Category Archives: Yoga Sutras of Patañjali

yoga sutras 1.30-1.32: obstacles and solutions

Obstacles are to be expected: There are a number of predictable obstacles that arise on the inner journey, along with several consequences that grow out of them. While these can be a challenge, there is a certain comfort in knowing that they are a natural, predictable part of the process.

These predictable obstacles are 1) illness, 2) dullness, 3) doubt, 4) negligence, 5) laziness, 6) cravings, 7) misperceptions, 8) failure and 9) instability.

From these obstacles, there are four other consequences that also arise, and these are: 1) mental or physical pain, 2) sadness or dejection, 3) restlessness, shakiness, or anxiety, and 4) irregularities in the exhalation and inhalation of breath.

These four arise because of the other nine. In one sense, it seems that all thirteen of these could be grouped together in one sutra. However, it’s useful in practice to see that these four come as a result of the other nine. If you look at these four closely, you’ll see that these are relatively easy to notice in yourself, compared to the other nine. When you see one of these four, it is a clue to you that something is going on at a subtler level. Then it is easier to see, and to adjust.

These four are good indicators of the subtler obstacles: If you think of these in terms of other people, notice how easy it is to observe when someone is experiencing pain, dejection, restlessness of body, or irregularities of breath. You may not know the underlying reason, but you can sure spot the symptom on the surface. Similarly, we may not know that something is going on inside with ourselves, at the subtler level. Yet, if we observe our own gestures, body language, general level of pain and mood, we can more easily see that something is going on at the subtler level.

Seeing can lead to making changes: Once those surface four lead you to awareness of the subtler obstacles, then it is much easier to take corrective action, to get back on track. At first, this can sound like a lot of intellectual analysis, but it is actually quite simple and extremely useful. You may discover that a simple refocusing back to your practices, your personally chosen philosophy of life, or useful attitudes will weaken those obstacles. Most importantly, it can be a reminder that you have temporarily lost your focus, and to return to one-pointedness.

Excerpts from Article on Yoga Sutras 1.30-1.32 at swamij.com

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vayu pratyahara

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Pratyahara is a Sanskrit word that means “to hold back,” and it denotes the fifth limb of Patanjali’s classical eight-limb system of yoga. Simply put, the practice requires you to detach your normal outwardly directed awareness from the world around you, retract it, and redirect it inward toward the self.

The result of such efforts is that the senses—your sight, hearing, taste, and the like, which trot along behind awareness like loyal dogs—naturally turn away from the world, too. This effectively cuts you off from distractions in your environment, collects your usually scattered awareness, and prepares you for the sixth and seventh limbs of classical practice, dharana (concentration) and dhyana (meditation). The process is traditionally likened to a tortoise pulling its head and limbs into its shell. Vyasa, Patanjali’s earliest commentator, aptly compares our senses to a swarm of bees, equating our awareness with their queen: “Just as bees follow the course of the queen bee and rest when the latter rests, so when the mind stops, the senses also stop their activity.”

While this makes for some fine imagery, Patanjali and his commentators did little to clarify how exactly to practice pratyahara. Thankfully, there are a few concrete techniques. One of them is recorded in the Yoga-Yajnavalkya-Gita (“Yoga Song of Yajnavalkya”), which takes the form of a teaching dialogue between the sage Yajnavalkya and his wife, Gargi.

Yajnavalkya’s technique, called vayu pratyahara (wind withdrawal) or prana pratyahara (life force withdrawal), involves fixing your awareness and your breath sequentially on 18 vital points, called marmans, in your body. Varying sources highlight different points (traditional Ayurvedic sources name 107), but Yajnavalkya’s 18 marmans are the big toes, ankles, midcalves, “roots of the calves,” knees, midthighs, perineum, “center of the body,” generative organs, navel, heart center, “throat well,” root of the tongue, root of the nose, eyes, spot between the eyebrows, forehead, and crown of the head. Yajnavalkya suggests following the sequence from the crown to the toes, but many of my students prefer climbing from toes to crown.

To experience vayu pratyahara, take any comfortable seated yoga pose or your favorite reclining position, such as Savasana (Corpse Pose).

If you like, touch each marman so that each energy center is clearly anchored in your awareness. You could even imaginatively invest each point with a favorite deity, teacher, or mantra, which is another traditional practice. Then pinpoint your awareness in your big toes for the ascending sequence (or the crown of your head if you’re descending) and imagine you are breathing into and out of them.

Consciously climb the 12-rung marman ladder to your crown. You can run through the points rapidly, spending just a breath or two at each one, or if you have the time and inclination, you can linger at each point for several breaths or longer. The former version of the practice challenges your ability to quickly and decisively direct both your awareness and breath; the latter challenges your ability to concentrate both awareness and breath over time.

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article Still Life by Richard Rosen

 


yoga: the art of transformation

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Around 1600, a dramatic shift took place in Mughal art. The Mughal emperors of India were the most powerful monarchs of their day—at the beginning of the seventeenth century, they ruled over a hundred million subjects, five times the number administered by their only rivals, the Ottomans. Much of the painting that took place in the ateliers of the first Mughal emperors was effectively dynastic propaganda, and gloried in the Mughals’ pomp and prestige. Illustrated copies were produced of the diaries of Babur, the conqueror who first brought the Muslim dynasty of the Mughal emperors to India in 1526, as well as exquisite paintings illustrating every significant episode in the biography of his grandson, Akbar.

Then, quite suddenly, at this moment of imperial climax, a young Hindu khanazad (or “palace-born”) prodigy named Govardhan began painting images of a sort that had never been seen before in Mughal art. They were not pictures of battles or court receptions. Instead they were closely observed portraits of holy men performing yogic asanas or exercises that aimed to focus the mind and achieve spiritual liberation and transcendence. The results of Govardhan’s experiments in painting—along with a superbly curated selection of several hundred other images from the history of yoga—were recently on view in “Yoga: The Art of Transformation,”a remarkable exhibition at the Freer and Sackler galleries in Washington, D.C., which will travel next to San Francisco and Cleveland.

Excerpt from The New York Review of Books article Under the Spell of Yoga by William Dalrymple


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.


the meaning of asana

What drew me to the practice of asana was an intuitive feeling that these movements were not just “stretching”; they seemed to have some greater connection with my soul. It was only later after years of training that I began to learn the deep symbolism each asana represents. I now believe that each asana represents an aspect of myself and as such offers me a powerful doorway inward. Thus for many people the practice of asana can become more than a physical act; it can be a form of moving meditation.

     The word “asana” is Sanskrit and is actually the plural form; the correct word for one pose is “asan”. However in English we tend to use “asana” as singular and “asanas” as plural even though this word does not exist in Sanskrit. Whichever word we use, asana are virtually as ancient as civilization itself. In fact, there are carvings dated from 3000 BCE which show figures sitting in the lotus pose. It is sometimes reported that each asana was created or “emerged” when a “rishi” or “wise forest dweller” spontaneously moved into an asana during deep meditation. Asana both reflect and are named for animals and objects as well as being named after sages from the Hindu tradition. Instructions for the practice of specific asana can be found in such ancient Indian source books such as the Siva Samhita and the Gheranda Samhita as well as the Hatha Yoga Pradipika.

      Paradoxically, in the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, generally considered the most well-known source book on the wider practice of yoga, no specifics of practice are given and asana is only mentioned in three verses, chapter II v. 29, v. 46 and v 47.  Patanjali presents asana as the third step or rung in his ladder of practice after the ethical precepts (yama) and prescribed practices (niyama), and apparently expects the disciple to explore more about asana on his/her own. More interesting to me than specific practice techniques however, are two other ideas about asana. First, that asana is both a spiritual practice all its own and secondly, that the practice of asana can beneficially effect our relationship to living a spiritual life.  

Traditionally many teachers have taught that the main value of asana is to prepare the body for meditation by creating a strong back and supple legs so that the disciple can sit still for long periods of time. From this teaching comes the belief that asanas are “lower” or not as “spiritual” as meditation. But I feel the practice of asana has an even greater potential in the West. We may be captured at first by the lure of flexibility and strength, but we stay for another reason. Scientists are continuing to “discover” the pathways of connection between mind and body; in fact, some even say there is virtually no separation. Yogis were aware, I believe, of this connection thousands of years ago and the asanas honor this connection.in the modern world, far from the protected ashrams and retreats of ancient India.

The expression of this sacredness has to do with the nature of asana practice itself. No matter how many times one has practiced a certain asana, when it is practiced now it is absolutely new. When one practices an asana that particular asana has never been practiced before; each asana is absolutely of this moment. Thus the practice of asana is a living artistic creation that has never existed before and will never exist again, just as this moment is fresh. When we practice asana we have a chance to become present in this very moment.  When we practice asana we have the chance to bring our attention to here and now, to the sensations and awareness we are feeling. We can observe our reaction, both positive and negative, to the pose; we can observe the sensations of ease and difficulty that arise as we stretch and bend. This is what meditation is, the consistent willingness to be in the here and now without being lost in our thoughts about the here and now.

The practice of asana, and especially savasana or corpse pose, is meditative. It can be the doorway to deeper states of meditation and gives the student the most important gift that can be given. This gift is called dis- identification. In Chapter I of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali discusses the false identification of thoughts and Self. He teaches that this false identification is at the root of all misery. He further teaches that the practices of yoga are about dissolving this false identification. The great gift of savasana, for example, is that the student can begin to separate from his/her thoughts. As one moves more deeply through relaxation one begins to enter another state in which thought is experienced a surface phenomenon. Then one can begin to experience a little space between the thought and what is perceived as Self.

Excerpt from Article Embodying the Spirit: Understanding the Meaning of Asana by Judith Hanson Lasater


12 illuminating sanskrit words for christmas yoga meditations

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As we move now toward the shortest day and longest night of the year (in the Northern Hemisphere), let’s take a deeper look at yoga teachings on light and darkness and explore what they have to say about light within and without, body and mind, the transient and the eternal. Though for us moving toward the Winter Solstice light is now diminishing, yoga philosophy suggests there is a light within that never wanes.

First, let’s introduce two ancient Sanskrit words: The ancient yogis saw our being as spiritual creatures made up of (word #1) prakṛti [prak-rit-ee] and (word #2) puruṣa [poo-roo-sha].

Prakṛti is our body (it is also a word used to mean “nature”). It is all that is changing in us, or, in other terms, and this is not always obvious: the body-brain system. It is not always obvious because we identify with something that is changing, thinking that it is something permanent.

Puruṣa is all that is not changing within us, sometimes defined as the soul, or pure awareness, or in some other contexts, “consciousness.”

Puruṣa is the light that never wanes.

Now a third and fourth Sanskrit word: Patañjali (#3), who compiled the Yoga Sutra-s sometime around 350 CE, uses the word īśvara (#4) to mean a Higher Power. Iśvara is the source of light, or pure awareness or consciousness; through puruṣa (our individual light as experienced by us), we are connected to this one light, the source of all light, awareness, consciousness.

So, the interesting question arises, if reality and our relation to reality is constructed like this, how is darkness possible? How can depression, wrong action, confusion, illness, a sense of disconnect from light and wholeness, arise? This is an ancient question, and a living one.

Here are some things to ponder from the yoga teachings and their related philosophies. These are suggestions we can more than ponder, but test in our own life and in our yoga practice to discover for ourselves what they might mean.

Sanskrit word #5 is prāṇa, or life force. The ancient yogis saw health as a smooth flow ofprāṇa within the body-brain system. Since our body is made of matter, it has limitations or a conditioned nature. We experience that conditioning, yoga suggests, through the guṇas(#6), or tendencies. The guṇas influence matter very strongly. Just as electricity can’t pass through wood but it can pass through copper, the body’s receptivity to prāṇa will change. According to yoga, the guṇas govern this receptivity.

The guṇas are sattva (#7: balance, order, purity), rajas (#8: change, movement, dynamism) and tamas (#9: lethargy, dullness, slowness).

To bring this full circle and to see the interconnected, holistic view of reality to which yoga is inviting us, the guṇas also qualify the seasons. Sattva is the springtime, with it’s creative potential, and all that blossoms with it. Rajas is the summer, it is hot, people move around and travel. Tamas is associated with fall and winter as it gets darker and colder. The seasons are a reflection of the guṇas of the world. When people talk about nature or the environment, we usually understand it to be the external world. However, according to yoga philosophy, the internal environment is just as or even more important than the external.

In the moments when we are feeling less receptive to the light within, it doesn’t mean the light is not there. Our receptivity is different in accordance with our state of mind. Yoga suggest that deep inside us there is always light. That is why Patañjali advises us in Yoga Sutra I.36 to meditate on the light within.

YS I.36 viśokā vā jyotiṣmatī“We can be free of suffering by paying attention to the light within.”
Viśokā (#10) literally means “no despondency.” When grief is sustained it becomes despondency. Everyone has bad experiences in their lives, but when we identify with those past experiences we negate our reception of light. According to yoga philosophy there is always an inward resource.
Jyoti (#11) is our inner light, and jyotiṣmatī (#12!) means “to focus on the light within.” Despondency may transform when we pay attention to the light inside.
In times where we feel darkness or depressed, we don’t need to search outside, the yoga teachings suggest, we can be inspired by the source of light inside. The next time you are in a state that feels disconnected, try your yoga practice. Did that feeling turn out to be reality, or does it change when your body-breath-mind state changes?

The teachings of yoga seem to be suggesting something further as well, beyond helping us return to equilibrium. Here seems to be a key point: both suffering and joy are only possible in something that changes. When you begin to become sensitive to the transient, changeable nature of prakṛti, you might ask, what is it that lies beyond all the changes, what is the source of both light and dark? What is there that never changes?

That may be the most eternal quest.

From Huffington Post Article 12 Illuminating Sanskrit Words for Christmas Yoga Meditations by Rowan Lommel

 


how yoga became a $27 billion industry — and reinvented american spirituality

In 1971, Sat Jivan Singh Khalsa moved to New York to open a yoga studio. A lawyer moonlighting as a Kundalini yoga teacher, he set up shop in Boerum Hill, Brooklyn, opening a school to share the teachings of the spiritual leader Yogi Bhajan. At that time, there were only two other yoga studios in the city.

In the more than 40 years since Khalsa opened his school, he has watched as yoga in America has evolved from a niche activity of devout New Agers to part of the cultural mainstream. Dozens of yoga variations can be found within a 1-mile radius of his studio in Manhattan’s Flatiron District, from Equinox power yoga to yogalates to “zen bootcamp.” Across America, students, stressed-out young professionals, CEOs and retirees are among those who have embraced yoga, fueling a $27 billion industry with more than 20 million practitioners — 83 percent of them women. As Khalsa says, “The love of yoga is out there and the time is right for yoga.”

Perhaps inevitably, yoga’s journey from ancient spiritual practice to big business and premium lifestyle — complete with designer yogawear, mats, towels, luxury retreats and $100-a-day juice cleanses — has some devotees worrying that something has been lost along the way. The growing perception of yoga as a leisure activity catering to a high-end clientele doesn’t help. “The number of practitioners and the amount they spend has increased dramatically in the last four years,” Bill Harper, vice president of Active Interest Media’s Healthy Living Group, told Yoga Journal.
Of course, much of yoga’s appeal is the fact that it can be traced back roughly 5,000 years — in a world of exercise trends and diet fads, it’s a tradition that has stood the test of time.

Traditionally, Yoga (Sanskrit for “divine union”) has one single aim: stilling the thoughts of the mind in order to experience one’s true self, and ultimately, to achieve liberation (moksha) from the cycle of birth and death (samsara), or enlightenment.

Others are more optimistic about the evolution of yoga in America, welcoming the conversations and occasional yoga-world infighting that have accompanied its rise.

“If you value yoga and the traditions it comes from, it’s a good problem to have,” Philip Goldberg, a spiritual teacher and author of American Veda, tells The Huffington Post. “Ever since the ideas of yoga came here in book form and then the gurus started to arrive, it’s all been a question of how do you adapt these ancient teachings and practices, modernize them and bring them to a new culture, without distorting or corrupting them, or diluting their effect? That’s really the key issue here.”

Of course, much of yoga’s appeal is the fact that it can be traced back roughly 5,000 years — in a world of exercise trends and diet fads, it’s a tradition that has stood the test of time. Traditionally, Yoga (Sanskrit for “divine union”) has one single aim: stilling the thoughts of the mind in order to experience one’s true self, and ultimately, to achieve liberation (moksha) from the cycle of birth and death (samsara), or enlightenment.The Westernized, modernized form of the ancient practice expresses just one component of what was originally considered yoga. The physical practice of postures, or asana, is one of eight traditional limbs of yoga, as outlined in the foundational text of yoga philosophy, The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, thought to be over 2,000 years old. These limbs present a sort of eightfold path to enlightenment, which includes turning inward, meditation, concentration and mindful breathing. The Sutras make no mention of any specific postures, but the original 15 yoga poses were later outlined in the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, dated to the 15th century CE, making it one of the oldest surviving texts of hatha yoga, the yoga of physical exercises.

Balancing the old and the new is the “number-one challenge” for the Yoga Alliance(YA), the largest nonprofit association representing yoga teachers, schools and studios, according to CEO Richard Karpel.

“[When] the Yoga Alliance created standards for teacher training programs back in 1999, one of the primary focuses was on respecting diversity … nobody wanted an organization to tell people how to practice or teach yoga,” Karpel told The Huffington Post. “By [2011], the balance had shifted … where the concern was more about rigor.”

The rise of “spiritual but not religious” has supported this return to yoga’s traditional teachings. More than 1 in 3 Americans describe themselves as spiritual but not religious, according to a 2012 Pew Forum survey.

Goldberg explains that this inward-facing spirituality — in which individuals, whether or not they ever set foot on a yoga mat, turn inward to develop a connection with something larger than themselves — is fundamentally a yogic one, and that in fact, we are becoming a “nation of yogis.”

“People are taking charge of their spiritual lives in a very yogic way,” he says. “That’s changing the face of spirituality in the West.”

Excerpts from Huffington Post Article How Yoga Became A $27 Billion Industry — And Reinvented American Spirituality by Carolyn Gregoire