The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are a good place to begin. Sutras are little one liners that thread together to teach a heady concept. Patanjali was a wise yogi from India who compiled the Yoga Sutras in order to differentiate this school of thought from others in India way-back-when.
The first one liner says: Now We Begin The Practice of Yoga. In and of itself this is a beautiful idea. When we are present we begin the practice of Yoga. Yoga begins with presence. The first sutra also has a functional purpose of letting the reader know what will be discussed further. The way that I like to read the sutras is by asking the most obvious question that arrives after reading the one liner. For example: This first sutra says, “Now we begin the practice of yoga.” If I were a child who was curious and ready to learn my next question would be, “Ok, what is Yoga?” Conveniently, the next sutra says: Yoga Is The Cessation of The Fluctuations of The Mind.
Here is where it gets really interesting! But I have to side track for a moment to explain another concept, but then I will bring it all together.
Have you ever heard of dualism before? Dualism has to do with The Soul and Nature and how they relate to one another. A dualistic view of the world is one that supposes there are two ultimate principles that any conceivable thing can be boiled down to. Something is either subject to change or not. If it is subject to change then it is Of Nature. The word for this in Sanskrit is Prakriti. If something is not subject to change and it is eternal then it Of Soul. The world for this is Purusha.
Prakriti, Nature is made up of three qualities. These qualities can loosely be compared to the primary colors in their ability to combine for the sake of diversity. One quality is called Tamas. If something is Tamasic it is lazy, dull, stale and inert. Another quality is called Rajas. If something is Rajasic it is spicy, passionate, bold, active, and doesn’t know when or how to stop. The other quality is Sattva. If something is Sattvic it is luminous, balanced, harmonious, peaceful, and slowly and steadily progressing towards enlightenment.
The Mind is of Nature, Prakritic, subject to change, which means it is capable of being in varying states of lethargy, excitement, and peace. What is of particular interest is that The Human Mind is capable of being in a purely Sattvic state, which is not easy or even possible for most objects Of Nature. This makes The Human Mind an ideal window for Purusha. Therefore! One of the reasons that Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind is so we can unite or connect with the Soulful, eternal, gracious part of ourselves that has no desire other than to be a witness for how life is playing out.
The physical practice of yoga is thought to be merely gymnastics if this more heady part is not taken into consideration. However, the physical practice of yoga is an ideal way to calm the mind and bring it into a Sattvic, luminous, harmonious, peaceful state when such an intention is present.
Now, let’s begin the practice of yoga.