MODULE ONE : WHO AM I?

In this module we start at the beginning. What are the yoga sutras? Who is Patanjali? How is yoga defined in the yoga sutras? And who are we according to the tradition of yoga? We also explore an important teaching from the Taittiriya Upanishad that offers us a way to understand the multidimensional nature of our being—the panchamaya koshas.

READING

“Bringing Yoga to Life” by Donna Farhi chapters 1-4

“The Heart of Yoga” by TKV Desikachar chapters 1-2

THE TEACHING LINEAGE OF VINIYOGA

Before we dive in, let me introduce the teaching lineage I have been trained in and offer 3 mantras to ground our study:

Learn to chant the SahaNa:

WELCOME TO THE YOGA SUTRAS

The Yoga Sutra is an ancient text, estimated to be around 2,500 years old. It is made up of 196 brief aphorisms called sutras, or threads. These are split up into 4 chapters. In this course we will focus on the first two. The first chapter, called Samadhi Pada offers us teachings on who we are as well as what the mind is and how it works. The first chapter explores the state of yoga—a state of mind—and the obstacles that get in the way of reaching this state. The second chapter, called Sadhana Pada offers us teachings on the practice of yoga. It also details the reason for practice, which is to alleviate suffering. This chapter includes several teachings on the nature and cause of suffering.

Patanjali is the ancient sage credited with writing the yoga sutra. He didn’t create the system of yoga, which has been passed down orally from teacher to student for thousands and thousands of years. Patanjali codified the system and recorded important teachings in written form. The yoga sutra is now considered to offer the classical teachings of yoga. There are several ancient commentators on the text, the most important being Vyasa. And, of course, there are scores of modern commentaries. You already have at least one in your library!

As I said above, we practice yoga in order to transform the mind and relieve suffering. Patanjali’s name speaks to this. “Pat” (pronounced like pot) means to fall. And anjali refers to prayer. Anjali Mudra is the gesture of prayer (prayer hands at heart center). The name Patanjlai refers to the teachings falling into the praying hands of suffering people, which I find extraordinarily beautiful.

YOGA SUTRAS 1.1-4

I offer you two versions of teachings for these sutras (remember: repetition, repetition, repetition!). First, there is a recording of the live class from Jan 21st. And second, there is a pre-written recorded lecture. They cover the same teachings, but from very different energies.

LIVE TEACHINGS

PRE-RECORDED LECTURE

You might want to listen to this lecture with your glossary page handy. I explain all the terms on that sheet in this lecture.

MODULE ONE PRACTICE – MA AHAM

Below is the audio file of this module’s practice. The intention of this practice is to deepen your awareness of all 5 levels of your being. To deepen your awareness of your pancha maya. I hope you will take the time to go through it 1 or 2 more times. As you deepen your study, how does the practice feel different to you?

SOME PERSONAL REFLECTION

Yoga is personal. So I thought I would share some of my own thoughts regarding these four important sutras:

AND NOW THE TEACHING ON YOGA BEGINS

I view sutra 1.1 as an invitation. I feel an ancient teacher calling me to come and sit and giving me the opportunity to enter a world of possibility. The Yoga Sutras have so deeply changed my life. I’m grateful for them and grateful for the continued invitation that I feel every time I read this first sutra. The invitation is always new. The moment is always different. I’m always different. The possibilities for learning are always fresh. So I return again and again and again. The moment is now. And now. And now.

YOGA IS THE STILLING OF THE MIND INTO STILLNESS

Sutra 1.2 offers me a definition of yoga. And a hope. My favorite interpretation is “Yoga is stilling the mind into silence.” But depending on the moment, I might phrase it for myself as “Yoga is stilling the mind into love.” or “Yoga is stilling the mind into ease.” or “Yoga is stilling the mind into focus.” or “Yoga is stilling the mind into compassion.” Who am I becoming? I practice yoga in order to become quieter, more loving, more easeful (less angry and easily frustrated), more focused (less distracted and diffuse). And, of course, I practice yoga in order to become kinder (less judgmental and reactionary) to myself and the world around me.

WHEN THE MIND HAS SETTLED, WE ARE ESTABLISHED IN OUR ESSENTIAL NATURE, WHICH IS UNBOUNDED CONSCIOUSNESS.

Sutra 1.3 tells me that these aren’t things I need to coerce myself into being. I am already there. My essential nature is quiet and focused. Is loving and easeful. Is deeply compassionate. My essential nature is unbounded consciousness, standing witness to the world as it is. This sutra teaches me that divine mystery is always, already within me. This phrase–always, already–is important to me. It supports my efforts to avoid self judgement. I’m always, already who I need to be. My practice is the work of uncovering this truth. Of peeling away the gunk (the mean internal voice, the outside world’s view of who I “should” be, the old habits and stories trying to keep me in the rut). I practice in order to remember this truth. And maybe, when I’m lucky, to experience a moment of truly feeling it. These moments do come… And I relish them.

OUR ESSENTIAL NATURE IS USUALLY OVERSHADOWED BY THE ACTIVITY OF THE MIND.

But, of course, sutra 1.4 reminds me of the painful reality that I don’t yet live in this truth. I spend quite a bit of time lost in the whirl of my mind… Everyday I find myself lost in it. But, and this is key, I recognize when I’m lost a lot faster than I used to. I can say that my practice has reshaped me. When I notice that I’m lost in the mental whirl, I try to offer gratitude rather than judgement. Because every moment of noticing–of actually noticing that I’m lost!–is an opportunity to make a choice. If I hadn’t noticed, I’d still be lost. In the noticing, I can pause and shift gears. I can remember that there is something bigger and truer than (fill in the blank…my fear, or anger, or anxiety, or stress, or whatever it is I’m lost in). I can return to my breath, my heart, my intention to seek inner quiet and clarity. I can choose not to stay lost in the whirl…

Yoga is a practice of becoming. Of uncovering. Of remembering. Of being transformed.

And next month, we will begin to study the practices that help us do this work…

Before we get there, I encourage you to keep working with the question: “WHO AM I?”

MODULE ONE JOURNAL PAGES

To that end, I have several journal pages to support your reflection. I hope you’ll work with them this month! Here’s a pdf of all 6 pages for you to download: Module 1 Packet

  1. A title page with our intention for the course (keep this close throughout the year!)
    1. We are working to transform our automatic reactions into intentional response. We do this through the mechanism of awareness. Everything we do in this course is in support of building our habit of awareness.
  2. Daily noticing journal.
    1. I hope you’ll use this everyday! You can make lots of copies and write on the page or just use the prompts in your own journal. The goal here is to introduce moments of pause into your daily life. Take time–several times a day–to notice what’s real. Notice what’s happening on all levels of your being (body, breath/energy, sensory mind, intuitive mind, spirit). You can actually journal throughout the day (you can just jot down a sentence or two) or you can notice throughout the day and take more time at the end of the day to journal about what you noticed.
  3. Glossary.
    1. Instead of defining these terms for you, I’ve created a document for you to craft your own definitions. I define all the terms in my recorded lecture and your sutra book includes a glossary I’m sure. Use your resources and work to understand these sanskrit terms in your own words. If you get stuck, email me!
  4. Panchamaya Kosha
    1. A visual aid to support your understanding of this important teaching from the Taittiriya Upanishad. We will spend a lot of time exploring the 5 (pancha) levels (or sheaths–koshas) that pervade (maya) our being.
  5. Personal Reflection Questions
    1. A few questions to help you deepen your exploration of the question “Who am I?”
  6. Purusha and Prakriti
    1. The tradition of yoga says that our True Self is Pure Awareness (purusha). But usually we are lost in the ever changing nature of reality (prakriti). This page encourages you to begin exploring these two aspects of our life.

SOME EXTRA ARTSY ADDITIONAL RESOURCES

I’m an artist and I love to explore big questions and ancient texts through art. Here are two projects that support the teachings of this module. I hope you’ll take the time to explore them:

The January issue of a magazine project I worked on in 2015 is some of my own wrestling with the question: “Who am I?”

A blog post I wrote, also in 2015, about the Pancha Maya Koshas. This post includes a video where I read from the Upanishadic text.