Tag Archives: Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra

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

 


dance of shiva

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In the Hindu tradition, gods and goddesses dance as a way of expressing the dynamic energy of life. The image of Nataraja represents the god of gods, Shiva, as the Lord of the Dance, choreographing the eternal dance of the universe as well as more earthly forms such as Indian classical dance (which is said to have originated from his teachings). In Hindu mythology Shiva is also Yogiraj, the consummate yogi, who is said to have created more than 840,000 asanas, among them the hatha yoga poses we do today. While a cultural outsider may not relate to these mythic dimensions in a literal way, dancers in India revere the divine origins of their dances, which were revealed to the sage Bharata and transcribed by him into the classic text on dance drama, the Natya Shastra (circa 200 c.e.). What many practitioners of yoga do not know is that one of the central texts of yoga, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra, written around the same time, was also inspired by an encounter with Nataraja.

Srivatsa Ramaswami, Chennai-based yoga teacher, scholar, and longtime student of yoga master T. Krishnamacharya, includes a pivotal story of how Patanjali came to write the Yoga Sutra in his book Yoga for the Three Stages of Life. In Ramaswami’s account, Patanjali, a young man with a great yogic destiny, is drawn to leave home to do tapas (intensive meditation) and receive the darshana of Shiva’s dance. Eventually Shiva becomes so taken by Patanjali’s ekagrya (one-pointed focus) that he appears before Patanjali and promises to reveal his dance to the young yogi at Chidambaram, a Nataraja temple in present-day Tamil Nadu. At Chidambaram, Patanjali encounters a golden theater filled with many divine beings and sages. To Patanjali’s wonderment, Brahma, Indra, and Saraswati start to play their sacred instruments. Shiva then begins his ananda tandava (“dance of ultimate bliss”). As Ramaswami tells it, “The great tandava starts with a slow rhythm and in time reaches its crescendo. Engrossed completely in the divine dance, the great sages lose their separate identities and merge with the great oneness created by the tandava.” At the end of the dance, Shiva asks Patanjali to write the Mahabhasya, his commentaries on Sanskrit grammar, as well as the Yoga Sutra, the yogic text most widely used by Western yoga practitioners today.

Another area where dance and hatha yoga meet is in the actual sadhana (practice), where there are many parallels between the two arts in both the technique and spirit (bhava) of the dance. The tradition is passed from guru to shishya (student) in a live transmission; the teacher gives the proper adjustments and guides the students into the inner arts of the practice. All of Indian classical dance refers back to the Natya Shastra text for an elaborate classification of the form. If you thought the technique of asana was detailed, you should peruse the Natya Shastra: It not only describes all the movements of the major limbs (angas)—the head, chest, sides, hips, hands, and feet—but also offers a detailed description of the actions of the minor limbs (upangas)—including intricate movements of the eyebrows, eyeballs, eyelids, chin, and even the nose—to create specific moods and effects. As in hatha yoga, one begins with the basics of body mechanics and gradually moves toward the subtler aspects of the art.

The karanas, dance counterparts of asanas, are linked into a sequence known as angaharas. Ramaa Bharadvaj compares angaharas to the flowing yoga of vinyasa, in which the “dance” of yoga is experienced as the linking of one asana to the next through the breath. “Even though a posture can be held,” she says, “it is really part of a flow. It’s like the Ganges coming down from the Himalayas: Although it passes Rishikesh and then Varanasi, it doesn’t stop; it keeps flowing.” Like the alignment of asanas, the karanas are based on the center line of the body in relation to gravity and include not only placement of the body but also attention to the pathways of energies that flow through the body.

Ultimately, yoga is about connecting to the Big Dance, which one can experience either abstractly, through the lens of spiritual culture, or more intimately, as did physicist Fritjof Capra. In his book The Tao of Physics, he describes the experience he had while he was sitting on the beach and watching the waves, observing the interdependent choreography of life: “I ‘saw’ cascades of energy coming down . . . in which particles were created and destroyed. I ‘saw’ the atoms of the elements and those of my body participating in this cosmic dance of energy. I felt its rhythm and ‘heard’ its sound and at that moment I knew that this was the Dance of Shiva.”

Excerpts from Yoga Journal Article The Divine Dance by Shiva Rea


kleshas

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Kleshas – Avidya: The Mother of All Kleshas


avidya

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The Sanskrit word vidya means wisdom or knowledge—the wisdom earned through deep practice and experience. The prefix a indicates a lack or an absence. In the yogic sense, avidya means something that goes far beyond ordinary ignorance. Avidya is a fundamental blindness about reality. The core ignorance we call avidya isn’t a lack of information, but the inability to experience your deep connection to others, to the source of being, and to your true Self. Avidya has many layers and levels, which operate in different ways. We see it threaded through every aspect of our lives—in our survival strategies, our relationships, our cultural prejudices, the things we hunger for and fear. All forms of cluelessness and fogged perception are forms of avidya. But behind each of avidya’s manifestations is the failure to recognize that essentially you are spirit, and that you share this with every atom of the universe.

In Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra II.5, we are given four useful clues for identifying when we have slipped into avidya. Each clue points to a particular way in which we take surface perceptions for reality. It cautions us to look deeper—to inquire beneath what our physical senses or cultural prejudices or egoic belief structures tell us. “Avidya,” the sutra says, “is to mistake the impermanent for the eternal, the impure for the pure, sorrow for happiness, and the not-Self for the true Self.”

Taken together, these flavors of avidya cause you to live in a kind of trance state—aware of what’s obvious on the surface but unable to recognize the underlying reality. Since this personal trance is fully supported by the beliefs and perceptions of the culture around you, it’s difficult for most of us even to recognize the existence of the veil. To fully dismantle avidya is the deep goal of yoga, and it demands a radical shift of consciousness. But the good news is that just recognizing that you’re entranced is to begin to wake up from the dream. And you can begin to free yourself from its more egregious manifestations by simply being willing to question the validity of your ideas and feelings about who you are.

Dismantling avidya is a multilayered process, which is why one breakthrough is usually not enough. Since different types of practice unpick different aspects of avidya, the Indian tradition prescribes different types of yoga for each one—devotional practice for the ignorance of the heart, selfless action for the tendency to attach to outcomes, meditation for a wandering mind. The good news is that any level you choose to work with is going to make a difference.

You free yourself from a piece of your avidya every time you increase your ability to be conscious, or hold presence during a challenging event. You can do this in dozens of ways. Meditations that tune you in to pure Being will begin to remove the deeper ignorance that makes you automatically identify “me” with the body, personality, and ideas. On a day-to-day, moment-to-moment level, you burn off a few layers of avidya every time you turn your awareness inward and reflect on the subtle meaning of a feeling or a physical reaction.

Avidya is a deep habit of consciousness, but it’s a habit that we can shift—with intention, practice, and a lot of help from the universe. Any moment that causes us to question our assumptions about reality has the potential to lift our veil. Patanjali’s sutra on avidya is not just a description of the problem of ignorance. It’s also the key to the solution. When you pull back and question the things you think are eternal and permanent, you begin to recognize the wondrous flux that is your life. When you ask, “What’s the real source of happiness?” you extend your focus beyond the external trigger to the feeling of happiness itself. And when you seek to know the difference between the false self and the true one, that’s when the veil might come off altogether and show you that you’re not just who you take yourself to be, but something much brighter, much vaster, and much more free.

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article, Who Do You Think You Are by Sally Kempton


yoga yajnavalkya

The Yoga Yajnavalkya (Sanskrit: योगयाज्ञवल्क्य, yoga-yājñavalkya) is a classical treatise on yoga traditionally attributed to sage Yajnavalkya. It takes the form of a dialogue between Yajnavalkya and his wife Gargi, a renowned female philosopher. The extant Sanskrit text consists of 12 chapters and contains 504 verses. Most later yoga texts like the Hatha Yoga Pradipika, the Yoga Kundalini and Yoga Tattva Upanishads have borrowed verses almost verbatim from or make frequent references to the Yoga Yajnavalkya. In the Yoga Yajnavalkya, yoga is defined as the union between the individual self (jivatma) and the Divine (paramatma). The yogi, Tirumalai Krishnamacharya, considered Yoga Yajnavalkya to be one of the most important yoga texts and refers to this text in the introduction to his book, Yoga Makaranda (1934).

The method of yoga described in the Yoga Yajnavalkya is both comprehensive and universally applicable—open to both women and men. Yajnavalkya explains the principles and practice of yoga, the path to freedom, to Gargi, his wife. The Yoga Yajnavalkya demonstrates that Vedic culture provided women with equal opportunities and encouragement for their spiritual pursuits to attain freedom.

Like the Yoga Sutras, the Yoga Yajavalkya describes eight limbs of yoga and describes the path of yoga practice as the development of these eight limbs. The text also dispels much of the aura of mystery surrounding the concept of kundalini by explaining it logically and relating to other terms and concepts in Vedic thought. An important feature of this text is the comprehensive discussion of pranayama, which sets it apart from other texts on yoga. Up to a hundred verses or slokas are devoted to elucidating the various techniques, applications and results of pranayama. The text also discusses the use of pranayama as a therapeutic tool, its role in ayurveda, and methods for incorporating pranayama with pratyahara, dharana and the other limbs of Patanjali yoga.

The Yoga Yajnavalkya provides insight into the various forms of meditation practiced during the Vedic period. It also addresses the issue of how to use form (Saguna Brahman, or God with form) to go beyond form (Nirguna Brahman, or the Godhead).

There are differing opinions as to the dating of Yoga Yajnavalkya. Prahlad Divanji, editor of Yoga-Yajnavalkya: A Treatise on Yoga as Taught by Yogi Yajnavalkya published by the Bombay Branch of the Royal Asiatic Society (BBRAS), traced its origin to the period between the second century BCE and fourth century CE. According to Divanji, the author of the Yoga Yajnavalkya is also the author of the Yājñavalkya Smṛti. Gerald James Larson, a professor at Indiana University, has dated this text to about the 13th or 14th century CE.

Excerpt From Wikipedia


summary of witnessing your thoughts

(Based Upon Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra) By Swami Jnaneshvara Bharati 

Yoga meditation systematically leads us to the realization that: “I am not my thoughts! Who I am, is the Self who is Witness of the thoughts!”

In which state is my mind currently? 

  1. Kshipta, disturbed, troubled
  2. Mudha, dull, heavy
  3. Vikshipta, distracted, partly focused
  4. Ekagra, one-pointed, focused
  5. Nirrudah, highly mastered, regulated

Which of the qualities or gunas is dominant with this thought?

  1. Sattvas, illumined, light, spiritual
  2. Rajas, active, stirring, moving
  3. Tamas, static, stable, inertia

Which type of thought is this? 

  1. Pramana, clear, correct, valid
  2. Viparyaya, misconceived, unclear
  3. Vikalpa, conceptualization, fantasy
  4. Nidra, sleep, focus on non-being
  5. Smriti, memory, recalling

How do I know this is true? 

  1. Pratyaksha, perception or experience
  2. Anumana, inference or thinking
  3. Agamah, written or oral testimony

How do the four functions of mind interact with this thought? 

  1. Manas: driving actions and senses
  2. Chitta: storehouse
  3. Ahamkara: I-maker
  4. Buddhi: decides, judges, discriminates
Is this thought colored or not colored? 

  1. Klishta, colored, afflicted
  2. Aklishta, not colored, not afflicted

Is this thought useful or not useful?

  1. Useful to growth
  2. Not useful  to growth

If the thought is colored, which colorings are dominant?

  1. Avidya, spiritual forgetting, veiling
  2. Asmita, associated with I-ness
  3. Raga, attraction or drawing to
  4. Dvesha, aversion or pushing away
  5. Abhinivesha, resistance to loss, fear

What is the current stage of the coloring of this thought?

  1. Udaram, active, aroused
  2. Vicchinna, distanced, separated
  3. Tanu, attenuated, weakened
  4. Prasupta, dormant, latent, seed

How is this thought operating at the four levels of consciousness? 

  1. Vaishvanara, waking, conscious
  2. Taijasa, dreaming, unconscious
  3. Prajna, deep sleep, subconscious
  4. Turiya, fourth, witness, consciousness

Is this thought pattern who I am?

  1. Yes, it is who I am.
  2. No, it is not who I am.

sutras summary

The Yoga Sutras are divided into four chapters (or padas), each one focusing on a different aspect of the yogic practice. The first pada (Samadhi Pada) concentrates on the ultimate goal of yoga, known as samadhi. Samadhi is a blissful state of total meditative absorption and can only be attained through dedicated practice. In this first pada, Patanjali acknowledges the many different obstacles a sadhaka (practitioner) encounters along their sadhana (spiritual path) leading to samadhi. One might wonder why Patanjali began his writings with the final (and thus most advanced) state of the yoga practice. Iyengar believes that ‘the enticing prospect of samadhi, revealed so early in his work, serves as a lamp to draw us into yogic discipline’.

In the second pada (Sadhana Pada), Patanjali outlays the fundamentals of an eight-staged practice designed to attain the aforementioned samadhi. Known as astanga yoga, this eight-limbed practice is as familiar to us yogis as the Bible is to Christians. I won’t open a can of worms, but I will note that one of these limbs, asana, has become an enormously popular physical exercise in Western society, and is what most people think about when they hear the term ‘yoga’.

In the third pada (Vibhuti Pada), Patanjali whispers of extraordinary powers a yogi can potentially earn through a dedicated practice of astanga yoga (some of these special skills include the reading of minds and walking on water). Patanjali warns the reader, however, that a sadhaka can become enamored by these special abilities and stray from their sadhana, thus inducing ego. He further states that a perfect yogi will refuse to exercise his powers and maintain a steady focus on their sadhana.

The fourth and final pada (Kaivalya Pada) expounds upon the sadhaka’s soul once he has reached the state of samadhi. Samadhi Pada describes yoga’s final state, but it doesn’t exactly describe the personality of an enlightened yogi. What does a yogi do once he has attained samadhi? Kaivalya Pada explains just that. In a sense, it is a manual for ultimate spiritual living.

Excerpt from goodyoga.com blog post Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali by BKS Iyengar


hiranyagarbha – the gold embryo

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SUN 268 by Roland van der Vogel

Many people today look to Patanjali, the compiler of the Yoga Sutras, as the father or founder of the greater system of Yoga. While Patanjali’s work is very important and worthy of profound examination, a study of the ancient literature on Yoga reveals that the Yoga tradition is much older. This earlier Yoga literature before Patanjali can be better called the Hiranyagarbha Yoga Darshana as it is said to begin with Hiranyagarbha. In fact, most of the Yoga taught in Vedas, Upanishads, Gita, Mahabharata and Puranas – which is the main ancient literature of Yoga – derives from it. Such ancient Pre-Patanjali texts speak of a Yoga Shastra or the ‘authoritative teachings on Yoga’ and of a Yoga Darshana or ‘Yoga philosophy’, but by that they mean the older tradition traced to Hiranyagarbha.

While no single simple Hiranyagarbha Yoga Sutras text has survived, quite a few of its teachings have remained. In fact, the literature on the Hiranyagarbha Yoga tradition is much larger than that on Patanjali Yoga tradition, which itself represents a branch of it. We cannot speak of a Patanjali Yoga tradition or of a Patanjali Yoga literature apart from this older set of Yoga teachings rooted in the Hiranyagarbha tradition. The Patanjali Yoga teaching occurs in the context of a broader Yoga Darshana that includes other streams. There is only one Yoga Darshana that existed long before Patanjali and was taught in many ways. It is the Yoga Darshana attributed to Hiranyagarbha and related Vedic teachers.

Who then was Hiranyagarbha, a human figure or a deity? The name Hiranyagarbha, which means “the gold embryo”, first occurs prominently as a Vedic deity, generally a form of the Sun God. There is a special Sukta or hymn to Hiranyagarbha in the Rig VedaX.121, which is commonly chanted by Hindus today. The Mahabharata speaks of Hiranyagarbha as he who is lauded in the Vedic verses and taught in the Yoga Shastra (Shanti Parva 339.69). As a form of the Sun God, Hiranyagarbha can be related to other such Sun Gods like Savitri, to whom the famous Gayatri mantra is addressed. Therefore, the Hiranyagabha Yoga tradition is a strongly Vedic tradition. We can call it the Hiranyagarbha Vedic Yoga tradition.

It teachings are found not only in the Yoga Sutras but in the Mahabharata, including the Bhagavad Gita, Moksha Dharma Parva and Anu Gita, which each contain extensive teachings on Yoga from many sides. The Hiranyagarbha Yoga tradition is the main Vedic Yoga tradition. The Patanjali Yoga tradition is an offshoot of it or a later expression of it. Besides looking at Patanjali in a new light, we should work to restore the teachings of the Hiranyagarbha Yoga Darshana. Many of these can easily be compiled from the Mahabharata, Upanishads, and other ancient Vedic teachings. Through it we can gradually reclaim the older Vedic Yoga it was based upon. In this way, we can restore the spiritual heritage of the Himalayan rishis. This is an important task for the next generation of Yoga aspirants, if they want to really reclaim the origin and depths of the teaching.

Excerpt from American Institute of Vedic Studies Article The Original Teachings of Yoga: From Patanjali Back to Hiranyagarbha by David Frawley


upeksha

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One way to experience upeksha (equanimity) is to experiment with mindfulness meditation. Rather than fixing attention on a single object such as the breath or a mantra, mindfulness meditation involves the moment-to-moment awareness of changing objects of perception. Mindfulness is like a floodlight, shining awareness on the whole field of experience, including sensations, emotions, and thoughts as they arise and pass away in the dynamic, ever-changing flux that characterizes the human experience of body and mind. Mindfulness allows you to see the nature of the unfolding process without getting caught in reactivity, without identifying with your sensations, emotions, and thoughts. This insight changes your relationship to the mind-body. The waves keep coming, but you don’t get swept away by them. Or as Swami Satchidananda often said, “You can’t stop the waves, but you can learn to surf!” This ability to remain balanced amidst ever-changing conditions is the balance of equanimity.

There’s an old story that illustrates the wisdom of this state of mind. A farmer’s most valuable asset is the one horse he owns. One day it runs away. All the townspeople commiserate with him, “Oh, what terrible luck! You’ve fallen into poverty now, with no way to pull the plow or move your goods!” The farmer merely responds, “I don’t know if it’s unfortunate or not; all I know is that my horse is gone.”

A few days later, the horse returns, and following it are six more horses, both stallions and mares. The townspeople say “Oh! You’ve struck it rich! Now you have seven horses to your name!” Again, the farmer says, “I don’t know if I’m fortunate or not; all that I can say is that I now have seven horses in my stable.”

A few days later, while the farmer’s son is trying to break in one of the wild stallions, he’s thrown from the horse and breaks his leg and shoulder. All the townspeople bemoan his fate: “Oh, how terrible! Your son has been so badly injured, he’ll not be able to help you with the harvest. What a misfortune!” The farmer responds, “I don’t know if it’s a misfortune or not; what I know is that my son has been injured.”

Less than a week later, the army sweeps through town, conscripting all the young men to fight in a war…all except for the farmer’s son, who is unable to fight because of his injury.

The fact is you can’t know what changes your life will bring or what the ultimate consequences will be. Equanimity allows for the mystery of things: the unknowable, uncontrollable nature of things to be just as they are. In this radical acceptance lies peace and freedom—right there in the midst of whatever pleasant or unpleasant circumstances we find ourselves in. When we open to the truth that there is actually very little we can control other than our own reactions to circumstances, we learn to let go.

Your asana practice offers a good opportunity to become better at recognizing where, when, and how you get caught in or swept away by reactivity, and to observe your attachment to results… But fixating on the results can cause you to miss key aspects of the process. As you continue in your asana practice, at some point it’s likely that factors outside your control—anatomical realities, injury, aging, or illness—will affect your practice. When they do, you have a chance to practice equanimity by letting go of your attachment to the results you had been seeking. Equanimity gives you the energy to persist, regardless of the outcome, because you are connected to the integrity of the effort itself. In the Bhagavad Gita, Krishna tells Arjuna that this attitude of focusing on the action without attachment to the outcome is yoga: “Self-possessed, resolute, act without any thought of results, open to success or failure. This equanimity is yoga.” Similarly, Patanjali tells us in chapter 1 of the Yoga Sutra, verses 12 through 16, that abhyasa, continuous applied effort, coupled with vairagya, the willingness to observe experience without getting caught in reactivity to it, will lead to freedom from suffering.

When you cultivate metta (the friendly quality of kind regard), karuna (the compassionate response to the suffering of others), and mudita (the delight in the happiness and success of others), it is upeksha that ultimately allows you to truly expand your capacity to experience this kind of boundless love for those beyond your immediate circle of friends and family, opening to the infinite capacity of your heart to embrace all beings.

Excerpt from Yoga Journal Article Calm Within: the third of a three-part series on the Brahmaviharas By Frank Jude Boccio