This past weekend in our Canberra Yoga Teacher Training program we took some time to explore some of the philosophies of yoga in the essential text, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Each time I read, study, or share the teachings of the Yoga Sutras I feel as though I am renewing a friendship – the Sutras have been a guide, support, and source of inspiration through my yoga journey, and it is almost as though the Sutras keep adjusting, changing, morphing as my own practice changes, ebbs, flows, and grows. For me, there is always something new, or something that I see in a new light, each time I return to the Sutras, and this weekend what inspired me (and a few others) was the concept of the Four Virtues.
The Sutras explore (among many other things) how we lose sight of our essential self through the distraction of the fluctuations of the mind. The Sutras talk about how there are a variety of different thought-waves, and how many of these thought-waves, and our tendency to ‘entertain’ our thoughts, can cause us suffering. And, although humans have always been humans and subject to the fluctuations of the mind, I might suggest that the greater complexity and busy-ness of our lives and the increase in mental stimulation perhaps makes us even more susceptible to the suffering caused by excessive thoughts (or, hyper-mental-ation as one student used to call it!)
So, we get that we are overthinking, overstimulated, overly attached to our thoughts, we become lazy in our thinking, are unable to concentrate, and this causes us to literally forget ourselves and our essential nature. This makes us reactive, frustrated, and we seek remedy in pleasures like shopping, television, gossip, food and drink. Terrible news! But, The Sutras also talk about how we can live more sweetly and comfortably with ourselves; how there is a way to achieve calmness of mind through the practice of these four simple virtues.
The Four Virtues
1. Friendliness toward the happy
2. Compassion toward the unhappy
3. Delight in the virtuous
4. Indifference towards the wicked
So, for this month, perhaps you can join me in experimenting with the Four Virtues. Sharing happiness with the happy, but offering compassion rather than judgement towards the unhappy. Delighting in people’s goodness and honesty, and being unperturbed by those who are exhibiting bad behaviour. This practice can reduce the conflict that occurs in our relationships to others, and can also reduce the harmful thought-waves that remain long after a challenging encounter has ended.
If you want to explore the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali for yourself there are so many wonderful translations to choose from, there are even a few very good free PDF translations to be found online. A few of my favourite translations include:
Alistair Shearer, George Feuerstein, Chip Hartranft, and Christopher Isherwood.
Now, google away, good people, and enjoy!