Sunday, July 5, 2020

Yoke - a

This week I am going to focus on the last 3 verses of the Gospel reading from Matthew 11:28-30

“Come to me, all you that are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”

What is meant by “yoke” here?

As defined in various ways by Merriam-Webster Yoke means:

1a : a wooden bar or frame by which two draft animals (such as oxen) are joined at the heads or necks for working together

b : an arched device formerly laid on the neck of a defeated person

c : a frame fitted to a person's shoulders to carry a load in two equal portions

d : a bar by which the end of the tongue of a wagon or carriage is suspended from the collars of the harness

e(1) : a crosspiece on the head of a boat's rudder

(2) : an airplane control operating the elevators and ailerons

f : a frame from which a bell is hung

g : a clamp or similar piece that embraces two parts to hold or unite them in position

2 plural usually yoke : two animals yoked or worked together

3a(1) : an oppressive agency

(2) : servitude, bondage

b : tie, link especially : marriage

4 : a fitted or shaped piece at the top of a skirt or at the shoulder of various garments

yoke as a verb yoked; yoking

1a(1) : to put a yoke on

(2) : to join in or with a yoke

b : to attach a draft animal to also : to attach (a draft animal) to something

2 : to join as if by a yoke

3 : to put to work

: to become joined or linked

As a yogini I am drawn to the word yoke as it comes up frequently in yoga. The definitions of yoga that I have heard over my time in this community include union and yoke.  I’ve even seen yokes as decorative additions to yoga studios.  In the yoga sutras we discussed last week Patanjali in sutra I.2 speaks of Yoga “yogah-citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ.”  As interpreted by BKS Iyengar:

Yogah means “union or integration from the outermost to the innermost self, that is, from the skin to the muscles, bone, nerves, mind, intellect, will, consciousness, and self.”

Citta means “Consciousness, which is made up of three factors: mind, intellect, and ego. Citta is the vehicle of observation, attention, aims and reason; it has three functions, cognition, conation or volition, and motion.”

Vrtti means “state of mind, fluctuations in mind, course of conduct, behavior, a state of being, mode of action, movement, function, operation.”

Nirodhah mean “obstruction, stoppage, opposition, annihilation, restraint control, cessation.”

Taken together as sutra I.2 one could think of it as the same thing Jesus is saying in Matthew 11:28-30.  Integrate your body at all levels (Koshas: physical, energetic, emotional, wisdom, spiritual) by stopping the fluctuations of the mind and body and rest or meditate in the stillness. Lighten the burden and the yoke becomes easy to hold. Yoke your body mind and spirit together. Moving your body physically in yoga simply prepares it for stillness, breath and meditation. That is all the physical practice does.  As Raffi likes to sing we have to “Shake our sillies out.” Then stillness can follow. We can move into the mind and spirit. One could say the movement (asana) can make us weary and ready for rest, as Jesus says.

This can happen in many ways.  One could hike, garden, do a hard workout, etc. When the physical work is done we need rest.  In that rest that follows hard work clarity can appear in the stillness.  Sometimes in that rest we just want to be held, Jesus offers to hold us in his gentleness and humble heart. What more do you need?  Mediation could be as simple as the Jesus prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a sinner.”  Jesus’ reply is to give us mercy and rest.



Image in public domain

Light on the Yoga Sutra by BKS Iyengar

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