Bring Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras to Life

Aug 15th, 2017
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Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras consist of 195 sutras and are considered the most important text for any serious yoga practitioner. Patanjali was the first Indian sage to systematize the approach to Yoga. The yoga sutras appear under four chapters:1. Samadhi Pada (Meditation) 2. Sadhana Pada (Practice) 3.Vibhuti Pada (Progressing on the Path) 4. Kaivalya Pada (Liberation). Yoga Sutras, as I learnt from my yoga philosophy teacher James Boag, is the manual of enlightenment – a practice manual. Everything that Patanjali explains in yoga sutras can be experienced by the self and put to test. These sutras are like stitches woven together, they are not stand alone aphorisms – one leads to the other.

Sutra 1.1: atha yoga-anushashanam

The first sutra introduces the subject. Patanjali says now I am going to tell you about yoga. He also says he will only review what he has heard from his holy teachers. He attacks his own pride. Patanjali acknowledges it is not his creation.

This sutra is also interpreted as “Now we have come to yoga”: we may have experienced the riches of the world but it has not brought us satisfaction and now we have this burning desire to turn inwards. Only the desire is enough as a qualification for yoga practice. Patanjali, also known as the greatest grammarian uses language very skilfully. He begins the first sutra with the sound of “A” and ends with the sound of “M”. A-U-M encompasses totality, the sound that encompasses all of the creation.

“Yoganushasanam”, Sri Sri Ravi Shanker explains, refers to the self imposed discipline of yoga. He explains that discipline does not mean torturing oneself unnecessarily. The purpose of discipline is to attain joy. Happiness that is felt after a certain discipline is sattvic happiness – a long lasting happiness. Happiness that begins in enjoyment and ends in misery is no happiness. Discipline is necessary for happiness. To bear what is uncomfortable is discipline and it need not be uncomfortable all the time.

But if it feels uncomfortable we need discipline to bear it and move through it. This discipline is just like the discipline of brushing our teeth. No one imposes this discipline on us. We choose it.

Yoga is a discipline. So what does this discipline do? “It unites your Self and unites all the loose ends of your existence” (Sri Sri Ravi Shanker)

Sutra 1.2: yogash chitta virtti nirodhah

Chitta refers to consciousness of the mind field and vritti refers to fluctuations of the mind (thoughts patterns). “Nirodhah” is more like “settling down” and not so much as suppressing or controlling. “Rodha” means to mount. Ni-Rodha means just settling down and not running here and there. So this sutra tells us that Yoga is that state of complete settling down of all thought patterns

If you notice in this second sutra, Patanjali goes straight to the “mind”, reminding us that we are thinking selves. The conscious mind is always running into the past and future when what it needs for a state of yoga is to just stay in the present. We need to work to bring it into the present. Mind and self reflexive awareness is unique to human beings. Self reflexive refers to the ability to watch ourselves. To use awareness and keep returning to the present, and watch oneself is the work of the yoga practitioner. We become calm in this state as our mind settles and our vision expands. To be able to notice ourselves doing things that we don’t want to do, quicker than we used to notice: this is chitta (consciousness) rising and an indication that our practice is working for us!

My teacher, James Boag explained that asana is the seat of consciousness.

We learn how to inhabit our body through an asana. When are we not in an asana?! Asana assimilates the practice of moving with the breath, it creates a new blue print for our lives. He explained that the use of asana is to protect the body from itself just like mantra is to protect the mind from itself. Left to its own devices the body may not apply enough effort!

This sutra is also explained as the mind’s tendency to turn things around the wrong way and commit a “great mistake”. Roach and Mc Neally explain that a child seeing a movie wants to hit the bad guy. The pain is real. But it can only be stopped if the misunderstanding of where it is coming from can be stopped. And this is what Yoga teaches us to do.

Today when I become frustrated, I will remember that this is no overnight process. I will be patient, and I will keep coming back to my mat. Sutra 1.3: tada drastuh svarupe avasthanam

Today when I become frustrated, I will remember that this is no overnight process. I will be patient, and I will keep coming back to my mat.

Sutra 1.3: tada drastuh svarupe avasthanam

When our mind settles down and our consciousness expands. Then we see ourselves as we really are “sat- chit- anand” (Being, Consciousness, Bliss). If there is more sat–chit-anand you know your consciousness is expanding.

The most important day in our spiritual journey is the day we stop seeing things the wrong way. The child realises that the bad man is not really on the movie screen. But when this realisation does not exist, what is happening to our mind?

Today in meditation, I will let go of expectations. I will let my mind be free to be in its natural state. When I find myself wandering, I will smile, say “thinking”, and come back to the breath.

Sutra 1.4: vritti sarupyam itaratra

If we are not experiencing our true reality all the time then we identify with the vritti (fluctuations of the mind). For example, when one is very engrossed in a movie that’s all that exists. A back ache or leg pain appears more intense when we are idle. But when we are engrossed in a movie, we feel nothing at all. We are not even aware that we are sitting! Our consciousness has assumed the form of that movie, of that vritti. The purpose of yoga is to integrate us, to make us whole, create awareness and expand our consciousness.

Today I will look for the stillness of awareness. When I feel the fluctuations of my mind, I will smile and find the calm behind the chaos.

Sutra 1.5: vrittayah pancatayah klishta aklishta.

Vritti are of five kinds and could be klishta (unpleasant / problematic) or aklishta (non- problematic/ pleasant). Klishta or aklishta are two polarities, two extremes. Yoga teaches us to not stay on either of these polarities. It teaches us to stay centred. The reason for these two polarities is either because we are too attached to something or because we are too averse or fearful of something.

Vritti by themselves are not good or bad. It is up to us to make them helpful or unhelpful. Roach and Mc Neally explain that the goal of our yoga is not to stop all thoughts. We simply want to stop making the mistake of incorrectly perceiving or understanding things which causes us unhappiness. We want to make our minds ultimately clear, and happy, and loving. The five types of vritti that Patanjali describes are discussed in the following sutras. (To be covered in the next issue).

Today when I feel powerless over my own emotions, I’ll pause, and choose my reaction carefully. I will think through whether I am causing torment, and if I am, I’ll simply make a different decision.

Acknowledgements
Personal study with Sanskrit Scholar and Yoga Teacher James Boag (www. Jamesboag.com) The Essential Yoga Sutras by Michael Roach and Christie Mc Neally Patanjali Yoga Sutras by H.H. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar The Wisdom of Yoga Sutras by Ravi Ravindra Yoga by Kyra deGruy (Affirmation/ Reflection on each sutra) (www. breathebalanceyoga.com) Traditional Yoga and Meditation of the Himalayan Masters (www.swamij.com)

About the author
Swati Pandey is a keen student of Yoga. She also completed her teacher training from Anahata. Swati finds her calling in the practice of Ashtanga Vinyasa Yoga and is most influenced in her approach and understanding of yoga by her teacher John Scott. She finds great learning and guidance from her yoga philosophy teacher James Boag and greatly reveres Yogi Shri Dharma Mittra.

Swati Pandey

Bio

Swati Pandey is a keen student of Yoga. She has completed 400 Hrs Teacher Training from Anahata Yoga, Hong Kong and continues to pursue further Teacher Training and workshops with Manoj Kaimal, founder Manasa Yoga, Kualalumpur. Swati is passionate about sharing yoga and teaches regularly in Kualalumpur.

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