// Asking Questions
Part of my intention when I work with Ayurveda and Yoga is to transmit the information in straightforward and immediately useful way for my student or client. One of the best ways I can do this is to improve my own daily practices, and to continue to embody the knowledge as much as I am able to in this lifetime. A teachers’ presence can sometimes conduct more than their words can. Though my experiential knowledge is very very little, I still try to do my best to present it thoughtfully and represent the teachings I have not yet embodied (most of them) authentically.
I was having a discussion with my husband the other day about practical yoga. He enjoys the books about great masters, mostly translated directly from their biography’s or treatises on yoga practice – books transcribed directly from Babaji Nagaraj, or Lahiri Mahasaya, or other sages and rishis. These books mostly talk of very large ideas, or personal experiences of these beings, and expound on very advanced stages of meditation and samadhi. My husband loves this – and these stages are his ultimate goal, whether in this life or the next 3000, and he’s ready to start now. I was asking him, ‘where can we study the preliminary steps to this stuff? It seems to far-reaching for me to imagine enlightenment in this lifetime.’
Correct me if I’m wrong, but I think most of us are in a similar boat. I, for one, think I am not fearless enough to be ready for enlightenment right now...
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
Guilty of being the Devil’s advocate, I realized my question was a bit ignorant: I’ve been practicing and teaching yoga for years, and I teach Ayurveda. What did I think what I was doing every day – simple meditations and postures, caring about what I put in my body – was all about? You’ve go to begin where you are, and if enlightenment can take thousands of lifetimes, inching forward in one is practical progress.
When I first started in my yoga teacher training program, I purchased a copy of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. This is one of the most important texts of the science of yoga. It’s the practices of yoga written down by the sage Patanjali in sutras, basically couplets, or little nuggets of yoga knowledge to work with and expound upon in life, outlining the path to samadhi. It is from Patanjali’s yoga sutras that we get the tenants of Ashtanga yoga – the 8 limbed path: yama, niyama, asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, samadhi.
Truthfully, I had never really gone past studying the first few sutras: ‘the practice of yoga begins now,’ and ‘yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.’ Of course, I had read through the others, but never concentrated on their implementation. But after this ‘discussion’ with my husband, I realized that it was time for me to go back to the basics. Sometimes we blaze through books and knowledge and experiences so fast, we’re just ready for the next without digesting our experiences. I am guilty of this here – a whole body of practical information on how to apply yoga in my life right now, and since I had had it on my bookshelf for years, I had diminished it’s significance, sadly.
And Coming back to What I Know
Perhaps now I am just finally worthy and ready to come back to the information. So much of yoga is subtle – we do these practicing thinking we can go on living our lives the same way as before, but once you open the Pandora’s box of introspection, even if it’s just through a little yoga asana or meditation, you naturally start to discover the interconnectedness of everything. The subtleties begin to sneak up on you.
In one of my meditations, I asked a question to my teachers an guides: which of the yoga sutras would be best for me to study at this time? I felt I saw and 1, and then a 7 come from the intellect. Knowing no matter the number I had received, I knew whatever I opened to in the sutras would be an appropriate to work with – that’s sort of how it goes. So afterward, I opened the Sutras to book one, Samadhi Pada, and sutra #7:
“The sources of right knowledge are direct perception, inference and scriptural testimony.”
(From the translation by Sri Swami Satchidananda)
For the first time in my life I feel like some of my direct experiences with yoga and Ayurveda might be of value to others. It is true for writers to ‘write what you know,’ and I’ve always taught what I know – or at least taught what I am myself practicing if it’s relevant to whom might students are at the moment. The more I teach, and the words come through me, the more I ‘know’ and the easier the knowledge can be transmitted.
Direct perception can be what you have truly gleaned for yourself from your life experiences, or for me, it is often the knowledge that I have received from teachers or ‘scriptural testimony’ that I’ve put to the test and experienced in my own body. Before I even knew what yoga or ayurveda was, I knew that drinking iced drinks made my stomach upset, and that if I had a stuffy nose, lying down on one side would clear the top nostril so I could breathe better. It’s nice to have a context or ‘reason’ for those things now, but it’s not actually necessary. Now, it’s another topic (or sutra) to talk about why we still do things we know will give us a result we do not want…humans. 🙂
I think direct experience is the root of why there are so many different styles of yoga practices, in the West and the East, now, because it’s natural to want to teach what works for you. This is not a bad thing, but I think it’s important for students to be aware of – knowing that the teachings should have a true a solid source – whether that’s ancient texts you can always come back to, or a divine source you can cultivate connection with.
In regards to scriptural testimony, I am blessed to have great teachers, and translations of ancient works – just past teachers and teachings in the lineage – to use a a corner stone for my practices in yoga and ayurveda. These bodies of knowledge are fed by present day practitioners, but the truth at the heart of them does not change, especially because there are these grounds to come back to. Though ancient, humanity is still in need of this stuff, as there has been a revival. And personally, if these teachings hadn’t resonated with something deep inside me, then I would not have felt like they was worth diving in to at all – and here I am weaving them into my life. I like what Sri Swami Satchidananda says in this translation, “Truth can be presented only through some form or vehicle…it may appear in different ways to suit the individual or the trend of the age….but the truth can never be changed, because truth is always the same.” (pp. 13)
Inference is a bit more tricky – this implies that we already have a body of experience, form which we can use the knowledge we have already attained to infer further knowledge. The famous example is that if you have had direct experience of fire, you know it causes smoke. So when you see smoke, you can infer that there is fire somewhere. This is the kind of information Ayurveda uses to diagnose imbalances. Perhaps this is sort of the bridge between scriptural testimony and direct experience. What we directly experience, we can then infer others may experience if they do similar practices.
We all want the goosd life, and the handbooks are out there. Here’s to practicing.