I hope you’re sitting comfortably. During last year, I invited you to remember the foundations of yoga practice as described in the first four sutras of Chapter 1 in Patanjali’s yoga sutras (YS1. 1-4).
The yoga sutras contain four chapters: (1) defining yoga, (2) how to practice yoga, (3) the gifts or special powers that can be learned and (4) ultimately, the deep integration of the self with the Universe, the state of samadhi. The first four sutras (aphorisms) give the definition of yoga:
YS1.1 atha yoganusasanam
And now the teaching on yoga begins
YS1.2 yogah cittavrittinirodhah
Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence, to direct and focus mental activity
YS1.3 tada drastuh svarupe avasthanam
When the mind has settled, we are established in our essential nature which is unbounded consciousness, the inner being establishes itself in all its reality
YS1.4 vritti sarupyam itaratra
Our essential nature is usually overshadowed by the activity of the mind, we identify with the activities of the mind.
‘Yoga is the negation of the thought composed mind. Then the seer abides in his own nature’ The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, cited in Soul to Soul, John Mundahl
We also chanted the sutras that describe the activities of the mind. These are perception (correct knowing), misperception (incorrect knowing), imagination, deep sleep and memory (YS1.5). Sometimes these are ‘coloured’ and sometimes they are not. We all see ourselves and our world through an individual lens, influenced by our experience or lack of experience.
These activities make us human and could be said to make us individual. However, rather than serving us, it is often the case that we begin to serve the mind and it becomes the master of our actions and takes us away from a state of yoga. In a state of yoga we have clarity and focus and are connected to our higher purpose. We can reach this state through practice which requires abhyasa and vairagya. This brings us to the start of this year YS1. 12-16. These sutras teach that to be successful in practice, we need to practice with the correct effort and consistently over time, without interruption, whilst maintaining a positive and enthusiastic attitude (abhyasa). Through practice, we develop discipline and focus which may lead to a state of detachment (vairagya). This is not detachment in the sense of not caring or being cut of from others. In this state there is an absence of cravings, a sense of fulfilment and we become more aware of the extraordinary everyday. Connections become clearer and there is space in our relationships with others and ourselves; with the planet, our universe; with ideas and concepts.
In summary, a state of yoga where we are not distracted by the activities of the mind is reached through practice (abhyasa) and detachment (vairagya): putting the support in place and letting go of the outcome – we discussed the idea of seeing where the journey takes us rather than being limited to a set goal.
The next sutras continue the discussion of reaching a yoga state with or without the influence of faith or sraddha. I have not brought these discussions into the class setting as this feels more pertinent to indiviual study.
In YS1.29 we are told that our journey to realisation may be disturbed by obstacles (antaraya). I have used a model proprosed by Peter Hersnack. He grouped the nine antarāyā into three ideas. We spent three terms using asana (postures) and reflection to contemplate the antaraya:
Issues with support:
- vyādhi – illness, loss of support
- styāna – lethargy, welded to inappropriate support
- saṃśaya – doubt, becoming sure of our support
Issues with energy:
- pramāda – impatience, using energy as your support
- ālasya – fatigue, lack of energy
- avirati – distraction, searching for energy
Issues around direction:
- brāntidarśana – confused direction
- alabdhabhūmikatva – lack of direction
- anavasthitātvani – loss of direction
Perhaps all the antaraya resonate or maybe just one or two show up on a regular basis. The antaraya journey is not linear although I do feel it gets more serious as the words get more difficult …
The antaraya are distractions of the mind. We know we are experiencing an obstacle when symptoms arise: we might feel weakness of the limbs and/or disturbed breath, the mind can feel restricted and our well being can be low or even depressed. (YS1.31). The person is rarely just affected on one level of being. The mind and body are intimately linked. Yoga allows us to see the different parts of ourselves: what is the mind, what is the body.
Since September, we have spent time working with practice to think about ways to counter the anataraya. We have to find the way that resonates for us personally. This includes focusing on a single prinicple, regulating the breath particularly the exhale and BK, mastery of the senses, meditating on purusa and the ‘light in the cave of the heart’, being in nature, seeking counsel, looking at our dreams and cultivating a positive attitude towards others (YS1.32-39)
Having found a way or a tool(s) that resonates, we begin to work towards direction rather than distraction, a state of yoga. But it does not finish there. It is not like taking a magic pill. We need to practice if we want to remain focused or to be aware when we become distracted again, which is inevitable for most of us. When we are busy and overwhelmed, practice becomes more important.
I finished the term with this reading:
Axioms for Wildness- by John O’Donohue
Alive to the thrill
Of the wild.
Meet the dawn
On a mountain.
Wash your face
In the morning dew.
Feel the favor of the earth.
Go out naked in the wind,
With the music inside,
Dance like there is no outside.
Become subtle enough
To hear a tree breathe.
Sleep by the ocean,
Letting yourself unfurl
Like the reeds that swirl
Gradually on the sea floor.
Try to watch a painting from within:
How it holds what it never shows.
The mystery of your face,
Showing what you never see.
See your imagination dawn
Around the rim of the world.
Feel the seamless silk of the ocean
Womb you in ancient buoyancy.
Feel the wild imprint of surprise
When you are taken in by your lover’s eyes.
Succumb to warmth in the heart
Where divine fire glows.
In overcoming obstacles the mind becomes more transparent. We become aware of our personal bias and how we colour our experiences with our own way of seeing. With a more honest and focused attitude, true contemplation becomes possible and we are able to grasp subtlety (YS1.41-44). With continued practice, we can deepen our connection to the subtle and gain a more profound understanding of ourselves and perhaps beyond ourselves (YS1.45-50).
TKV Desikachar interprets the final sutra of chapter one as ‘the mind reaches a state when it has no impressions of any kind. It is open, clear, simply transparent. This is the yoga state. One cannot will it, nor receive it verbally. The pure consciousness, purusa,
shines there’ (YS1.51).
Thank you for taking the time to read all the way to end. I look forward to continuing these ideas in November. We will be working with a practice to take us within, to honour the respite that winter can offer and allow the darker months to be a space to reflect and wander.
© Yvonne Cattermole