By: Hannah Holland
Yoga was the topic of the inspiring seminar delivered by Associate Professor of Theater and Dance Lesley Farlow, at the Trinity Chapel last Thursday, Feb. 23. Farlow epitomizes all that is achievable in a yogi lifestyle. She stood before a crowd of college students and managed to captivate all with her soft-spoken voice and passion for the art of yoga. Farlow was a self-proclaimed hyperactive child who found solace through a yoga-loving nanny. As her life progressed from active child, to high school student, to college actress, yoga has remained a crucial element in her life. Farlow’s seminar touched upon the emotional and spiritual aspects of yoga that have changed her life and that of many others.
“Yoga Sutras,” one of the most important texts in yoga, functions as the backbone to how devout Yogis find meaning in their lives through their yoga practice. They are considered the most important and sacred texts of yoga. The “Sutras” are small, Sanskrit written statements and ideas that are composed of rhythmic and rhyming words. Farlow likened them to childhood truisms, from a western perspective, or biblical aphorisms. The “Yoga Sutras” are divided into four chapters, or books, that guide the ways to contemplation, practice, properties of the mind, and freedom.
Collectively, the four books begin with the simple fact that humans, by nature and by situation, suffer. The key to life without suffering is to experience a deep connection to something greater than the tiny piece of the universe we inhabit. Dukha, the Sanskrit word for pain, frequently comes about through the misunderstandings and misperceptions that frequent human interaction. Farlow argued that these misunderstandings result from ignorance, pride, hatred and aversion to death.
The second book, “Practice” or Sadhana Pada in Sanskrit, outlines the Eight Limbs of yoga, which aid in the quest for yogi-type enlightenment. The “Yamas,” which describe positive attitudes toward the world and healthy interactions with others, are an integral aspect of the Yogi mentality and of Sadhana Pada. One aspect of the Yamas explains practicing peace. While “practicing peace” is exactly what it sounds like, it also touches upon the idea that peace means comfort with oneself. Farlow explained that this can be achieved through acceptance of oneself and through recognition of the singular greatness each of us possesses. No two people have had the same experiences and perspectives, and, therefore, should be delighted with the uniqueness of who they are as people. There are other functions of the “Yamas:” speak the truth when it needs to be said and never violate the trust of others.
Another aspect of the Eight Limbs is “Niyama,” which refers to the five observances in yoga. Farlow explained that these can be anything from keeping oneself physically clean to self-knowledge of one’s place in the world. A large component of Niyama is the idea that the ability to perceive your mind leads to the ability to properly perceive yourself. Farlow described this idea as being able to realize the exact moment when your mind jumped on the “lunch bus” and left the current place where it had been residing. Being able to recognize when this happens is the first step toward being able to recognize your true essence as a person.
As Farlow concluded her discussion of “Niyama,” she led the group in a brief meditation exercise where we were asked to imagine the crown of our head floating above our bodies. The goal, at the end of the exercise, was to come away with a renewed sense of self-awareness. In a soothing and even voice, Farlow urged us to feel our breath and pay attention to how our bodies felt as we sat up straighter and straighter. Pranayama, control of breathing, and Asana, control of the body, are to work together to begin to achieve the Yoga Sutras.
Yoga, if done correctly, is a lifestyle choice. The duality between exercising the body and conditioning the mind is as much a guide to the right life as any religion. Yoga, Farlow concluded, can help a person become full and open to the beauty of the world around them.