Getting to know the Sutras– 2 books I have dipped in and out of during lockdown and the exciting Teacher Training Programme at Heather Yoga…
1. Living the Sutras, A Guide to Yoga Wisdom Beyond the Mat by Kelly Dinardo and Amy Pearce-Hayden
Before my teacher training I was aware of what the Yoga Sutras were, but I honestly had never really given them too much of my time. They were sometimes peppered into classes I had attended or they might have themed a few different yoga workshops. One task that many teacher trainee will be asked to complete during their course, is to read through them, summarise them and acknowledge how they are applicable and relevant to one’s own personal practice. This is an incredibly hard task for some and it definitely was for me. For a whole summer I picked up my translated copy and would often find myself frowning, only being able to read a couple of pages at a time. (Although to be kinder to myself I occasionally found resonance with some of sections.) It’s fair to say this was not an easy read and not a particularly enjoyable task when done in this way, which is a shame because they are the most profound aspect of Yoga Philosophy. It has only been since exploring a little further that I have become much more aware of the various different accessible and friendly adaptations of the Sutras which would have been so useful a little earlier in my yoga career.
Living the Sutras, A Guide to Yoga Wisdom Beyond the Mat by Kelly Dinardo and Amy Pearce-Hayden is a journaling based commentary. It’s interactive with the reader and includes prompts and self study to support reflection with added guidance in how you can make the sutras more applicable within your own intentions or to the life that you would like to live. You don’t have to read them in order, you can dip in and out of them at random and pick a reflective exercise to scribble down into your journal. I did end up doing them in order and I also built them into my daily routine which I found hugely beneficial. I think the action of writing can really help to bring us into a moment of being quiet and present. It is very difficult to write and split our attention at the same time and so these exercises can become a mindful practice in themselves.
To share with you a little glimpse of what this book is all about, I have chosen to highlight a section which gives reference to Ahimsa (Non Harming)
(2:35) ahima-pratishtayam tat-sannidhau vaira-tyagah
“All violence ceases to exist in the company of one who has mastered non-violence.”
“When our thoughts contain seeds of jealously, disappointment, resentment, guilt, anger or shame, hurtful behaviour blooms, grows and spreads like a weed…Practicing ahimsa starts with ourselves. We we eat too much, don’t sleep enough, stay in an unhealthy relationship, push through another Chaturanga Dandasana, keep our schedules jammed…If we master our own negativity, our thoughts and actions will follow”
The journaling exercise that follows is to write ‘What critical and judgemental things do you regularly tell yourself? What encouraging, loving things do you regularly tell yourself?’
Maybe you could find the time to have a go yourself and see what comes up?
2. Greed Sex Intention: Living like a yogi in the 21st century by Hannah Whittingham and Marcus Veda.
This book is a very accessible introduction to the first two limbs of yoga from the 8 limbs of Ashtanga which form part of the Sutras: They are the Yamas (the dont’s) and the Niyamas (the do’s) also known as the yogi’s moral and ethical code. Greed Sex Intention is a guide in how you can approach your yoga practice and how can make sense of the world around you. Essentially this is ancient wisdom applied to the complexities of modern day!
For me this book is written in a way that is so relevant to how we can apply the concepts of the Sutras to our yoga on and off the mat. It has helped me with a few of those light bulb moments which brings a little bit more depth to my yoga practice, helping me to remember how I can apply what I have learnt to the way I chose to interact with the world around me. At the end of each chapter the Yama or Niyama is linked to a specific yoga asana (pose) and I love the examples which are illustrated.
I could pick out loads of extracts and examples of each Yama or Niyama which I enjoyed reading but to keep things short and consistent, one of my favourites was also on the subject of Ahimsa-Non Harming. Within this section it covers the subjects of ethical consumer choices within western culture as well as social media and intention, our inner critic, the judgment of our selves and others and death and suffering. The asana which is chosen to sum up Ahimsa is Urdhva Dhanurasana (Upward Facing Bow) and I couldn’t agree more! When we rush into this pose we can really experience compression in the lumbar spine or a feeling of overly straining the shoulders and the wrist joints and sometimes our bodies are simply not ready to come into this backbend.
“When you are in the right place, the mid section of the spine is actually getting longer and the diaphragm is releasing” but often we are not using our hip flexors, thoracic spine and legs enough or our shoulders feel restricted. It is worth always remembering that every time we come onto the mat, our bodies are different. We might have spent a week sitting at a desk, we might have had a few active days, we could be a little sleep deprived or we might be run down. When we come into the fullest expression of a pose in our practice, is there a way that we can remember to return to our intention? Is it because we always move into this pose, or do we feel impatient with our progress? Are we influenced by the teacher or other practitioners? Are we really listening to the body or is it the ego? Or do we make this choice because in this moment both our mind and body are ready and they will benefit from the slow, skilful and safe transition in and out of this pose?
These two books can really help you to access and interpret the Yoga Sutras with fresh eyes. If you can link relevant examples from your own life experience then you are more likely to be able to digest, remember and apply them. They can act as fun and enjoyable introductions to the classical Philosophy of Yoga. Allowing you to capture a little of your own yogic insight which may ignite the beginning of a journey of self-study which may enhance your ability to experience balance and clarity, allowing you to live the life that you would like to live with meaning and purpose.
Both Living the Sutras and Greed Sex Intention are books that I would recommend to distract you during these strange times. Living the Sutras is also on the reading list for the Heather Yoga Teacher Training Course 2021 and we can’t wait to reveal more. For more information about the course please click here Please note that we have an Early Bird Offer on the course at the moment that runs until 30th September 2020.
Happy reading 🙂