Every life experience is internal to each individual. The objects or stimuli we experience may be initiated from the outside, but the experience takes place in our mind and our body. The state of yoga is also an experience, but it is unlike other common experiences. Yoga is the internal experience of simply being, a state of inner tranquility or peace. We reach this internal experience by transforming the habitual activity of our mind to develop stillness.
Lasting tranquility or calmness of mind cannot be reached only by changing the external circumstances of our lives. Inner tranquility lies in being undisturbed despite external circumstances. Therefore, the role of external situations in bringing tranquility to the mind is at best transient — if things that disturb us are removed, we are temporarily more at peace. But when circumstances change, so will our mind, and we will soon find ourselves disturbed once more.
The pathway to tranquility lies in steadying our inner experience. That depends less on our life situations and more on the way we respond to those situations. To be at peace is an internal state specific to each one of us. External circumstances are of secondary assistance in this process, not the primary cause.
So, who can change your mind? Can someone else do it for you? Other people can at best be an indirect influence on the way you think and feel. No one can reach into your mind to remove or replace what flows in it. Only you see your thoughts and feelings and only you can change them. Therefore, progress in yoga can happen only through your personal effort.
This is a deeply empowering message. It is in your capacity to refashion your inner world to be less disturbed by the outer world, to have greater peace and fulfilment, no matter what.
The Yoga Sutra and other ancient yoga texts are the works of people who have walked this path. This is not particular to the Yoga Sutra – such sages have left behind their messages for us across all cultures from the ancient times.
Having attained states of inner stillness, they left behind a guide for others to follow and benefit. The yoga path explains that inner experience with the support of systematic reasoning for us to understand it and work towards it, as that state is outside of our current experience.
So, if the transformation is internal to the student or practitioner, what is the work of the teacher?
The teacher inspires the student by presence. It is easier to be peaceful in the presence of someone who is peaceful than in the presence of someone who is agitated!
The teacher guides the student by transmitting knowledge, insight, and reasoning. Without knowing the why and the what of practice, it is difficult for any student to progress safely and effectively. It’s the role of the teacher to provide that why and what, systematically.
Of course, this supposes that the teacher has some experience of the inner states of yoga, otherwise the guidance will lead the student astray!
The pathway of yoga is one of self-empowerment towards inner stillness. Regardless of the pathway that life takes us through externally, if we can gradually find a way to take our mind to a place of steadiness and tranquility, we will come out better. This is a choice that is in our hands, and the classical texts and teachings of yoga show us how we can do that. Let us make a choice to move toward greater steadiness and tranquility within.
The writers are yoga practitioners and authors of several books