Speed Dating Rainbows-An Intro To Yoga Philosophy

My initial foray into yoga philosophy was like speed dating the individual colors of a rainbow. Each was an entire experience by itself, but the further I traveled through the colors, the more complex the structure became. I begin to realize that I was in a matrix of meanings and vibrations that transcended the individual shade of what I thought yoga was. Of who I thought I was… or what I could become.

If that all sounds a little overwhelming and slightly disorienting, congratulations—you’re completely normal.

Many of us, myself included, came to yoga because it offered a new way to move the body, perhaps heal injuries, and make some pretty unique shapes in the process. But I quickly realized there was something deeper happening in my class than being able to touch my head to my knees. I was going to places inside myself, finding strength I didn’t know I had, tapping into a focus that was rarely there in everyday life.

For a couple years, experiencing that stillness in class was enough to satisfy my need for a recharge from the incessant pace of my daily world.

But then I had a child, slid into post-partum activated chronic illness, and the pace of life assumed a fevered pitch. I needed more than an hour-long class—I needed something that would last longer…a time-release yoga practice that would work from waking to sleeping, thank you very much.

It was at that point I enrolled in a yoga teacher training course and met yoga philosophy for the first time.

Now I had a background in literature, history, and travel that no doubt was helpful in being able to stay mostly present on first contact with yoga philosophy, but let me tell you—that second sutra in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali was like having the lights flipped on full strength after being in a pitch-dark cave for an entire year.

Yoga citta vritti nirodah-yoga is calming the fluctuations of the mind

Wait, what? Mental stillness…peace of mind is the point of yoga? Not being so healthy you live to be 100? Not being able to compete with Olympic gymnasts in overall flexibility and grace? Not being able to touch your toes and heal back injuries without surgery?

And yet, perhaps I should have known that there was more to this 5000 year old practice than simple gymnastics. But I was concentrating on trying to get my hands around the bottoms of my feet and keep my body healthy, not attempting to parse the very meaning of life itself.

However, I have always been a practical philosopher, testing the realities of life against the ideals of a dreamer—so this phrase was tantalizing to say the least. Alright, I reasoned, let’s say yoga really is about becoming enlightened. But HOW?

Little did I realize that Patanjali had predicted my question several thousand years in advance.

Not only did he anticipate my wanderings, he wrote a point by point outline of exactly how to achieve this still mind.

At first glance, that might read as incredibly useful, and to my untrained and eager eye, it did just that. “Great!” I thought, “I’ll be enlightened in one lifetime flat with this handy guide!” I was ecstatic-here was the antidote to my stressed out world!

The further I read into the sutras, the less confident I felt. Patanjali was describing lists of ways the mind will betray you and lead you into ignorance. The lists had lists. Those lists had lists. I went into information overload and cerebral meltdown.

Thankfully, I had teachers who had anticipated the half-life of over-zealous hopes for self-realization and the realities of neural capacity for complex information in Sanskrit.

Just relax, they said, and trust that what you need will stick and what you don’t, won’t.

I really wanted to relax into all these fascinating ideas like the 8 limbs and klesas and koshas and chakras and mystical yogic powers like bi-location—and for the first hour, I was pretty successful. 

But then my brain hit its limit and threw up its hands. No more right now. Not even one little bit.

One of my favorite moments in philosophy class occurred when our teacher was trying to get us to repeat a simple mantra in Sanskrit. She would say several syllables and then have us repeat them back to her. My brain was not having it. Try though I might, I could not recall a single syllable when called on. Not one. My moment of grace appeared at that point and I had to laugh. The lesson for me could not have been clearer.

You do not eat an elephant in one bite, so don’t try.

I have remembered this experience many times over the years following my initial introduction to yoga philosophy. Though I have gone on to not only study but teach yoga philosophy to students like I once was, I still have moments where the sheer intricacy of this work leaves my brain and spirit breathless. 

The difference is that now, I marvel at the complexity instead of trying to control or master it. I am more skillful at letting the wisdom wash over and through me, trusting that what I need will stick and when I am ready for more, it will too. And when the information gets so thick as to drown my memory banks completely, I come back to the simple, but not easy truth—yoga is the calming of the mind. And if that doesn't help, I laugh. 

Because who in their right mind tries to eat an elephant anyway? 


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