Yoga as self study

I don’t normally post the words of others in my blog, but these words seem somehow important to me these days. The following is an excerpt from Shyam Ranganathan’s commentary on Pantanjali’s Yoga Sutra.

“To study the self is to be introspective. It is an effort to discriminate between the true self and the contingencies of one’s mind and body. To study the self, thus,is to take a critical stance towards one’s mental life. This is the only way to understand the study of the self, for Patanjali regards the mind as a potentially confounding aspect of our embodiment that can cause confusion in our self-conception. The criticism of one’s mental life is an intrinsic feature of self-study, for in Patanjali’s view, the mind is the mirror by which the self can know itself and also the means by which the self can confuse itself. When the mind has been stilled and made morally perfect, it acts as a mirror, reflecting the essential nature of the self back on the self, whereby the self, or the person, can abide in it’s own true nature. When the mind is disturbed and not constrained, the self continues to understand itself through the mind, but thereby identifies itself with extraneous, disturbing factors.

“Some who practice yoga, particularly in the west, come at yoga from a seemingly new age perspective, according to which everything under the sun is ok, fine, good and without need of criticism. ‘I’m ok, you are ok’ has been revived by many practitioners of yoga. For such practitioners, yoga is an escape from self-criticism, stress and difficulty. This is not Patanjali’s view of yoga…. To be a yogi is to hold oneself up to a very high standard. It’s not to disassociate the self from the mind and bod, and to take no responsibility for one’s thoughts, desires and actions. To practice yoga, according to Patanjali, is to practice rigors of the body and mind. There is no room for rest or relaxation for the yogi.

“How then are we to make sense of the peculiar phenomenon of fashion yoga: yogic practice that people take on for the clothes that one can buy from expensive yoga clothing boutiques, or yoga undertaken so that one can secure the body of one’s dreams or as a substitute to some other type of physical exercise that leads to a positive body image?

“Patanjali is committed to the notion that tapas helps in the practice of yoga, because it purifies the body and thereby purifies the mind. He must thus be committed to the notion that it better for people to practice fashion yoga than not to practice any type of tapas at all However success in yoga cannot be had by the mere practice of austerities or a weak subscription to watered-down ‘spirituality’ that attempts to infuse divinity in all things (including one’s own decisions and thoughts) in order to avoid the difficult project of self-criticism….” (p. 132 – 133)

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Translated and commented upon by Shyam Ranganathan. Penguin Books India. 2008

Leave a Reply