Spiritual traditions are guarded by their texts. Over time, as lineages develop and traditions transmute, the written word stays constant. Texts live and breathe through the translations and interpretations of practitioners, and from those interpretations emerge new bodies of work that are lauded alongside the ancient texts that precede them. Yoga teachers, who seek to explicate and bring the tradition alive for their students, often call upon texts and words for inspiration. Indeed studying text is an essential element of the yoga practice in itself, and the interpolation and discussion around these words is itself a new, breathing body of work. We asked some of our favorite teachers about the verses from yoga scripture that they revisit time and again.
Jim Bennitt, co-founder Tejas Yoga in Chicago
“The best of yogis, being free from fatigue in practicing asana and bandhas, should practice nadi shodhana, mudras, and pranayama.” —Hatha Yoga Pradipika, chapter 1, verse 55
To me, this says it all. Don’t exhaust yourself with the physical practice. Use just the right amount of effort. Save time for the deeper practices like breathwork and concentration. With the growing popularity of yoga, this is something practitioners (and teachers) need to hear.
Rima Rabbath, senior teacher at Jivamukti Yoga in New York City
mattah parataram nānyat / kimcid asti dhanamjaya / mayi sarvam idam protam / sūtre maniganā iva – Bhagavad Gita, Chapter VII, Verse 7
Nothing higher than me exists O Arjuna (dhanamjaya – conqueror of wealth). On Me all this universe is strung like pearls on a thread. —Commentary by Winthrop Sargeant
I like this verse for its powerful imagery: pearls on a thread, precious gems on a necklace, beads on a mala. Krishna is known as the Lord of Love and there is nothing higher than love, is there? We are all bound to one another by love whether we are conscious of it or not. That’s our ultimate connection. But when love is forgotten, the thread, the necklace, the mala breaks.
To nourish and sustain love, all the pearls on the thread, all the gems on the necklace, all the beads on the mala are equally necessary.
To me, this verse speaks about the undeniable interdependence of our reality. I like to take this a little further and think of the pearls, gems, beads as not only the various beings on this earth but also the various aspects of ourselves (even the parts we are ashamed of and want to push into a bottom drawer). This verse can remind us to not reject anyone or anything; to embrace everyone and everything. Full acceptance!
Russell Case, director of the Ashtanga yoga program at Stanford University
Atha yoga anushasanam.
Now, the teachings of yoga. —Yoga Sutra 1.1
It’s all there in the first line of Patanjali’s yoga sutras. Here, finally, yoga is revealed. Everything else that you have tried—the casual sex, the lines of crystal, aerobics—doesn’t seem to work anymore. And now you have this tool to disencumber yourself from the fear and loathing. It took a long, long time, but now it has arrived.