Yoga's Word

2 April, 2019
By Marco Levi

The peasant origins of the word "Yoga"

Right from its etymology, the word Yoga tells a lot about its energetic essence. If, on one hand, this sacred word has come to signify "to unite, to join together", there remains a further, deeper origin, noted, amongst others, by the great Romanian scholar Mircea Eliade. This observation refers to the sanskrit root of the word Yoga: yugà, which is thought to coincide with a term coming straight from the act of working the fields: yoke. In our technologically advanced age, few people are likely to remember what a yoke even is, or what this ancestral human intuition looks like. In ancient agriculture, a yoke was a wooden frame connecting two draft animals at the neck so that they could drag the plow moving together in the same direction, as if on rails. Thanks to this interesting etymology, the word yoga doesn't just bring to mind the idea of unity, of joining separate things (mind and body, human soul with cosmic soul); it speaks of something more, underlining how such unity may take shape by gathering energy instead of wasting it, channeling its flow into one path. Such is the path of yoga: a practice to plough one's own soil, that is one's body, in order to make it fertile, alive, and one.

 

The first position is there are no positions!

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is a sapiential text that represents the institutional birth of the yogic way, as well as the ultimate philosophical authority on Yoga. It is comprised of over 180 sutras (sacred aphorisms), yet only three of these sutras concern the actual practice, or positions (asana). As if the proper arrangement of movements that the body needs to make in order to feed on the energy of the cosmos and become "the plow to one's field" were the natural effect of a somewhat more inward principle, having to do with the need to soothe the mind. We will say, turn off your mind, so that the body can be turned on. It is on such a meditative notion that rests the first of the four sections of the Yoga Sutras. The 51 Sutras of Samadhi Pada describe Yoga as a means to suppress psycho-mental (citta) states (vrtti). This particular term, "citta", used by philosopher Patanjali, bears the meaning of "psychic mass", the typically human way of recording and controlling each and every feeling that happens to go through our conscience. Breaking free from the control, from this reeling superpower (vrtti) of the mind over the body, from this compulsion to give names to everything, will help identify a way towards attaining the Samadhi (no mind, only consciousness), the beatific state in which emancipation can take place from the "circle of rebirths", the Samsara.

 

The Yoga as the way of nature

It follows that the true meaning of any yogic practice is precisely one of staying connected, as if through a yoke, to this meditative origin. No practice can completely put aside meditation, the liberation from the mind. And no meditation can live without practice, without the journey of asana. So what does the great philosopher and grammarian Patanjali, have to say about the asanas (positions), about postures, sun salutations, the beating heart of every practice? Just two words: Sthira and Sukham, stability and comfort. This seeming reticence when it comes to the practice actually gives way to an interesting notion. Maybe stability and comfort aren't naturally available to the human being, let alone in contemporary societies, ruled by the mind. I mean, it's not enough to just sit still and delude oneself on being actually comfortable and stable. What Patanjali seems to be pointing to is to invite you to ponder the existence of a more stable stability and a more comfortable comfort, attainable through practice. It may not matter which one, because what truly matters is the act of starting on the journey to free the mind in order to energetically nurture and cultivate ourselves, just like a field. Because, however much rougher than a rubber mat, only in nature can man find true stability, true comfort. Take Yoga's word on it!