Devotion

ishvarapranidhana

The full translation of this would be “devotion to god,” but this can be misleading in the context of Classical Yoga. Religious yogins often use this discipline as a place to put their devotional practice in the context of the practice, but Pata˝jali’s intention here is a little different. Read More...
|

Self-Study

svadhyaya

In Pata˝jali’s time, self-study meant taking it upon yourself to study the scriptures of your religion to better know your chosen deity. One of the beautiful things about Classical Yoga is its open-mindedness when it comes to religion.

Read More...
|

Austere Practices

tapas

As we have already seen, Pata˝jali is as much a stickler for regular practice as any music teacher or sports coach. Theory is all very well, but without practice it is meaningless.

Read More...
|

Contentment

samtosha

Contentment, or satisfaction, is another discipline that needs to be addressed on two levels, that of achievement and that of the experience of time. Without contentment we cannot hope to be present and mindful.

Read More...
|

Purity

shaucha

Sometimes translated as cleanliness, there are two levels to the discipline of purity, both which lead to the same result: purity of the body and purity of the mind.

Read More...
|

The Disciplines: Necessary Attitudes

niyama

With the yamas, the Great Vow of Yoga, we condition our behavior in order to observe and adjust the way in which our worldly interactions affect our inner nature and vice versa. With the niyamas, Pata˝jali’s second limb in his eight-limbed path of yoga, we begin to condition our thoughts in order to set the stage for deeper insight. Read More...
|

Non-Hoarding

aparigraha

Where the observance of Non-Coveting deals with the many things we see outside ourselves that we may want, Non-Hoarding deals with the things we already have.


Read More...
|

Continence

brahmacarya

This fourth observance is one which often makes people uncomfortable, as it seems on the surface to be tied in with moralizing and repression. However, what use is chastity or celibacy when the mind is tormented with desire. This would merely be self-torture, as dissipating an indulgence as sexual licentiousness. Two of the root causes of affliction common to us all are attraction, the product of desire, and aversion, the product of pain. The observance of continence calls upon us to moderate all our desires, be they sexual or otherwise. Read More...
|

Non-Coveting

asteya

As we have seen in our discussion of truthfulness and honesty, the mind has the ability to mold itself into the shape of that which it beholds. Especially in our many moments of lack of self-awareness, human consciousness has the tendency to turn its aspect outwards towards the material world. On an animalistic level, this makes complete sense. How could we survive as a species if we went around being unconcerned with the world around us? Many of the fundamental drives hard-wired into our genes that enable us to live on as humans keep us tied to our pre-sentient past and prevent us from transcending that side of our nature and becoming truly free. Read More...
|

Truth

The primary cause of the suffering that Pata˝jali’s yoga seeks to end is the fundamental misunderstanding each of us has about our own true nature.

I.2
Yoga is the process of restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness.
I.3
Then the observer can know its own true nature.
I.4
Otherwise, the observer identifies with the fluctuations of consciousness.


Read More...
|

Non-Harming

Ahimsa
I would hope that not causing harm is an idea that requires no justification. The harm that we cause others and to the world around us, as individuals, as a community, as a nation and as a species is a significant factor contributing to the general level of sorrow we experience as part of simple existence. Pata˝jali, in the Yoga Sutra, is quite clear about his feelings regarding sorrow and what must be our attitude towards it.

Read More...
|

The Great Vow of Yoga

Yama
In the Yoga Sutra, Pata˝jali calls the yamas, the observances towards others, “The Great Vow of Yoga”:

II.31
These are universal, and apply regardless of birth, place, time or circumstance.

Read More...
|

Yoga in Action

I thought we might spend some time looking at ways in which to take our yoga practice into daily life. Asana, or posture, is only the third limb of Pata˝jali’s eight-limbed Ashtanga Yoga. Before we even get to what we think of as our formal practice—which, back in Pata˝jali’s time most likely consisted of seated meditation—we are told to see to the way we interact with the world around us and the way in which be behave towards ourselves.


More after the jump.


Read More...
|

Vrtti

Vrtti1

One of the main concerns of Yoga, as expressed in the Yoga Sutra of Pata˝jali, is sorting out the yogin’s true, essential and eternal self from that which is other, that which is temporary and changing. By becoming able to distinguish between the two, the yogin hopes to free him or herself from the anguish and suffering of existence and perhaps even cease the continual cycle of death and rebirth. Pata˝jali states it succinctly in his opening verses:

I.2
Yoga is the process of restriction of the fluctuations of consciousness.

I.3
Then the observer can know its own true nature.

I.4
Otherwise, the observer identifies itself with the fluctuations of consciousness.


Pata˝jali’s way of thinking about existence and the mind resonates strongly with modern scientific thought. He expresses many of his ideas in terms of energy. For him, thought is an energetic activity of the mind. The word he uses to represent this, vrtti, often gets translated as “fluctuation.” Think of the surface of a pond. When the water is perfectly still, the surface becomes transparent and it becomes possible to see all the way to the bottom. Drop a rock into the pond and the surface is disturbed with ripples. The bottom of the pond becomes obscured.

If the mind is filled with thoughts and emotions, the fluctuations are strong and energetic and the mind can become easily distracted. It makes little difference if the thoughts and emotions are positive or negative. The seductive memory of a pleasant experience can be just as involving as, say, the righteous anger towards someone who has done us wrong. And when the mind is wrapped up in those thoughts, Pata˝jali says it takes their shape and it ceases to be self-aware. That self-awareness is akin to the clarity of the pond water that enables us to see the bottom. Without it we will be unable to see plainly the world around us for what it is. We will always be at the mercy of circumstance and a slave to our emotions.

This may not seem like such a bad thing when we are happy, or when our fortunes are on the up. But just as every cloud has a silver lining, every silver lining has a potential cloud. Basing your identity on the blessing of your life can be just as fraught as identifying yourself with those things that limit you. If we define ourselves by the insults levied against us, how can we ever rise above them? And if we become attached to the good things in our lives, how will we feel when they are threatened? Without the discernment and self-awareness that comes with a calm and open mind, we will never be able to go deep enough to find the enduring freedom of an enlightened life.

The Idea in Practice


Our yoga practice gives us a perfect place to begin to address and work with the fluctuations of the mind. Here are four ways to approach your asana practice and take it out of the physical and into the spiritual plane.

Practice #1: Becoming Aware


The first thing is to observe how different kinds of poses affect the mind. At the beginning of your practice, check in with your thoughts. Observe their quality without going too deep into their content. Is the mind sluggish and lethargic, or is it vibrant and fluid? Do you feel up or down, happy or melancholic? Do the same after you have finished and note the change, if any. Keep track of your practice in a journal and note the following:

What was the quality of your thoughts at the beginning of practice?
What type of poses did you practice overall (back bends, forward bends, standing poses, etc.)?
What was the quality of your thoughts at the end of practice?


In this way build up an understanding of how the different types of poses affect the energy of the body and mind.

Practice #2: Tracking the Flow


Once you begin to have a grasp on how an entire practice can affect the fluctuations of the mind, you can begin to observe how the mind and body can fluctuate within an individual practice. Poses in a practice are generally grouped together by type. We do some standing poses, then perhaps a seated pose or two, then inversions, and so on. At the end of each section, check in with yourself and observe how the quality of the body and mind has changed. Each section becomes like an act in a play, or a verse in a poem, each with its own idea, its own message and effect.

Practice #3: Becoming Mindful


To go deeper, start to observe the fluctuations of the mind pose by pose. Observe where you begin to lose yourself in the pose, either because the sensation is strongly pleasant or strongly uncomfortable. Observe also the moments when the mind is thrown out of the pose to think about something completely irrelevant. Start to become aware of patterns in your practice along these lines. Does a certain pose always have the same effect? Do you bliss out with some kinds of poses and sink into dread when faced with others?

Practice #4: Single-Pointed Focus


This last approach is perhaps the hardest. As you do your poses, can you observe your thoughts as if they were part of your body and not your mind? Can you find an inner perspective of calm self-awareness that allows you to experience both your body and the fluctuations of your mind as akin to a suit of clothing that you have put on, but that you could just as easily change?

This is a very subtle idea. At first you might not be able to truly experience it. If so, play with the idea as you practice. Think about it. Think about how it makes you feel. Pretend, even, that you can experience it. Eventually you might actually find yourself spontaneously in this mindset for short periods of time. When this happens, observe how the mind flip-flops between playing with the idea and truly experiencing it. As time goes on and the practice becomes firmly established, you can begin to take the exercise into your daily life and observe the changes it will create there.
|