PATANJALI WHO?

I've already mentioned that I have been studying the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The Sutras are a collection of 195 aphorisms divided into four chapters. The first chapter instructs on meditation (the most important aspect of yoga according to Patanjali), the second chapter is about additional practices, the third chapter discusses supernatural abilities and the fourth chapter is about enlightenment. Nothing is really known about Patanjali and so he remains a kind of a mystical figure.

Lately, the Sutras got me thinking about their relevance in a wider sense and about yoga in general. How exclusive yoga can seem. How often people might just think: what Sutras, Patanjali who, why are we chanting?

I thought about speaking of Sutras and other texts in yoga classes. How to present them, if at all? Let's face it, a sutra taken out of context, presented without background and heard for the first time might freak some people out. Especially if they came to a class for the stretching.

Here's an example:

I went to a yoga class recently where the teacher mentioned the sutra above. There was no introduction, no explanation, no insight. She simply read the text in sanskrit, then in english, then made us chant it. The exercise felt a bit contrived and a bit irritating and I felt that I learned nothing from it. Was it just me? This was an open class i.e. anybody could walk in without much prior experience of yoga.

If I was a newbie, I probably would have run and never come back.

I had been dipping in and out of yoga for years before finally embracing the practice. The thing is, even though I always felt attracted to yoga, every time I came to a class, something seemed a bit off. A common thread through my early experiences was a general air of snobbery, superiority and exclusivity in the classes I attended, which I found so off putting that it always took me a long time afterwards to try again. That's just the place I was at a time. Plus I must have been quite unlucky because I'd hate to think that this impression would be a norm. Or is it?

I have nothing about sharing and teaching yoga philosophy -- at the right place and time. Personally, I don't think an open class is it (a dedicated workshop or a course, absolutely). The challenge is in the presentation. It's just too easy to slip into speaking in jargon and shorthand that people not acquainted with the terms will only find confusing. I find that a bit snobby and alienating by default.

The best and most inspiring teachers have a way of extracting this ancient yoga wisdom, translating it into modern language and presenting it in a way that is relevant and understandable.