In our physically-focused world, it’s easy to get lost in the look, style, and alignment of yoga postures while missing the experience and spectrum of the mental state and the intentions behind them. To me, there are few places that this is more evident than in the social media “yoga challenges,” in which participants take photos of themselves in a series of postures for a set amount of time.
These are wonderful for generating support and building a certain community, but asana is only 1 branch in the 8 limbs of yoga. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali explain yoga to be much more. Sutras, or segments of verse containing Sanskrit teachings, are categorized into four “books,” or sections. The first is listed below. I invite you to explore them with me, and connect them to your practice. These are much less explicit ideas than a list of postures, so they will be incorporated into your day or practice much more subtly. They are an exercise in intention, in awareness, in openness to your experience, and in sitting with uncertainty.
Patanjali is the author and compiler of what are known as the Yoga Sutras. There are 4 Chapters that comprise over 190 Sutras about how to attain liberation using the mind. Patanjali describes the obstacles most of us face in the way of Enlightenment and then outlines many systems for overcoming or dissolving those obstacles.
Yoga is found in the Now, the present moment, this is the key teaching of Yoga. The deep peace and fearless nature that come from the practice of Yoga comes from the connection to the present moment and the eternal nature of the divine vibration that is felt there.
How to Participate: I invite you to write just a small reflection on how your experienced the idea in your yoga practice: in any of the 8 limbs, or in the yoga of everyday life. You may keep this private, or you may share it in the post comments or on your own social media. Use the hashtag #31DaysofYogaSutra to spread the word!
Book One of the sutras is the “Portion on Contemplation,” and will be the start of our journey into the yoga sutras. We will begin on February 1, 2017. This is appropriate for the contemplation that the dark winter months can plunge us into!
You may keep these reflections private, or you may share it in the post comments or on your own social media. Use the hashtag #31daysofyogaphilosophy, and spread the word!
- अथ योगानुशासनम्
Yoga in the here and now: an introduction to the study and practice of yoga.
Today’s sutra is Sutra #1: “atha yoga-anuśāsanam” or Yoga in the here and now: an introduction to the study and practice of yoga.
When you practice yoga, you are making an intention-filled commitment. Not to your ego’s goals, but to stay present and committed to your practice through each moment. Atha refers to both the source of your initial draw to yoga and your ongoing commitment to practice NOW! Atha makes yoga accessible and perfect in any place. As Neil Spencer puts it, atha “makes any time the right time to do yoga.” We shouldn’t put mental limits on when or how we do yoga, or get to carried away with specific ego-goals. Quality of presence is valued over quantity of time slotted for “yoga.” We may feel rushed or pressured to get a certain asana sequence in, but that is not the space in which yoga grows. This practice involves slow assimilation, which grows from dedication to finding yoga in the present moment.
Intention: I show up with my whole being, and hold openness to process and possibility without strain or overexerting myself.
Journal: Ask yourself how “atha” shows up for you.What first drew you to yoga? What was your goal? How would you describe the qualities of that initial spark? What parts of your life are too full, and are feeling rushed? What are your priorities, and does the impact of your efforts echo those values?
You may keep these reflections private, or you may share it in the post comments or on your own social media. Use the hashtag #31daysofyogaphilosophy in your post to spread the word!
When you are in a state of yoga, all misconceptions (vrittis) that can exist in the mutable aspect of human beings (chitta) disappear.
- तदा द्रष्टुः स्वरूपेऽवस्थानम्
tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe-‘vasthānam
For finding our true self (drashtu) entails insight into our own nature.
Today we are looking at the next two sutras 1.2 and 1.3. Sutra 1.2 defines yoga: Yogaś-citta-vr̥tti-nirodhaḥ: When you are in a state of yoga, all misconceptions (vrittis) that can exist in the mutable aspect of human beings (chitta) disappear. Sri Swami Satchidananda, a popular translator of the sutras, assigns so much significance to this sutra that he says it would be enough for a very keen student, because the rest of the sutras only explain this one. 1.3 is tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe-‘vasthānam: For finding our true self (drashtu) entails insight into our own nature.
Chitta can be loosely translated as “consciousness:” the mind-stuff, the totality of what exists between our true and clear awareness, and all that is external to us. It can be loaded with behavioral patterns, assumptions, projections, and emotional baggage from the heaviness of our experience.
Vritti is the constant wave of input that the chitta assimilates. Vritti block the chitta from the experience of true awareness, or purusa. These are “untruths” and thoughts that we take to be true about reality because we drew them as a conclusion about our reality, perhaps only one time. They are like clouds blocking us from seeing the sky, and they don’t stop: we must constantly remind ourselves that the clouds (vritti) are not the sky (chitta — our consciousness). The truth of sky lies in the depth of space (purusa). The true awareness, outside of habits, conditioned behaviors, and defense mechanisms, leads to drashtuh — the true self.
Nirodhah is restraint or control, in this case of vritti — that constant input into the mind — sorting it out from true awareness. Here we have: yoga! Through yoga we aim to step away from our mental chatter.
Intention: I listen to and watch my thoughts pass through like clouds, as though they are a radio show, a friend speaking to me, or a guide book. They are not absolute truth.
Reflect and journal:
- What is troubling you in life today? What beliefs do you hold that make it a problem for you? Is there another way to experience that situation?
- What did you notice when you intentionally watched your thoughts today? If they were a friend’s words to you, how would you characterize that friend?
- वृत्ति सारूप्यमितरत्र ॥४॥
Lacking that, misconceptions (vritti) skew our perceptions.
- वृत्तयः पञ्चतय्यः क्लिष्टाक्लिष्टाः ॥५॥
vr̥ttayaḥ pañcatayyaḥ kliṣṭākliṣṭāḥ
There are five types of misconceptions (vrittis), some of which are more agreeable than others:
- प्रमाण विपर्यय विकल्प निद्रा स्मृतयः
pramāṇa viparyaya vikalpa nidrā smr̥tayaḥ
insight, error, imaginings, deep sleep, and recollections.
Vrittis are the constant clouds of input that pass through the sky of our consciousness and distract us from our true awareness and nature. Through yoga, we aim to remember that clouds are just clouds. According to the sutras, there are five categories of vrittis: insight, error, imaginings, deep sleep, and memories. These are not inherently “bad” things, but the sutras tell us that they are, at the end of day, blockades to true awareness.
Intention: With awareness, I am the master of my thoughts. I assume or generalize nothing.
Meditation: Sit quietly and watch your thoughts as though you are listening to a radio program. Imagine each thought as a cloud. Note — gently but without judgement (the tricky part!) — as each “cloud of thought” rises up, if it is detrimental (selfish) or helpful (selfless) towards creating a positive outcome.
Reflect or journal:
- Notice: What are you usually thinking about during your yoga practice? What are you usually thinking about during stressful moments during your day?
- When has a stereotype or prejudice caused you to misjudge someone or something recently?
- प्रत्यक्षानुमानाअगमाः प्रमाणानि
Insight arises from direct perception, conclusions, or learning that is based on reliable sources.
Today we are looking at 1.7: pratyakṣa-anumāna-āgamāḥ pramāṇāni — Insight arises from direct perception, conclusions, or learning that are based on reliable sources.
Direct perception (pratyakṣa) means we can trust the direct experience of our senses: what we hear, smell, taste, see, and feel.
Conclusion (anumāna) is logical inference based in experience, such as seeing smoke and knowing that there is fire, or seeing clouds and knowing that there is rain or stormy weather.
Learning from reliable sources (āgamāḥ) refers to the study of ancient spiritual text. There are many scriptural texts, with varying beliefs, rituals, cultures, and languages. But the common ground between them is what can guide us into spiritual examination.
Even though these sources of knowledge are to be trusted, they too must be seen as clouds that are just passing through, and distracting us from the sky of our basic nature. But we must notice and sort through our thoughts to understand them, so that they may pass through the mind more easily. Sri Swami Satchidananda uses the metaphor of sorting through our old clothes. We likely have more than we need, but it is human to cling. If we can give away and let go of just some of our possessions, like thoughts, we will move most gratefully towards peace.
Intention: I use awareness to examine if thoughts are grounded in my direct experience and sources I respect and honor, or grounded in misconceptions.
In a moment where you feel your thoughts running away with you, notice what you feel in your body. What is your direct perception in this moment? Is your heart pounding, are your palms sweaty? What does that tell you? Breath deeply and invite thoughts that bring you peace in for 60 seconds and then check in with your body again.
- विपर्ययो मिथ्याज्ञानमतद्रूप प्रतिष्ठम्
viparyayo mithyā-jñānam-atadrūpa pratiṣṭham
Error arises from knowledge that is based on a false mental construct.
- शब्दज्ञानानुपाती वस्तुशून्यो विकल्पः
śabda-jñāna-anupātī vastu-śūnyo vikalpaḥ
Imaginings are engendered by word knowledge without regard for what actually exists in the real world.
- अभावप्रत्ययाअलम्बना तमोवृत्तिर्निद्र
Deep sleep is the absence of all impressions resulting from opacity in that which is mutable in human beings (chitta).
- अनुभूतविषयासंप्रमोषः स्मृतिः
Recollections are engendered by the past, insofar as the relevant experience has not been eclipsed.
Today we will examine 1.8-11. We will recall that vrittis are the thought form “clouds” that fill the sky of our mind, and their categories are listed in 1.6 (insight, error, imaginings, deep sleep, and recollections). In order to find inner peace, we must control these thought forms.
In 1.7, yesterday, Patanjali detailed the origin of the first vritti: insight. In 1.8-11 he details the rest:
– Errors are false thoughts: mistaking a rope on the ground for a snake. The reality of the situation doesn’t matter, your body responds with fear as though it were true that there is a snake.
– Imaginings are ideas we create in our mind without input besides words. For example, perhaps we have been told that there are snakes in the area we are walking, so our mind produces fear. We do not stop to think that it is winter and all of the snakes are probably staying burrowed underground.
– Deep sleep (nidra) is the thought of nothingness. After we sleep, we still know that we slept. The thoughts are still there. When we completely lose consciousness, there is no awareness of that nothingness. In this way, sleep is still a thought form.
– Recollections are memories — saved thought impressions — that resurface when triggered. These past thought forms may or may not apply to the present situation.
With all vrittis, it is important to see them clearly for what they are, so that we can move into controlling them…
Intention: I examine the origins of my thoughts: insights, errors, imaginings, deep sleep, and recollections.
Journal: As your go through your day or your yoga practice, find one thought that your mind wanders to often. It might be about how good or bad you are at your job, how good or bad of a friend you are, what you are worried about, what goal you want to attain in the near future, what you think of yourself or another person, etc. Sit still, take 5 deep breaths, and see if you can consider the origin of this popular thought. Is it insight from your direct experience or respected sources? A mistaken thought, based on a potentially false conclusion? An imagined thought, based on language and words? Is it an empty thought (perhaps if you do a yoga nidra meditation!)? Or a recollected thoughts, from a
- अभ्यासवैराग्याअभ्यां तन्निरोधः
The state of yoga is attained via a balance between assiduousness (abhyasa) and imperturbability (vairagya).
Today we will examine 1.12: The state of yoga is attained via a balance between assiduousness (abhyasa) and imperturbability (vairagya)
Patanjali is offering us the two roads to take control of our thought-form vrittis. We can actively practice assiduousness, or we can passively calm ourselves into a state or non-attachment. He will soon dive deeper into both of those terms…
Intention: I allow thoughts to pass through the sky of my mind and to be let go of. I can move them with an active practice of mind or body (poses, breath work, a mantra) or I can let go of them through a stillness that allows me to soften my attachment.
Journal: When do you find it most easy to release thoughts? Moving in asana? Breathing with intention in prayama? Verbal mantras? Sitting meditation?
- तत्र स्थितौ यत्नोऽभ्यासः
tatra sthitau yatno-‘bhyāsaḥ
Assiduousness means resolutely adhering to one’s practice of yoga.
Today we will examine 1.13. Practice is an all day every day thing. We often think of yoga as something we need to schedule into our week, and as something that has a clear start and finish. But yoga isn’t bound like that. You might not make it to your mat every day, but yoga doesn’t only happen on your mat. Remember sutra 1.2? “When you are in a state of yoga, all misconceptions (vrittis) that can exist in the mutable aspect of human beings (chitta) disappear.” Yoga is restraining the mind’s racing to connect back to our true nature.
The yoga of everyday life is the chores that flow like an asana — or yogic postures — sequence and bring you out of your busy mind. It’s the stressful moments where you must come back to your breath, just as you must before moving into a challenging pose.
Intention: Everything is practice. My life mirrors my yoga class.
Journal: Think of one example of “the yoga of everyday life” that you experience today. In what ways did you work with the happenings of life in the same way you work with the happenings of a yoga class?
- स तु दीर्घकाल नैरन्तर्य सत्काराअदराअसेवितो दृढभूमिः
sa tu dīrghakāla nairantarya satkāra-ādara-āsevito dr̥ḍhabhūmiḥ
Success can definitely be achieved via sound and continuous practice over an extended period of time, carried out in a serious and thoughtful manner.
Today we will examine 1.14. This is fairly straight forward, but easier said than done. Patanjali tells us that a sound yoga practice must be a) consistent b) committed and c) serious and thoughtful. We will remember again that when he says yoga, he is not only talking about a posture flow on your mat. He is talking about the definition he gave us in 1.2, the restraint of thoughts which leads to our true, peaceful nature. The flow of postures on the mat is just one trick, among many, to get us there.
Intention: I am consistent, committed, and intently eager in my omnipresent practice of yoga.
Journal: Which of these three requirement is the most challenging for your practice? What is one tangible step you can take to work closer to bringing that quality into your practice?
- दृष्टानुश्रविकविषयवितृष्णस्य वशीकारसंज्णा वैराग्यम्
dr̥ṣṭa-anuśravika-viṣaya-vitr̥ṣṇasya vaśīkāra-saṁjṇā vairāgyam
Imperturbability results from a balance in the consciousness, and when the desire for all things that we see or have heard of is extinguished.
Today we will examine 1.15: dr̥ṣṭa-anuśravika-viṣaya-vitr̥ṣṇasya vaśīkāra-saṁjṇā vairāgyam — Imperturbability results from a balance in the consciousness, and when the desire for all things that we see or have heard of is extinguished.
1.12 told us that yoga is attained through a balance between “assiduousness (abhyasa) and imperturbability (vairagya).” The past two days we’ve learned about assiduousness, or what makes a good practice. Now we will learn about imperturbability, or non-attachment to the desires that surround us. Literally, vairagya is “without color.” The idea is that we should not be attached to or distracted by our personal affairs. Our practice, regardless of its form, is no good if we are constantly distracted by outside worries, agendas, fantasies, and wants. There is perhaps one exception: Pure, selfless desire, has no attachment because it has no room for disappointment. Sharing joy, sharing your practice, giving what you don’t need…. These attachments cannot disappoint us, because they are not for us. So if we feel the mind driven to desires, the desire to purely help others without need for personal gain or satisfaction is a good desire.
Intention: Through yoga, I let go of attachment to my ego’s agendas and desires.
- तत्परं पुरुषख्यातेः गुणवैतृष्ण्यम्
tatparaṁ puruṣa-khyāteḥ guṇa-vaitr̥ṣṇyam
The highest state of imperturbability arises from the experience of the true self; in this state even the basic elements of nature lose their power over us.
Today we will examine 1.16: tatparaṁ puruṣa-khyāteḥ guṇa-vaitr̥ṣṇyam — The highest state of imperturbability arises from the experience of the true self; in this state even the basic elements of nature lose their power over us.
Today we are again visiting this idea of imperturbability — detachment from selfish desire for an outcome. When we pursue yoga, we balance this with our dedication to the practice. But Patanjali takes imperturbability a step further in 1.16, by describing the highest state of non-attachment. In this non-attachment, you don’t even have an original thought of attachment that you let go of. Maybe you think that you would really like a certain situation to go a certain way. But then you realize that you don’t really know what’s best, in the big scheme of things, and furthermore that having an attachment to the outcome doesn’t offer you inner peace. That’s “standard” non-attachment, so to say. In supreme non-attachment, that thought doesn’t even cross your mind. You know this state, to begin with, for only moments at a time, and you know it from the state of peace and joy that it brings you it. Over time, with practice, those moments extend further and further into the experience your true self’s state of absolute bliss.
Intention: I watch my experience for the moments of unexplained joy from the peace of a tranquil mind, as indication that I am free from attachment to outcomes.
Journal: What desired outcomes are currently causing you stress, anxiety, or depression? Is it worth the cost of inner peace? If not, do you want to let go of it? What would it look like to let go of that? What thought could replace or negate the thought that carries attachment to outcome, and bring you more inner peace?
This absolute knowledge is engendered incrementally by divination, experience, joy, and ultimately the feeling of oneness.
Today we will examine 1.17: vitarka-vicāra-ānanda-asmitā-rupa-anugamāt-saṁprajñātaḥ — This absolute knowledge is engendered incrementally by divination, experience, joy, and ultimately the feeling of oneness.
Patanjali offers 4 modes of contemplation or discernment. Contemplation, or samadhi, is to be practiced once the mind is completely controllable in meditation and concentration. Patanjali offers four objects of contemplation. This progression offers us more and more subtle contemplations until we reach the most subtle of all: the self. The first stage of contemplation is practiced on objects (divination, or vitarka), to train the mind to focus into every particle of that one object. It is an exercise in the fundamental power of focus. Scientists who were moved to study the very small particles of bigger objects — who “probed matter and discovered atoms,” as Sri Swami Satchidananda puts it, would be practicing a form of this meditation. They needed to focus in order to succeed. The second contemplation is on what is dubbed “subtle elements” (experience, vicāra). These are abstract ideas, like peace or love. This follows once the mind has the ability to deeply contemplate objects. Third, the object of contemplation becomes the “tranquil” mind itself (joy, ānanda): that joyful, spontaneous, non-attached mind. When this is happening, there is no reasoning but only joy. This is called the blissful contemplation. The fourth contemplation is of the self (the feeling of oneness, asmitā) where our awareness is entirely inward, and is encompassed by our presence in our body and nothing else.
Intention: I focus my control of my mind — my yoga — on the subtlety around me.
Journal: Set a timer for one minute. Focus on a simple object and watch everything that you notice about it. Watch if your mind wanders, and what to. Just notice, without judgement. Reflect when you are done.
- विरामप्रत्ययाभ्यासपूर्वः संस्कारशेषोऽन्यः
The other state of insight, which is based on persistent practice, arises when all perception has been extinguished and only non-manifest impressions remain.
- भवप्रत्ययो विदेहप्रकृतिलयानम्
Some people are born with true insight, whereas others attain it via a divine body or oneness with nature.
- श्रद्धावीर्यस्मृति समाधिप्रज्ञापूर्वक इतरेषाम्
śraddhā-vīrya-smr̥ti samādhi-prajñā-pūrvaka itareṣām
And then there are some for whom trust, determination, memory and divination lay the groundwork for insight.
Today we will examine 1.18-20 — The other state of insight, which is based on persistent practice, arises when all perception has been extinguished and only non-manifest impressions remain. / Some people are born with true insight, whereas others attain it via a divine body or oneness with nature. / And then there are some for whom trust, determination, memory and divination lay the groundwork for insight.
The deepest form of contemplation removes the feeling of the ego and seeds of any past impressions of attachment or thought forms. We are left, at least in verbal explanation, with only “consciousness.” You have examined the true nature of objects, thoughts (remember all those types of vrittis, or misconceptions?), and impressions, you have learned how to control them, and then you dismiss them and achieve liberation. This dismissal cannot be achieved by total disengagement, it must happen at the same time as one lives. If you retreat to a cave to be free, you are only avoiding the reality that challenges you. The requirements of trust, determination, memory (to remember all that you have experienced in order to not fall for the same pitfalls over and over again) and divination (or contemplation and discernment) are a peek into the methods involved in Book Two of the sutras, which is all about yogic practices (you’ll recall this is first book is the book on contemplation).
Intention: I am most helpful in this world when I move without attachment to outcome… but with trust, determination, memory for my lessons, and discernment through contemplation.
Journal: In what spaces and practices do you feel most filled with insight?
The goal is achieved through keen and intent practice.
- मृदुमध्याधिमात्रत्वात्ततोऽपि विशेषः
The goal arrives at a rate determined by whether practice is light, moderate or intensive.
Today we will examine 1.21.-22 — The goal is achieved through keen and intent practice. / The goal arrives at a rate determined by whether practice is light, moderate or intensive.
We are free to practice however seriously we wish, but the less intensely we practice, the further away the goal of yoga — the control of the matters of the mind — will be.
Intention: With deliberation, I hold a desired space in my life for yogic intention.
Journal: How much space do you want the intention and practice of yoga to have in your life? What goals are you working towards when you do yoga? As they reliably attuned to the goal of yoga: control of the mind’s contents?
The goal can also be attained via submission to the concept of an ideal being (ishvara).
- क्लेश कर्म विपाकाअशयैःअपरामृष्टः पुरुषविशेष ईश्वरः
kleśa karma vipāka-āśayaiḥ-aparāmr̥ṣṭaḥ puruṣa-viśeṣa īśvaraḥ
Ishvara is a special being that is unaffected by the obstacles of the spiritual aspirant (klesha), specific actions and consequences (karma), or recollections or desires.
Today we will examine 1.23-24: The goal can also be attained via submission to the concept of an ideal being (Ishvara). / Ishvara is a special being that is unaffected by the obstacles of the spiritual aspirant (klesha), specific actions and consequences (karma), or recollections or desires.
In these two sutras, we are introduced to the idea of ishvara. Submission to this is another route to success. We will learn much more in the coming sutras, but Ishvara is essentially the all-knowing, all-present, dichotomy-free multitude of existence and knowledge (phew!). It is without aspirations, goals/attachment to outcome, or desires.
Intention: Without desiring it, I clearly see the ideal quality of presence for my being to embody.
Journal: What does it feel like when you are centered and internally peaceful and joyful, in asana practice or in the yoga of everyday life? Where do you feel it in your body?
- तत्र निरतिशयं सर्वज्ञबीजम्
tatra niratiśayaṁ sarvajña-bījam
Ishavara is unmatched and is the source of all knowledge.
- स एष पूर्वेषामपिगुरुः कालेनानवच्छेदात्
sa eṣa pūrveṣām-api-guruḥ kālena-anavacchedāt
Ishvara is each and every one, and is even the teacher of the first ones; he is unaffected by time
Today we will examine 1.25-26: Ishavara is unmatched and is the source of all knowledge. / Ishvara is each and every one, and is even the teacher of the first ones; he is unaffected by time.
Easy to say, challenging to understand! There are many discussions around what Ishvara represents in the cultural, religious, and spiritual contexts of Hinduism, to arrive at an understanding of Patanjali’s meaning here. Broadly, we can say say that Patanjali is speaking of the encompassing spiritual overtones and undertones of all existence — the seed and source of all (not to be confused with a personified creator). Specifically, we can say, that it’s a sort of personal god that ties us all to the universe’s seed. Somewhere in the middle, we can understand Ishvara as a spiritual sense of ourselves that offers inner guidance — one that is free from all the mental confines of our human reality… a “special self.” This is teacher that we can all access, that exists within and outside of all of us and across time.
Intention: With clarity, I sense insight and joy arising from my innate inner guidance, my peaceful center.
Journal: In a stressful moment, come back to your breath. Watch your thoughts. Notice, as your mind settles and you separate your being from your ideas, senses, and mental creations, where your feeling of peaces arises from. How would you describe this place qualitatively?
- तस्य वाचकः प्रणवः
tasya vācakaḥ praṇavaḥ
OM is a symbol for ishvara.
- तज्जपः तदर्थभावनम्
Repetition of OM (with this meaning) leads to contemplation.
- ततः प्रत्यक्चेतनाधिगमोऽप्यन्तरायाभवश्च
Through this practice, the immutable self is revealed and all obstacles (antaraya) are removed.
Today we will examine 1.27-29: OM is a symbol for ishvara. / Repetition of OM (with this meaning) leads to contemplation. / Through this practice, the immutable self is revealed and all obstacles (antaraya) are removed.
You may have chanted OM in a yoga class, but did you know this is where it comes from? The belief is that OM is the seed sound, representing Ishvara — the source of all — and that OM also transports us towards Ishvara. OM is pronounced with three separate sounds: “ah,” “oo,” and “m,” and is often written AUM to represent this. AUM bring us into contemplation: There is a vibration after the M is pronounced, and that is the sound that we can fill our mind with, to retreat from thought. We can also use the repetition of AUM as a mantra: in the same way of repeating “I can do it, I can do it,” or “peace, peace, peace.” What you hold in your mind you create. Words are powerful. When you repeat AUM, you come closer to the experience of AUM as well. With this practice, AUM brings us closer to our inner (and outer… because it’s all one!) sense Ishvara… that highest spiritual self and origin of all energy, beyond all mental obstacle.
Intention: OM (AUM) fills my mind in my practice.
Journal: What sounds bring you peace? What do you notice in your body and mind when (or after) you hum AUM?
- व्याधि स्त्यान संशय प्रमादाअलस्याविरति भ्रान्तिदर्शनालब्धभूमिकत्वानवस्थितत्वानि चित्तविक्षेपाः ते अन्तरायाः
vyādhi styāna saṁśaya pramāda-ālasya-avirati bhrāntidarśana-alabdha-bhūmikatva-anavasthitatvāni citta-vikṣepāḥ te antarāyāḥ
These obstacles (antaraya) (illness; dullness; doubt; neglect; sloth; desire; blindness; a lack of goals; irresoluteness) obscure that which is immutable in human beings (chitta).
In 1.29 we learned that we have to remove obstacles to get back to the true self. We’ve hear of chitta before… way back on day 2, sutra 1.2: “When you are in a state of yoga, all misconceptions (vrittis) that can exist in the mutable aspect of human beings (chitta) disappear.” Since it’s bringing us back, let’s recap: you might remember… we then learned what those vrittis (thought forms) are (right knowledge, misconception, verbal delusion, sleep, and memory). Then we learned that we can control them through practice and through non-attachment. Then we learned about contemplative practices’ role in releasing our misconceptions, and the 4 layers of contemplating the more and more subtle natures around us. Then we learned that Ishvara, and seeking Ishvara within us, was another channel to restraint of the mind. Chanting AUM helps us out with that, and also allows us remove obstacles that stand between us and clutter in our consciousness. Now Patanjali details to us what those obstacles are: illness; dullness; doubt; neglect; sloth; desire; blindness; a lack of goals; irresoluteness. All of these obstacles connect to one another, and they are a bit of a cascade. Obstacles are there for us to learn and to gain strength through overcoming. If it were easy, there would be no yoga!
Intention: I approach obstacles with an open and compassionate mind, seeking to grow and learn from them.
Journal: What is something that you perceive to be standing between you and what you want, currently? How else could you look at the situation, or what might the state it is putting you in be trying to teach you? How do you need to change to overcome this obstacle? What steps can you take towards making that change?
- दुःखदौर्मनस्याङ्गमेजयत्वश्वासप्रश्वासाः विक्षेप सहभुवः
duḥkha-daurmanasya-aṅgamejayatva-śvāsapraśvāsāḥ vikṣepa sahabhuvaḥ
Distress, depression, nervousness, and agitated breathing are signs of this lack of clarity.
He who practices assiduously overcomes these obstacles.
Today we will examine 1.31-32: Distress, depression, nervousness, and agitated breathing are signs of this lack of clarity. / He who practices assiduously overcomes these obstacles.
We all know these states at some time or another. Odds as, after a yoga class or meditation practice, we experience them less. The sutras guide us into living a life where daily tasks and life works to that same goal. It is not the case that the practice itself doesn’t cause us to experience difficult emotions, but it is the case that we can work through those obstacles to reach an tranquil inner life.
Practicing assiduously means being dedicated and perseverant, working through all that comes up rather than changing our plan of practice when faced with an obstacle. Sri Swami Satchidananda compares it to digging a well: there’s no point in digging 100 shallow wells because we hit a rock at each one. We should carefully analyse where to dig a well before we begin, and if we do hit a rock we must find creative ways to remove the rock (he recommends dynamite). If we give up a dig another well, there is no reason to believe that we won’t hit a rock for that one too. Once you pick where to dig, you should not question it. In the same way, we should carefully select the object of our practice. For the reason, we should not compare our practice to someone else’s, as we all come from different places and use different evaluations when we select where to dig.
Intention: I meet symptoms indicating my lack of clarity with renewed dedication to my path.
Journal: What is the larger focus or intention of your yoga practice? What are you brought back to yoga FOR? In what ways does this purpose bring challenges? Do you work through them, or change your focus to something else?
- मैत्री करुणा मुदितोपेक्षाणांसुखदुःख पुण्यापुण्यविषयाणां भावनातः चित्तप्रसादनम्
maitrī karuṇā mudito-pekṣāṇāṁ-sukha-duḥkha puṇya-apuṇya-viṣayāṇāṁ bhāvanātaḥ citta-prasādanam
All that is mutable in human beings (chitta) is harmonized through the cultivation of friendliness (maitri) towards the happy, compassion (karuna) towards the painful, delight (mudita) towards the virtuous, and disregard (upeksha) towards the wicked.
Today we will examine 1.33: All that is mutable in human beings (chitta) is harmonized through the cultivation of friendliness (maitri) towards the happy, compassion (karuna) towards the painful, delight (mudita) towards the virtuous, and disregard (upeksha) towards the wicked.
Patanjali is introducing four responses to four “kinds” of people — or four states, one of which all people occupy at a given moment. When you use the correct solution for a situation, you will retain inner harmony of your consciousness.
Intention: I am aware of the states of the human beings I interact with, and I respond in this wisdom.
- प्रच्छर्दनविधारणाअभ्यां वा प्राणस्य
pracchardana-vidhāraṇa-ābhyāṁ vā prāṇasya
The goal can be attained through breathing exercises involving holding your breath before exhaling.
Today we will examine 1.34, which offers a pranayama practice: Pracchardana-vidhāraṇa-ābhyāṁ vā prāṇasya – The goal can be attained through breathing exercises involving holding your breath before exhaling.
The goal, of course, is quieting the consciousness and controlling the mind-stuff. Prana is the life energy, and pranayama is the control of it through the breath (or expansion of the life energy, more literally). In yoga the belief is that where the mind goes the prana, the energy follows. If the mind is agitated, we are brought out of deep breathing. If we return to deep breathing, the mind will follow into tranquility.
Intention: I connect to my experience through breathing consciously.
Journal: Breath in for a count of 3, hold for 3, and out for 3. Expand this experience by 1 second each round, as is comfortable. Reflect on how your body feels following this practice.
- विषयवती वा प्रवृत्तिरुत्पन्ना मनसः स्थिति निबन्धिनी
viṣayavatī vā pravr̥tti-rutpannā manasaḥ sthiti nibandhinī
– Or [the goal can be attained] by contemplating objects and subtle sensory impressions, which promotes mental stability and consolidation
Today we will examine 1.35: Or [the goal can be attained] by contemplating objects and subtle sensory impressions, which promotes mental stability and consolidation.
We recall that the “or” alludes to this being another way to achieving the goal, which is harmony in the human consciousness (chitta). This is the second item on a list forthcoming. This tells us that we that we can focus on subtlety in sensory experience: that is, the feelings brought to rise through our five senses. This might mean we concentrate on the tip of the tongue, on the sound of a silent room, on the senses in the tip of the nose, etc. If you can isolate this feeling with mere concentration, it allows a sort of calibration for the concentrative abilities.
Intention: I concentrate fully on areas of subtle sensory input.
Journal: Pick a point of “small awarness — your big toe, the tip of your nose, your tongue, the skin under your fingernail… Focus on it solely for one minute. What did you feel?
- विशोका वा ज्योतिष्मती
viśokā vā jyotiṣmatī
– Or [the goal can be attained] by contemplating the inner light that is free of suffering.
Today we will examine 1.36: Or [the goal can be attained] by contemplating the inner light that is free of suffering.
Here, Patanjali offers a visualization for us. We imagine that there is an inner light within us, a presence beyond all of our fear, anxiety, and thinking.
Intention: I close my eyes and see the peaceful center of my being as an inner light.
Journal: Where do you imagine your inner light? How does it feel to visualize your peaceful center in this way?
- वीतराग विषयम् वा चित्तम्
vītarāga viṣayam vā cittam
Or [the goal can be attained] by meditating on the heart of an illumined soul, that is free from attachment.
Today we will examine 1.37: Or [the goal can be attained] by meditating on the heart of an illumined soul, that is free from attachment.
In this Sutra, Patanjali appeals to those who might feel that our heart can’t possible be able to attain the yogic goals, and thus struggle to see our own inner light. Our baggage, traumas, anxieties, and thoughts can at times seem overwhelming to our confidence. In this situation, we can meditate on the heart of spiritual role model, and hold that in our imaginations, allowing our mind to dwell on something peaceful even if cannot identify with that state personally in that moment.
Intention: I imagine the hearts of those I admire, full of lightness and peace.
Journal: Who are you spiritual role models: legendary, archetypal, or in the flesh and blood? How do they feel? What qualities do they embody?
- स्वप्ननिद्रा ज्ञानाअलम्बनम् वा
svapna-nidrā jñāna-ālambanam vā
– Or [the goal can be attained] by meditating upon a dream or deep sleep experience.
Today we will examine 1.38: Or [the goal can be attained] by meditating upon a dream or deep sleep experience.
Patanjali is referring to experiences in sleep involving insights into divinie states or natures. If you have had a dream experience of that nature that brought you a sense of deep peace, you can reflect upon it and gain insight into the joy and lightness of non-attachment. You can also meditate on the experience found in the peace of deep sleep — even if you do not experience that peace consciously while you are sleeping, you know it when you awaken. You feel centered and well-rested.
Intention: I experience the depth of peaceful sleep as full of insight and reflection.
Journal: Right when you wake up after a good night’s sleep, notice how you feel. List the words you would use to describe your experience.
– Or [the goal can be attained] through contemplation of any form or symbol that appeals to one as elevating.
This is one of the more accessible meditations. You will notice the “or” that has been following us — there is no single, absolute route to the goals of yoga. However, we cannot be sure that an idea, form, or symbol is indeed “elevating” and helpful in meditation until we try it. We can save ourselves the time of experimenting with less than successful (or less sincere, perhaps) meditations through the support of a teacher, who may guide us towards meditations that are right for you.
Intention: I contemplate forms and symbols that bring me closer to my peaceful center.
Journal: Close your eyes, what do you find yourself wanting to think about or visualize in pursuit of mental clarity? Can you focus all of your attention on that idea? What does that feel like?
- परमाणु परममहत्त्वान्तोऽस्य वशीकारः
paramāṇu parama-mahattva-anto-‘sya vaśīkāraḥ
A person who attains this goal has mastery over everything, from the smallest atom to the entire universe.
- क्षीणवृत्तेरभिजातस्येव मणेर्ग्रहीतृग्रहणग्राह्येषु तत्स्थतदञ्जनता समापत्तिः
kṣīṇa-vr̥tter-abhijātasy-eva maṇer-grahītr̥-grahaṇa-grāhyeṣu tatstha-tadañjanatā samāpattiḥ
Once the misconceptions (vritti) have been minimized, everything that is mutable in human beings (chitta) becomes as clear as a diamond, and perceptions, the perceived, and perceiver are melded with each other. – One builds on and colors the other. This is the culmination of meditation, enlightenment (samapatti).
In mastery, Patanjali means mastery of meditation, of concentration, of the mind-stuff. If you follow the sutas and have attained the powers of concentration, you can know, through concentration, the nature of any and all matter. With that same concentration and meditation, we control the mind. We control those vrittis — those thought forms — and the true, peaceful nature of our beings is revealed. In that nature, we see that the skin is a soft barrier, and that we, the perceiver, are unified with the “perceptions and the perceived.” This is the experience we gain through yoga: the final destination of meditation. Asana, yoga postures, exist merely to prepare us for this mental space of meditation.
Intention: I feel my being integrated with all around me: perceptions, perceived, and perceiver are unified.
Journal: Meditate on the form of something very small: a flower, a paperclip, a leaf. Meditate on some huge space: the sky, the ocean, the moon. Notice how you feel during each. Which do you find it easier to fixate your mind on?
- तत्र शब्दार्थज्ञानविकल्पैः संकीर्णा सवितर्का समापत्तिः
tatra śabdārtha-jñāna-vikalpaiḥ saṁkīrṇā savitarkā samāpattiḥ
When name, form, and knowledge of an object is mixed this state is savitarka samapatti.
- स्मृतिपरिशुद्धौ स्वरूपशून्येवार्थमात्रनिर्भासा निर्वितर्का
smr̥ti-pariśuddhau svarūpa-śūnyeva-arthamātra-nirbhāsā nirvitarkā
Once all previous impressions (smriti) have been purged and one’s own nature is clearly perceptible, then only the object of contemplation emanates light. This is nirvitarka samapatti.
We are getting to the end of the first book of the sutras! Patanjali will spend the rest of the book detailing enlightenment. In Sutra 1.42, Patanjali elaborates that in a first stage of concentration, we can parse out the name, form, and knowledge of the object that we concentrating upon. Normally we hear a word, try to understanding the meaning it hold, and gain the knowledge that the meaning connects us to. With awareness, we can differentiate between these qualities. In 1.43, we learn the next stage, where an object can be experienced with a pure memory: no prejudice, fear, ego, agenda, anxiety, drama, trauma, or worry. Just the object’s true, simple, organic nature.
Intention: With awareness, I parse the layers of my perception process. With meditation, I experience reality beyond my memory.
Journal: Recall a time, perhaps a child, when you felt uninhibitedly present and joyful with something. Perhaps a trip to Disneyland, a favorite park, to visit family faraway…. Have you ever felt this an adult? If you wanted to recreate that experience of reality, how would you set it up?
- एतयैव सविचारा निर्विचारा च सूक्ष्मविषय व्याख्याता
etayaiva savicārā nirvicārā ca sūkṣma-viṣaya vyākhyātā
If the object of concentration is of a subtle nature, these two described states are known as savichraara and nirvichara samapatti.
- सूक्ष्मविषयत्वम्चालिण्ग पर्यवसानम्
An object can be subtle to the point of indefinability.
Today we will examine 1.44-45. Yesterday we learned about two forms of enlightenment or concentration, one where we can parse out the layers of a perception (a word, its meaning, and the knowledge we gain through it), and the untouched concentration of experiencing something as though for the first time, blissful and untrained by memory and sentiment. In 1.44 and 1.45, we learn that those same culminations of meditation exist for subtle objects, objects that are not clearly physical and tangible, objects that are more like ideas.There is not a limit to how subtle an object can be, all the way down to that which is not able to be defined.
Intention: With awareness, I parse the layers of my very subtle perception. With meditation, I experience the reality of abstract concepts beyond my verbal definition of them.
Journal: How do you experience a subtle object in your everyday life? Is it love? Space? Distance? Attachment? How does it feel to bring your concentration to this object, to understand just its sound or feeling, just its meaning, and just the knowledge and information that it brings you?
- ता एव सबीजस्समाधिः
tā eva sabījas-samādhiḥ
All of these states of consciousness are called sabija (with seed) samadhi.
If you regularly experience the clearest of the four aforementioned states known as nirvichara samapatti, then you are about to experience a state of absolute clarity.
- ऋतंभरा तत्र प्रज्ञा
r̥taṁbharā tatra prajñā
– Then consciousness will be filled with truth.
Today we will examine 1.46-48.
Without a pure mind, concentration and enlightenment will fall back away, because the impressions of the mind will linger. The ming must be rooted in peace and tranquility. If it is not, when the deep nature of things — seen without assumption and prejudice — is discovered through concentration, the human biases and anxieties will mishandle the knowledge gained.
Intention: With awareness I purify the lens of my mind as I concentrate deeply into ideas and studies that my heart desires.
Journal: What is something that you enjoy concentrating on? Perhaps it is an academic subject, scientific pursuit, sensory experience, or subtle object. It is all meditation! How do you purify your mind for that pursuit? What is the biggest barrier to examining it with a pure mind for you? Perhaps ego? Agenda? Bias? Fear?
- श्रुतानुमानप्रज्ञाअभ्यामन्यविषया विशेषार्थत्वात्
This consciousness is characterized by a special relationship to the object. This relationship exceeds the bounds of knowledge that is received and followed.
- तज्जस्संस्कारोऽन्यसंस्कार प्रतिबन्धी
This experience gives rise to an impression (samskara) that wipes out all other impressions (samskara).
Today we will examine sutra 1.49-50. In American culture, we often acknowledge that the mind is how we learn things — we read or listen to learn, and we prove and share our knowledge through demonstrated ability and verbalization. We also acknowledge that there are some things that cannot be known by the mind. But we do very little to explain the process through which non-mind knowledge is gained. The goal of yoga and the product of concentration allows us insight through “realization.” These are understandings and knowledge that we cannot gain simply by listening to another person’s digested ideas.
Furthermore, when we reach deep concentration, our “slate” of mental impression is wiped clean. Once you have this awareness, concentration, and knowledge, you cannot lose it.
Intention: I welcome into my consciousness knowledge that is gained in unexplainable ways.
Journal: Have you ever known something but not known how you know it? Perhaps a “gut feeling?” How did that feel in your body?
- तस्यापि निरोधे सर्वनिरोधान्निर्बीजः समाधिः
tasyāpi nirodhe sarva-nirodhān-nirbījaḥ samādhiḥ
Nirbiija samadhi is attained once even these impressions have become tranquil and when everything has become tranquil.
Today is the final day — day 31! Today we will examine sutra 1.51, the final sutra of the first book: Nirbiija samadhi is attained once even these impressions have become tranquil and when everything has become tranquil.
Patanjali is describing the peak concentration, the achievement of the goal of yogic awareness. In this state, we are reminded, the impressions are quieted. The internal climate is peaceful, and there isn’t even an impression of a thought of anything else.
Intention: I keep the deep goal of yoga centered in my practices: the awareness and eventual restraint of the mind-stuff.
Journal: In what ways do you bring the intentions and principles of the yoga sutras into your regular yoga practices?
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