Inner Reflections
June 17, 2024

A Shortcut to Yoga

If you Google “What is yoga?”, one of the top results will be:

“Yoga is a practice that connects the body, breath, and mind. It uses physical postures, breathing exercises, and meditation to improve overall health. Yoga was developed as a spiritual practice thousands of years ago.”1 

This answer is not wrong at all. But it is incomplete.

Yoga is not only a practice, but also a state of being—a state characterized by feeling at peace within oneself. Or, as the great teacher Georg Feuerstein put it, “inwardly free.”

And just in case it’s not self-evident, the practice of yoga is meant to help cultivate the state of yoga.

But as the definition in the search results suggests, it is fairly common to think that postures, breathing exercises and meditations are the primary—if not the only— practices in yoga, when in reality this is not the case.

The Yoga Sutras, which were written roughly 1500 years ago, and which lay the foundations of the tradition, list a variety of practices that have nothing to do with postures or breathing exercises. In fact, the posture practice as most people think of it today is not even mentioned in the Yoga Sutras.

What is mentioned are things like being friendly, doing no harm, being truthful, not squandering our creative potential, keeping our minds, bodies and personal spaces clean, and being content things that require much more mental awareness than physical strength or flexibility.

It is noteworthy, though, that the very first practice the sutras list—and the one that they tell us is the simplest and fastest path to achieving a state of yoga—is a word in Sanskrit, Ishvara Pranidhana, that’s usually translated as “Surrender to the Divine,” or “Devotion to God.”

Similar to the definition of yoga from the search results, though, these translations are not wrong, per se. They’re just not always helpful. What does it mean in practice, after all, to surrender to the Divine, or to be devoted to God?

The key is in the component words.

Ishvara means God. But it doesn’t mean God in the sense of a creator. It means God as the cause of creation—a subtle but important difference.

Pranidhana means to surrender or devote, just like most translations say. But rather than surrendering or devoting ourselves to a Supreme Being, the Yoga Sutras are encouraging us to surrender to the natural force that causes creation in the first place.  In other words, to accept things that are beyond our control.

It’s important to recognize that while this might seem like something that some people are naturally good at and that others struggle with, it is indeed a practice—in other words, something we can get better at if we really want to and work at.

Of course, there are all kinds of people out there, and not everyone is interested in being at peace within themselves. Which is not a problem, according to yogic philosophy. Another core teaching of the sutras is that everything we can perceive— from other people and all physical reality to our own thoughts and emotions—exists solely to help us with our own practice. But that’s another topic for another blog.

For now, just know that if you happen to be someone who’s interested in being at peace within yourself, the Yoga Sutras suggest that you can either take the long road of myriad other practices, or you can take the shortcut of simply accepting the things you have no control over and trusting that if things needed to be different, they would be.

It may not be an easy pill to swallow, but the sutras suggest that if you can train yourself to do it, you will be successful in your practice.

I wish you good luck, and as always, happy practicing! Below are some recommended practices as always:

By Brent