by Ali Valdez
As a practitioner and teacher, you either love or dread dealing with the highly matrixed system of yoga philosophy. Sure, we can distill it down to simple facts: we are all one; yoga in unification, etc. But then we wouldn’t need the books or teachings at all, would we?
While leading teacher trainings, I am always struck by the peculiarity of those students that acquire these books from the shelves of their local library. As if you can, especially the nascent sadhaka, read it cover to cover, put it down and be done with it.
Almost every year, I reread excerpts from the classical ‘canon’ of yoga, including playing with different translations of the same books. I have taken on rereading the Bhagavad Gita each year with a different translation without a problem, but it’s not a personal favorite, to be candid.
However, I really love me some Sutras.
I also have enjoyed tackling the Sutras from many points of view and interpretations. As a nerd, I really like to read so this sort of sadhana comes easy to me. I thought I had already read most of the ‘important’ translations. After attending a lecture on the Sutras for my birthday (told you I was a nerd) the speaker suggested I start slowly tackling the most esoteric translation of all. The recommendation resounded like a birthday gift come true. The book arrived days later.
Fast forward three weeks and its binding and seams remain unfettered on the floor of my apartment. By the front door still, no less.
I’m surprised it made it out of the box. It’s a sacred text so in writing I realize it deserves the dignity of being housed on a shelf with its Sutra siblings; maybe even read eventually.
Why is this? Well, I have a curious attachment to the translation that has worked the best for me: Mr. Iyengar’s Light of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. For years and years of teacher trainings, this has been the go to text. Yes, I know about Satchitananda, and for the record, lyrically, I prefer Vivekananda, but for my students, I wanted the one that brought the most in exploration of concepts, not pleasure or simplicity. My copy of Light On YSP is falling apart, a complete sloppy mess of yellowing pages, the binding of the book looks like the worded face of an old man, wrinkled and weathered with time, use and experience. Many pens have expended their ink gliding across those pages, filling in the margins. This is MY source for the Yoga Sutras.
But then the unthinkable happened.
Teacher Training was starting, I had recently moved, and the book was missing. Gone! As in not f*** found.
I looked everywhere. Nada. So, now what?
I saw that Mr. Iyengar, single handedly if not most likely the greatest contributor to exploration of yoga to the West, had published a new book, The Core of the Yoga Sutras with a beautifully bright pink cover. This was exciting for me. I could have all the comforts of the familiar translation plus additional insights from the same author after a couple more decades of study and reflection.
But instead, I was found scratching my head. Mr. Iyengar has extracted overarching concepts across all four padas and integrated their teachings with excerpts from the Gita, my least favorite of the yogic texts. It read off because it wasn’t the familiar flow. It looked off as the formatting had been re-engineered. Like a spoiled child with a replaced binky, I wanted my old one back. Combing the house in my signature whirling dervish style, I consistently came up empty handed. I thought about buying another one, a new copy but that was blasphemy. I wanted MY book with MY notes, arranged the way I liked it.
Then it hit me: I was not practicing vairagya, which means I wasn’t learning one of the central tenets and simple summations of yoga: non attachment.
So I sat down on a sunny day and made my acquaintance with the Core of the Yoga Sutras. I chose to appreciate how the reorganization of concepts energized my interest in them. I saw it as a perfect book to substantiate the spiritual and scientific aspects of the practice. I appreciated a man in his late nineties share his personal journey, against all odds, to be the practitioner, not teacher, that he is today.
Concepts like Samprajnata Samadhi, Antaratman or Citta are never easy to grasp but it’s not so much the academic knowing but the practical application of the teachings that have the greater impact.
If you would like to study Yoga philosophy with me, I will be at Balance Yoga Studio this Sunday and two in July covering the Yoga Sutras, Bhagavad Gita and Autobiography of a Yogi, and in August in Houston, Texas. For more information, you can visit: http://sattvayogaonline.com/workshops/. These can be applied towards the 200 hour program or Continued Education with Yoga Alliance.
* I guess I learned my necessary lesson because just as I was going to click send on this post, I felt oddly drawn into my daughter’s room and cast behind her Hunger Games books was this crusty old tome, like a long lost friend, whose familiar face brought a smile to my own. Thanks again, Patanjali and Mr. Iyengar.