Yoga is not an intellectual subject, however there is a place for the study of sacred texts in our practice.
First and foremost Iyengar yoga is a perceptive practice which is cultivated by the considered working of asanas. BKS Iyengar writes: ‘The quality of intelligence is inherent but dormant, so our first step must be to awaken it. The practice of asana brings intelligence to the surface of the cellular body through stretching and to the physiological body by maintaining the pose. Once awakened, intelligence can reveal its dynamic aspect, its ability to discriminate. Then we strive for equal extensions to achieve a balanced, stable pose, measuring upper arm stretch against lower, right leg against left, inner against outer, etc. This precise, thorough process of measuring and discriminating is the apprenticeship, or culturing, of intelligence.’ (Light On The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali 2002, p.57)
Patanjali, the author of the most sacred yoga text in the form of the Yoga Sutras, defines yoga as ‘citta vritti nirodahah’, or the cessation of the fluctuations of consciousness. He says that the flucuations are fivefold. They are caused by pramana (correct knowledge), viparaya (illusion), vikalpa (delusion), nidra (sleep), and smriti (memory).
While all five can be klista (painful) or aklista (non-painful), or have positive and negative aspects, as yoga practitioners pramana, or correct knowledge, is what we strive for. Patanjali then goes on to explain that there are three ways of attaining correct knowledge. They are pratyaksa, or direct perception, what we foster when we work carefully with asanas and pranayama, as mentioned above; anumana, inference or deduction, which is basically the use of reasoned logic; and agamah, which literally translates as ‘that which has come down’, or the testimony of sacred texts. Iyengar says: ‘Initially individual perception should be checked by reasoned logic, and then seen to correspond to traditional or scriptural wisdom.’ (Light On The Yoga Sutras Of Patanjali 2002, p.57)
The study of sacred texts is brought up again in the second chapter of the Yoga Sutras when Patanjali writes about svadhyaya (or self study), as a component of the three parts of kriya yoga, or the yoga of action, which also includes tapas, or ardour, and Isvara Prahnidana, or surrender to God.
Svadhyaya is made up, again, of the perceptive work we cultivate on our mats, but also the study of sacred texts. Iyengar writes: ‘To make life happy, healthy and peaceful, it is essential to study regularly divine literature in a pure place. This study of the sacred books of the world will enable the sadhaka to concentrate upon and solve the difficult problems of life when they arise. It will put an end to ignorance and bring knowledge.’ (Light On Yoga 1968, p.40)
So while yoga is not an intellectual subject, the study or verification of the sacred texts has a place in our yoga practice. It is by referencing the work that we do on our mat back to these writings that we keep a purity and virtuousness to our practice.