The Purpose of Yoga
The purpose of yoga is improve ones general state of health, to become stronger, more resilient, flexible, and resistant to stress. The idea is to return to our natural state of well-being and joyfulness, before we were subject to myriad sources of disease.
Our general state of health is affected by both physical and psychological elements. Much of our stress comes from psychological sources, and the pain that results from making bad choices in what affects us. This includes what we eat, the media we consume, the nature of our daily activities, and the influences of those around us.
According to the sage Patanjali, whose ancient writings inform us on the nature of yoga, there are naturally occurring obstacles that we encounter on the path to restoring our healthy state of being. We can turn to yoga to overcome those obstacles, while being aware that we all share the same challenges.
Pattabhi Jois reminded us often that anyone can practice yoga, except lazy people.
“Yoga can be practiced by anyone, whether young, old, very old, healthy or sick. Even so, the way in which a young person is taught will differ in manner from the way in which an old or sick person will be taught. Therefore, each student must be considered as an individual and taught at a pace that is suitable for their situation in life.”
Sharath Jois shares his grandfather's notion of the six poisons that are obstacles to the light that is self realization. A vital aspect of internal purification that Pattabhi Jois taught relates to the six poisons that surround the spiritual heart. In the yoga shastra it is said that God dwells in our heart in the form of light, but this light is covered by six poisons: kama, krodha, moha, lobha, matsarya,and mada. These are desire, anger, delusion, greed, envy and sloth. When yoga practice is sustained with great diligence and dedication over a long period of time, the heat generated from it burns away these poisons, and the light of our inner nature shines forth.
In a similar manner, Tim Miller, in his weekly class, Introduction to Ashtanga Yoga, highlights the nine obstacles to the yoga practice, which are often present in our lives, that can be counteracted by the yoga practice itself. As the Zen saying goes “the obstacle is the path.” Pattanjali describes them in his Yoga Sutras (1.30). They are physical illness (vyadi), tendency of the mind to not work efficiently (styana), doubt or indecision (samshaya), laziness in mind or body (alasya), impatience (pramada), overindulgence (avirati), not seeing clearly (brhanti darshana), inability to advance (alabha bhumikatva), and instablility (anavasthitatva).
Yoga sutra 1.1
atha yoganusasanam: Now, the teachings of yoga
NOW is the time to begin
The Ashtanga Lineage
Parampara is the Sanskrit word for the knowledge that is passed in succession from teacher to student. It denotes the principle of transmitting knowledge in its most valuable form; knowledge based on direct and practical experience. It is the basis of any lineage: the teacher and student form the links in the chain of instruction that has been passed down for thousands of years. In order for yoga instruction to be effective, true and complete, it should come from within parampara.
According to Sharath Jois, the method of Yoga taught at Pattabhi Jois's yoga shala in Mysore, India, is that which has been told by the ancient Sage Vamana in his text called “Yoga Korunta.” Although many books on Yoga have been written, Vamana is considered an original delineation of a complete practical method. In the 1920’s, the Yogi and Sanskrit Scholar, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya traveled to Calcutta where he transcribed and recorded the Yoga Korunta, which was written on palm leaves and was in a bad state of decay, having been partially eaten by ants. Later, Krishnamacharya passed on these teachings to the late Pattabhi Jois, whose school continues to teach this method today.
This is the method that is taught at Sruti Yoga Center.
Ashtanga Yoga is an ancient system of Yoga that was taught by Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta. This text was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900’s by his Guru, Rama Mohan Brahmachari, and was later passed down to Pattabhi Jois during the duration of his studies with Krishnamacharya, beginning in 1927.
Ashtanga yoga is, as defined by Guy Donahaye, “A comprehensive eight-step evolutionary program designed to transform a human being physically and mentally by reducing dis-ease, pain and stress, and by increasing health, peace and happiness, leading ultimately to the highest realization of the Self.” As he says, since we live in such a polluted and unnatural environment, for most people, this means starting with healing the body.
It is yoga therapy. “It also educates one about one's body. Healing oneself is a journey which allows one eventually to become one's own doctor: no one can know one's own body as intimately as the one who experiences it.”
Eddie Stern describes the physical practice of asanas or postures as “healing, strengthening, and purifying- a perfect antidote to the modern lifestyle which causes so much physical and mental stress. Yoga can alleviate many common ailments such as headaches, insomnia, back pain, etc. It also purifies the body of toxins, increases vitality, and brings greater mental peace and clarity”.
Petri Raisanen offers that “Ashtanga yoga is often defined as an intense, athletic, and dynamic form of yoga. In many ways this is true, although ashtanga does much more than just strengthen and stretch the body. By practicing with awareness of breath, correct use of the drishti (gazing points) and the bandhas (energetic locks) one can develop a sense of consciousness in both the body and the mind”.
Richard Freeman says “Yoga is a living art. It is a means of moving, breathing, thinking, expanding and contracting, evolving and interacting within the complex, ever-changing landscape of the world within and around us. As with any art form, yoga nurtures seeds of aesthetic satisfaction that stimulate flashes of understanding and compassion. For many practitioners, a keen truth and meaning spontaneously arise as insight into the vast, interconnected nature of all things.”
Mysore Style Yoga Practice
In the south Indian city of Mysore, where his guru Krishnamacharya taught, Sri K.Pattabhi Jois opened his first yoga shala in 1948. His daughter Saraswati, and his grandson Sharath, continue to teach there today.
As Magnolia Zuniga explains, Guruji established the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute in their tiny two-room home in Lakshmipuram with a view toward experimenting with the curative aspects of yoga. Many local officials, from police chiefs to constables and doctors, practiced with him. Local physicians even sent their patients to Guruji to help with the treatment of diabetes, heart and blood pressure problems, and a variety of other ailments.
The Mysore style practice method that Pattabhi Jois taught, starts with sun salutations (surynamaskara) and proceeds posture by posture through a prescribed, individualized series of postures. The class is guided and assisted by a teacher who may offer hands-on assistance, and is the method we use at Sruti Yoga Center.
In the Mysore room we practice as a group. Sruti founder Amy Webb's vision of a yoga community center has its heart centered in the Mysore room. Each student comes into the room and does their own practice of the sequence, aided and guided by the teacher.
New students begin with sun salutations and the breathing system, and the first practice may be only 30 to 40 minutes long. Postures are added one by one, adapted to the individual as needed, gradually building a sequence that is stable and sweet. In the beginning three sessions a week may be enough, but over time, one works towards 5 or 6 sessions a week. New students require more attention and verbal instruction, but ideally, “the practice space is quiet, except for the rhythmic sound of deep breathing”.
Prospective students are invited to come and observe a class.
Yoga practice is best done on an empty stomach, at least three hours after the last meal. One should be adequately hydrated and not drink during practice. Practitioners should shower before every practice and refrain from using scented soaps, shampoos, and lotions. Yoga clothes and rugs should be clean and fragrance free. Learn more about practice on our page GETTING STARTED.