Yoga is the way we harness and direct the body, the mind, and the personality toward the soul's mission.
Yoga is the stilling of the mind's whirlpool.
This is the second line of the first chapter of the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali. It's yoga's means and yoga's ends.
So what's yoga?
Yoga is the connection we cultivate between seemingly disparate parts of our being. We have a body that requires attention. We have a mind that also needs tending. Notice also these personalities of ours. Don't they sometimes trouble us with behavior we'd prefer not to claim? Or they shelter us when it might be time to explore.
I like to think of ancient charioteers who were respected for the skillful ways they strapped horses to a chariot. Their talent was not merely with the rope but in the quiet presence, focused attention, and applied wisdom they must have used to manage horses, a cart, and winding, rutted roads. Here were some original yogis.
To achieve the goal of yoga, we look to the ways that we suffer. This is our first bold move. We acknowledge that we make mistakes and they contribute to our spiralling minds.
The Yoga Sutra guides us to look carefully to the effects of our spinning minds: on our life journeys, we may experience persistent illness, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, indulgence, arrogance, resignation, or backsliding. As we navigate these obstacles, we may also suffer from stress, despair, trembling bodies, shortness of breath, and confusion.
It sounds like the fast talk on a drug commercial. Or the generalized depression and anxiety almost everyone feels at one time or another. Which brings some solace, doesn't it? Our discomfort isn't a drug's side effect or even a pathology; our discomfort is the result of an unharnessed mind in the midst of life.
Consider how we've trained ourselves into limited attention spans. We scroll; we swipe; we listen to podcasts at double-speed. (People do this?!) We pretend to multi-task and don't know what to do in silence. We check our phones in the middle of conversations. We check our phones while we drive. We check our phones while we hike. And we medicate ourselves to pay attention without bothering to retrain ourselves toward concentration.
Sigh. The mind wants our love.
The Yoga Sutra provides a few helpful suggestions to offer love to the mind and strengthen our concentration. These are powerful but quite sweet.
The first (arguably best) way? Develop friendship toward those who are happy, compassion for those who suffer, joy for those who do good, and acceptance for those who don't. It's a practice. It requires that we notice our own responses to every person we encounter. If we choose no other yoga technique, that's okay. This one alone will change the world, if we practice it.
But some folks won't.
So the Yoga Sutra offers more:
As with any regimen to bring strength into our lives, we have to practice. Some days will be better than others. Still, we do the work. Sometimes it will be really hard. Still, we show up with our attention and notice what we find. The mind settles toward stillness and we discover so much more.
Our concentration develops as we concentrate. The eddies in the mind calm. The soul finds space to guide us.
In the growing quiet of our mind, love finds us everywhere. The ardent attention we give to our beloved becomes available in and toward every condition.
The whirlpool is no more. The mind is serene.