Professor of Indology, Edwin Bryant, finished his workshop on the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali and the Bhagavad Gita in Budapest with this sentence. For a weekend in July, we – Katrin, Elizabeth, and Claudia – gathered with 40 Iyengar Yoga practitioners from Germany, Austria, Hungary, Slovakia, Romania, Bulgaria, and Slovenia for a workshop with Kevin Gardiner and Edwin Bryant to study the the texts and experience them in the yoga practice.
Who am I and what is my task in this life? What is the right action?
The searching and doubts of the warrior and Pandu prince Arjuna could be outlined in that sense at the beginning of the epic narrative Bhagavad Gita. In over 700 verses a conversation between him and his charioteer – the God Krishna himself – evolves. The Bhagavad Gita presents a synthesis of Hindu ideas about Dharma/duty of every individual in this life, about the theistic bhakti/worship of God and the yogic ideals of Moksha/way to liberation. The text includes Jnana, Bhakti, Karma and Raja yoga and is the best-known and most famous Hindu text, whose call for selfless action inspired many actors of the Indian independence movement, including Mahatma Gandhi.
The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali are a collection of 196 aphorisms on the theory and practice of yoga. Compiled by Patañjali, they define the eight-limbs of the path of yoga, describe the obstacles we encounter in our path of practice and in life, and the means to overcome these obstacles in order to avoid “future suffering”. In the eight-limbs path, asana comes third and Patañjali uses just three verses at this level.
However, throughout his life, B.K.S. Iyengar saw the Sutras as the most important text for his practice. He was convinced that the seven other limbs and their elements could be practiced in asana itself: For example, Yama/social rules with ahimsa/non-violence for him began not only in dealing with fellow human beings or animals – even while practicing an asana he requires his disciples to take non-violent action against themselves, i.e. to closely observe and perceive whether they are pressing themselves into a flexible lower back and thus injuring themselves in the long run, out of pure carelessness towards the needs of their own body.
The Yoga Sutras of Patañjali and the Bhagavad Gita offer a philosophical basis for one’s own yoga practice. They remind us, among other things, that yoga is more than the correct execution of yoga postures – it is the way to our true inner Self. But asana practice remains an important step on the yoga patht!