Bringing Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras to Life

Aug 20th, 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. 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.

1.12 abhyasa vairagyabhyam tan nirodhah

Patanjali explained to us in the previous sutras that our mind has a tendency to be caught up in thought patterns (vrittis). Whenever our mind is active in these vritti (s) we are not in a state of yoga. So how do we arrive at a state of yoga given the natural tendency of the mind? How do we settle down these vrittis? Patanjali explains that yoga can be arrived at through Abhyasa (practice) and Vairagya which refers to letting go of excessive attachment to people and things, and shedding off our aversions and fears, Vairagya (state of detachment) then comes naturally as we continue on the path of practice.

Today I will practice throughout the day. I will observe my thoughts and emotions, I will watch if I am too excited or too resistant. I will notice if these emotions arise from my attachments or aversions. I will then breathe and relax and draw comfort in the fact that my effort of practice is enough to usher in the centeredness of yoga.

1.13 tatra sthitau yatnah abhyasa

Abhyasa or practice is the attitude of persistent effort to bring about steadiness in us. It refers to constantly making choices in our day to day living through speech, thought and action that lead to stable tranquility. Sri Sri Ravi Shanker explains this to be “an effort made to be here – now, now, now; to bring the mind to the present”. So how do we apply abhyasa to free ourselves from the five vrittis?

• Freedom from pramana (logic/ proof that the mind seeks): Be determined to not dwell on any proof. If the mind asks for it, observe it and relax.
• Freedom from viparyaya (incorrect perception) : Often when the mind is on wrong knowledge it thinks it is on the right one. So the mind is not even interested in knowing anything. Sri Sri Ravi Shanker says let things be the way they are and do not pass judgements of right or wrong.
• Freedom from vikalapa (imagination): Just observe the mind, as we become watchful and notice its flight of fantasy and realize it is fantasy, it drops off and we return to the now.
• Freedom from nidra (unconscious deep sleep) – the practice of silent sitting is a practice of quieting the vrittis thus arriving in a state of yoga nidra
• Freedom from smriti (memory): Observe the mind and if we see it dwelling in the past, we bring it back to the present moment.

Returning to our center again and again is abhyasa. Often in our asana practice we focus on the breath or parts of our body to practise staying centered, to practise staying in the now and thereby giving up the tendency to chase a pose. We let go off the tendency to analyze, compare or compete in our asana practice. My teacher James Boag explains that as we practice this centeredness on the mat with our body, mind and senses, we create a blue print that we can carry with us throughout the day to practice yoga (being in the now, being steady) – all the time.

Today I will practise. I will choose not to be so hard on myself and take the necessary steps for progress, not expecting perfection.

1.14 sah tu dirgha kala nairantaira satkara asevitah dridha bhumih

When practice is done for a long time with sincere devotion, without a break it becomes firmly rooted. James Boag explains that it is important to keep our practice reverential and practice for a long time with humility and gentle charity. When we do this, any technique that we use – asana, pranayama, meditation – will infuse every part of the body. It is also important to choose a level of practice that we can sustain on a daily basis.80% practice everyday is better than 100% practice on some days and 60% on others!

Choosing a practice that works for us is also crucial. Roach and Mc Neally explain : “We all know that there are right ways of fixing a car and wrong ways too. If you try to fix your car but you don’t know what you are doing, you can really make expensive mistakes. Fixing heart and mind are no different. We need to know what we’re doing—we need good, clear instructions on what to do, from someone who’s already done it themselves. Learning how to maintain a really effective daily practice creates a perfect foundation.”

Today I promise thirty minutes everyday to my practice. It is my offering to the divine; for what I was born with is his gift to me and what I make of myself is my gift to him.

1.15 drista anushravika vishaya vitrishnasya vashikara sanjna vairagyam

In this sutra Patanjali explains non attachment (desirelesness). It is a state when one stops thirsting for external sources of enjoyment because of fullness one feels within. Non attachment is not a practice in itself. James Boag explains that non attachment is a result of regular practice. To see tempting food and say that I am not going to eat it, and all the while feeling tempted to eat, is not a step towards non attachment. Infact non attachment automatically happens when one is content and feels full. In such a situation a person may still be able to appreciate good food but will not be tempted by it. So Vairagya (non attachment) comes naturally through skilful practice. The effort that a yoga practitioner needs to make is towards regular Abhyasa (practice).

This is an ideal I strive toward daily. The idea that I can enjoy something or someone without becoming attached is a foreign but freeing concept. I tend to work in extremes, so when I love something/ someone my tendency is to do it fully and passionately, to the point of exhaustion or codependency. Turns out it’s challenging to find contentment when I put energy into a parasitic relationship with anything. Learning to love fully without becoming attached is the work. The way to become a master is continuous, steady effort, and the end result is freedom. Today I will practice love without attachment. This isn’t to say I’ll love with only half my heart or with a guarded heart. Rather, I’ll practice loving with an open heart and mind, and let my sense of need and security go. I’ll give up control and pray for the gift of non-attachment.

1.16 tat param purusha khyateh guna vaitrshnyam

When the highest level of non attachment is reached, external objects have no power over such a person. Such a person is never compelled by fear or anger. It does not mean that he may not feel it, but he is not controlled by it. Sri Sri Ravi Shanker says “This is supreme dispassion: not being scared or running away from the world but being in it; completely centred…Yoga is skill in action. Skill to live your life, manage your mind, deal with emotions, to be with people, to be in love and not let that love turn into hatred…Yoga is that skill, that preservative, that maintains love as love all the time.”

Today I will practice breathing into the present moment. When I am feeling controlled by dramas and ego clinging, I will take a breath and look for the beauty in the moment

Acknowledgements:

Personal study with Sanskrit Scholar and Yoga Teacher James Boag (www.Jamesboagyoga.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 (www.breathebalanceyoga.com)
Traditional Yoga and Meditation of the Himalayan Masters (www.swamij.com)

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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