The ancient yogic philosophies and scriptures are beautifully linked to modern-day Hatha yoga practice. All the physical asanas we do in yoga studios, gyms, yoga festivals and online, go hand-in-hand with the ancient scriptures from thousands of years ago. Asanas support the path to enlightenment, and the ancient texts show us additional disciplines to get us there. To delve into the vast body of spiritual teachings within these scriptures, is to evolve our practice beyond our yoga mat. In Sanskrit, this type of study is referred to as svadhyaya, the study of one's self. We study ourselves in order to understand the reality of life. (Learn more in Svadhyaya: A Lifetime of Self-Study.)
So, what is at the heart of these ancient scriptures? What’s at the heart of the Upanishads, the Yoga Sutras, the "Rig Veda," and all those other profound texts like the Bhagavad Gita?
Our Thoughts Create Our Reality
Patanjali, often referred to as the father of yoga, was a master at manipulating his consciousness in order to have powerful thoughts and nothing else. He was a master at transforming his thoughts into reality. That is one of the teachings at the essence of the ancient scriptures. Our thoughts create our reality, and what we put our attention on, naturally grows and manifests in our lives.
The manifestation of thoughts is one of the siddhi powers that ancient yogis were said to have possessed. They could think a thought and manifest it into reality spontaneously. Our thoughts are powerful and we have to really work to master them. We have to get beyond the negative mind, the monkey mind, the mind that is full of doubts, so we can transform it into one that is full of positivity, beauty, creativity, abundance and love. We have to unlearn the dependence on our habitual mental habits. This is a great undertaking because many of us have been taught to rely solely upon our mental experience. (Learn more in Your Mind Isn't Actually You: How to Quiet the 'Monkey Chatter.')
Wisdom of the Heart
Another central teaching of the ancient scriptures has to do with heart-centered awareness. This is the belief that the energy center just to the right of the physical heart is where our real wisdom and intelligence lie. It’s not in the brain. One’s true source of intuition comes from this chakra called the anahata chakra. This energetic center is deeper than the feelings of sadness, grief, melancholy, etc. that we often associate with the heart.
The ancient mystics deemed the heart to be the place of true awakening. This is why we practice opening our hearts in many of the various physical asanas. It’s also why there are countless guided meditations that teach us to drop into our heart center and breathe with it. We want to cultivate this point of awakening. To live from unconditional love is to attain enlightenment. We can do that by fueling the flame of the deep heart. (Find out more in Heart Intelligence.)
Our Material World Is Illusory
Another primary part of the ancient scriptures teaches us that the material world is ultimately one of illusion, or maya. It’s not the Absolute Reality. If we get stuck in this illusory world, we will suffer and we will continue to repeat unhealthy habits and behaviors, staying stuck in negative ruts, or samsara, for many, many lifetimes. And why would we want that?
So, the ancient scriptures provide us with methods and stories about how to free ourselves from samsara in order to gain enlightened awareness, and to liberate ourselves from human suffering. (Learn about The Roots of Suffering.)
We do this by practicing non-attachment from the material world. We let go of our desires because they are impermanent. They are constantly coming and going and, once we attain them, we want yet another. It’s an endless state of “I want this” or “I don’t want that.” The teachings of yoga tells us that we can get beyond this level of consciousness and ultimately experience a deep contentment, or santosha, that never wavers and never goes away.
The scriptures also teach us that we can attain freedom from suffering when we master the art of surrendering to the Divine, or Ishvara. We can place our trust in a higher power and we can also come to feel connected to it. We’re given all sorts of tools; meditation, mantra, asana, mudra, pranayama and other teachings that help us get there. Eventually, we will come to a point of realization that not only is there a higher power, but that we are the higher power. We are the Universe and the Universe is within us. We are connected to the highest level of Consciousness and can ultimately live from that place. This is the heart of yoga.