beyond the body

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Tada drastuh svarupe avasthanam

As a result of yoga or sustained, focused attention, the Self or Seer is firmly established in its own form, and we act from a place from our own true, authentic Self. —Yoga Sutra I.3

How is it that yoga can be such a powerful support, even when the body is not able to do asana practice or even to sit to do certain breathing practices? First and foremost, yoga is for the mind, not the body. (Though asana and other practices involving the body can be a useful way to influence and refine the mind, and the body can certainly benefit.) Yoga Sutra 1.3 says that as a result of yoga or sustained, focused attention, the Self or Seer (drastuh) is established (avasthanam) in its own form (svarupe). In other words, by focusing and refining the mind through yoga, you gain clearer perception and learn to distinguish the mind, body, and emotions from your true essence or Self. You come to know that Self and act from that place of the Self, thus reducing your experience of suffering.

Tatah pratyakcetanadhigamah api antarayabhavasca

Then, the inner conscious is revealed, we come to know the true Self, and our obstacles are reduced. —Yoga Sutra I.29

In Sutra 1.29, Patanjali tells us that as a result of yoga practice (tatah), and specifically the surrender to a higher power (isvara pranidhana), our inner conscious (pratyakcetana) is revealed (adhigamah), and we experience a reduction (abhava) in the obstacles (antaraya) we may face. Patanjali lists nine potential obstacles in the next sutra, beginning with illness or disease (vyadhi), but tells us that they need be obstacles for us only if the mind is disturbed. If we can connect with the Self, we are less likely to be disturbed and will therefore suffer less.

If it sounds simple, it isn’t. It’s one thing to understand Patanjali’s logic and promise of kaivalyam, or independence from suffering. It’s entirely another to practice consistently enough to actually experience it. But this is why we practice.

The tools Patanjali offers throughout the Yoga Sutra are designed to help quiet all the distractions of the mind, including patterns and ways of thinking that may be dragging you down. As you go through this process, you begin to know the difference between your fluctuating and impermanent mind, body, and emotions, and something else deep within you. When you recognize the impermanent parts of you as distinct and separate from that steady, quiet, knowing place of your true Self (which Patanjali describes as pure, unchanging, and permanent), you begin to cultivate a greater connection with that authentic Self. From this place of connection, you can observe your emotions and reactions and recognize them as separate from your true nature, valid and painful though they may be. This is the promise of yoga. And while the process of getting there may not be simple, the end result is easy to understand: We feel better.

Excerpt from article Ultimate Practice by Kate Holcombe, founder and executive director of the Healing Yoga Foundation in San Francisco.

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