Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Sanskrit Word of the Week: Sutra...as in Patanjali

As part of my curriculum for yoga teacher training through Holistic Yoga Therapy Institute, I am required to read the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.  I am then further required to journal each week about a Sutra that impacted my life in that seven day span, culminating in a one page article on the Sutra that MOST impacted my life over the course of the training.

Sounds easy enough, right?

But I have a question...

Who exactly was Patanjali and and what is a Sutra? 

Okay.  So that's two questions.

Don't get me wrong.  It's not as if I have never previously been exposed to these words.  You cannot read any book on Yoga without reference to Patanjali and the Yoga Sutras, but I have no clear understanding of either and if I'm going to be asked to reflect on them, then like R.E.M. sang, "Let's begin again.  Begin the begin."

Let's start by defining the word, Sutra.  According to the article, What is a Sutra? submitted by yogaphilosopher on the Toronto Body Mind website
The common dictionary meaning of the word ‘Sutra’ in Sanskrit is thread, string or cord. The word ‘Sutra’ as used in literary context has a wider meaning. It is an aphoristic or cryptic statement which expresses a vast idea within a few words. Some scholars opine that extremely important works were written in Sutra form so that they could be easily memorized and retained for the benefit of posterity. A Sutra is like a quick note jotted down by a speaker, on which he would elaborate when delivering a lecture.
Okay.  Got it.  That explains a lot actually.  The Sutras are composed of 195 (or 196 depending on the source) concise statements such as:

1.  Now the exposition of Yoga is being made.
2.  The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.
3.  Then the Seer (self) abides in His own nature.

...and so on until you reach 195 (or 196)....except that I'm simplifying slightly, but I don't think it matters for the purpose of what I'm trying to convey.  The bottom line is the Sutras read like bullet points.  The full explanation is missing.  It is up to the person delivering the speech to elaborate on each point.  Or perhaps in this instance, it is up to the yoga student to research and reflect upon each point and extrapolate the message into their own life.

The word Pantanjali itself is a Sanskrit proper name and many Indian scholars with that surname have been credited with writing important documents on subject matter such as: grammar, medicine and yoga.  The Patanjali I'm interested in is considered, "The Father of Yoga," for compiling his thoughts and knowledge of yoga into what is essentially considered to be "an ethical blueprint for living a moral life..." approximately 2000 years ago.

For more information on both Patanjali and the Yoga Sutras, Sherry Roberts has written a wonderfully informative article titled, Patanjali's Eight-fold Path.  Another great article titled Who was Patanjali? written by Richard Rosen can be found at YogaJournal.com.

As for me, now that I have a better understanding of Patanjali and the Yoga Sutras, I'm ready to Begin the Begin.

The first Yoga Sutra to resonate with me is in Book One, Samadhi Pada, which translates to Contemplation Chapter, verse 14:  Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.  Based on this mindset, although I attended my first yoga class more than 4 years ago, I have only been practicing for one year.  According to Malcolm Gladwell, author of Outliers: The Story of Success, it takes 10,000 hours to successfully master any skill.  So how long is 10,000 hours exactly?  If I spent 40 hours a week, the same amount of time the average, hourly, full-time employee spends clocked in, it would take 250 weeks to reach 10,000 hours.  Breaking it down further, 250 weeks is the equivalent of five years.  Now add in the reality factor of my life. I am not a full-time yogi, but rather a full-time mom and wife so multiply by 2 and my equation comes closer to 10 years to reach 10,000 hours.  And that's okay.  I am not in a hurry.  In fact, the opposite.  I am taking my time, savoring the experience of learning, savoring the experience of  meeting new people and making new friends, savoring the journey one minute at a time.

So, while it takes 10,000 hours to master a skill, it only takes 200 hours of study to become a certified yoga instructor.  That's a big disparity, but everyone and everything has to start somewhere.  And, I think the beginning is a good place to start. I have no intention of ending my education and training at the minimum amount of hours required and most of the yoga teachers I've met have many, many years of education and teaching experience in their arsenals. 

Patanjali wrote:  Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.  I will continue to delve deeper into the world of yoga increasing my knowledge for the betterment of myself as a person, as a wife, a mom, a writer, and as a teacher.  This, Mr. Patanjali, I declare in all earnestness.

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