sanskrit come from the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, a series of teaching “threads” of wisdom presented by a yoga sage said to have lived more than 2,200 years ago.
“Yoga is the stilling of the changing states of the mind.”
With these words, Patanjali defined the practice of modern-day classical yoga. He then went on to describe how to do this “stilling of our fluctuating states of consciousness” by recommending lifestyle practices, posture and breathing practices, focusing and meditation practices, all which provide a comprehensive system for finding peace of mind.
Even back then, our human brains were busy planning and worrying about future ongoings, and often stuck in past experiences, causing us to struggle to find peace-of-mind in day-to-day living! Nowadays, however, with so many informational systems available to inform us of worldly ongoings and to perhaps distract our attention from what’s actually happening right in front of us, these teachings seem even more relevant today.
With the modern-day breakthroughs in neuroscience and other mind-body sciences, we are beginning to understand how these ancient practices actually do work, how they actually “re-wire” our human bodies to help us take greater responsibility for our health and our wellness. Through regular practices, performed repeatedly in earnest over long periods of time, we have the ability to change our state of being. We do actually have the ability to help ourselves find peace of mind regardless of the circumstances we face each day in life. Just like a bodybuilder who trains to build muscles, or a student who studies to remember information or to apply knowledge, or an athlete who practices movements to increase performance, however, it takes practice – repetition. And it takes time!
As a yoga teacher, I know that many students come to me for the physical benefits of increasing body flexibility and ease-of-movement. But, I also see how many students keep coming back to yoga class for increased mental-awareness, enhanced focus, sustained energy and positivity, and decreased stress. I see how yoga practice helps with depression, anxiety, addictions, and post-traumatic stress. I see how yoga practice helps the conscious mind make clearer choices and the subconscious mind (the body) let go of past stories and physical, mental and emotional imprints. I see these results in my work, I read about them in modern scientific studies, and I know them from my own personal experience.
What draws people to classical, modern-day yoga – the physical practice of performing various postures – eventually becomes a lifestyle practice of finding peace-of-mind in the step-by-step experience of living our lives. Posture practice leads to mental focus and physical awareness. Mental focus and physical awareness leads to energetic and emotional clarity and attentiveness. Energetic and emotional clarity leads to paying attention to “what’s going on now”, discernment, and taking responsibility for making wiser choices. Making wiser choices leads to health, happiness, and peace-of-mind… and loving relationships (but that can be the subject of a future article!).
Where to start? Of course, there are many yoga teachers out there and many places to practice yoga and find online resources. But, you can begin right now, by paying attention to your breath, really paying attention to your breath as it flows in and out, and having the intention of feeling ease in the movement of each breath. If thoughts enter your field of awareness, notice them. That’s normal. But then just realize that the thoughts are just thoughts, and bring your attention back to the present movement of each breath. Try it for one minute. Maybe increase it to 5 minutes. Maybe 10? Try it in the peace and quiet of your home or in a beautiful outdoor setting. Or, try it while standing in line at the store! Smile… and feel the natural benefits of being present in your body. You have begun a yoga practice! And you have started a new lifetime practice to find enduring peace-of-mind!