yoga for life

Document Sample
yoga for life Powered By Docstoc
					yoga series

  yoga for life
  by robert birnberg

  the yoga sutras of patanjali

 Part One In A Series:                            And the Vedas are vast. Through songs,           There is an important distinction, however,
 The Evolution Of Yoga                            chants, poems, myths and fables, human-          between the word ‘yoga’, and the Philosophy

                                                  kind’s epic battles and inner struggles are      of Yoga. The word ‘yoga’ appears throughout
           hances are you’re sitting in a coffee
                                                  told and retold again and again. The inclu-      the Vedas, and means “to link,” “to join,” “to
           shop, sipping hot chai, and reading
                                                  siveness of this great work is captured by the   yoke,” or “to focus the mind.” The Philoso-
           a yoga magazine. You may have just
                                                  Indian adage, “If you lose your cow, you can     phy of Yoga is a different matter. This phi-
 finished your favorite yoga class, and you
                                                  find it in the Vedas.”                            losophy is a cohesive system with a specific,
 feel really good. A great workout it may have
                                                                                                   technical, definition of Yoga and the actions
 been, and yet deep inside you know that          The Six Darsanas
                                                                                                   required to achieve it.
 there must be more to yoga than alignment,
                                                  In order to bring organization and clarity
 anatomy, and many comments about being                                                            While three of the darsanas are outside the
                                                  to these expansive teachings, great sages
 “grounded,” “centered” and “balanced.”                                                            scope of this article, exploring two others,
                                                  extracted from the Vedas six philosophies,
                                                                                                   Samkhya and Vedanta will help us under-
 And you’re right. Yoga is much, much more.       or darsanas. The root of darsana means “to
                                                                                                   stand what Yoga is – and isn’t.
 The postures are but one component of a          see,” and they include six different ways of
 complex system of spiritual psychology, a        looking at life. More specifically, they are      Vedanta and Non-dualism
 practical philosophy whose source is India’s     six distinct perspectives on how to reduce
                                                                                                   Vedanta is a non-dualist darsana, and the
 5000-year-old jewel of collected knowledge,      human suffering.
                                                                                                   foundation of Hinduism. Simply put, Ve-
 the Vedas.
                                                  Yoga is one of these six formal philoso-         danta says that “everything is all one thing.”
 The Vedas                                        phies. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is the       Hinduism – a theistic non-dualism – calls
                                                  darsana of yoga. Although there are other        this one thing God. Despite the appearance
 Widely believed to be divinely inspired,
                                                  important works on yoga, including the           of many gods, they are really only one God,
 the Vedas are oral teachings, preserved for
                                                  Bhagavad-Gita, the Hatha Yoga Pradipika,         Brahma. Many manifestations, one God. No
 generations by flawless memorization and
                                                  and Yoga Rahasya, the complete philosophy        duality: all are one.
 precise repetition. From teacher to student,
                                                  is understood to be embodied by Patanjali’s
 and parent to child, the sacred sounds of                                                         Philosophies of non-theistic non-dualism
                                                  Yoga Sutras. To understand Yoga, therefore,
 Vedic chanting have been an integral part of                                                      – Buddhism, for example – also say there is
                                                  one must study its Sutras.
 Indian life for centuries.                                                                        only one thing. Not God, but one thing

36 yogi times march 2006
march 2006 yogi times 37
yoga series

nonetheless. Call it consciousness, whole-         In nature, fire is rajasic. Where fire exists,     interpretations, depending on the student’s
ness, nothingness, something, but just one         form changes: paper becomes ash, wood be-        mindset. To fully benefit from these timeless
thing. Uncompromising and easily recogniz-         comes ember, and cool oxygen and organic         teachings, one must study the Sutras with a
able, non-dualism uses concepts like ‘Maya’        matter become hot carbon dioxide. Humans         qualified teacher, a teacher as familiar with
and ‘illusion’ to explain that anything other      experience this guna as anxiety, agitation,      each sutra as they are with each student’s
than oneness is not really real.                   nervousness, insomnia, etc.                      needs.
For non-dualists, the root cause of human          Prakriti’s second guna is tamas: slow, heavy,    In general terms, however, Yoga Philosophy
suffering is the illusion of separation. We         resistant. In the natural world, rock is         maintains that the human mind can be both
suffer when we see ourselves as having a            tamasic. Rock changes form, but slowly and       a valuable tool and a source of suffering. In
separate existence from the one thing, when        only after much pressure is applied. Tamas is    Sutra 1:2, Patanjali defines the Yoga state
we believe in the ‘illusion.’ For non-dualists,    resistance to change. We experience tamas as     as having a mind that is sattvic, stable, and
suffering ends when one realizes – slowly           dullness, fatigue, hesitation, lethargy, doubt   able to focus. He chooses the phrase ‘citta
or suddenly, with or without tools – that it’s     and depression.                                  vritti nirodha’ to describe a mind that can
all one.                                                                                            experience the truth, consciousness, and joy,
                                                   But like Goldilocks’ porridge, one of the
                                                                                                    which according to Yoga is our true nature.
Non-dualist religions and philosophies are         gunas, sattva guna, is just right. Sattva is
                                                                                                    But because the mind is prakriti, it can also
comforting, inspiring, and quite popular           defined as appropriate change, balanced,
                                                                                                    be rajasic or tamasic. Such an imbalanced
worldwide. But they’re not Yoga. Yoga is not       harmonious, clear and sustaining. According
                                                                                                    mind is prone to misperception, resulting in
a religion, and Yoga’s dualistic philosophy        to samkhya, the true nature of the human
                                                                                                    sorrow, discomfort and disease.
is rooted in samkhya, an entirely different         mind is sattvic.
darsana. There are undoubtedly many non-                                                            And this sorrow is real. Unlike in non-dual-
                                                   And sattva, while still part and parcel of
dualists practicing Yoga to help deepen their                                                       ism, where separateness and sorrow are seen
                                                   prakriti, is the closest that matter gets to
experience of ‘oneness;’ you may be one of                                                          as illusory, Yoga sees everything as real. Suf-

       patanjali’s yoga sutras is in simple terms a
       guidebook for cultivating a sattvic mind.
                                                   purusa. In other words, the awareness and
them. Yet non-dualism is not in intrinsic                                                           fering, sickness and sorrow are true realities,
                                                   stability characteristic of purusa is most
part of Yoga Philosophy.                                                                            which can only be replaced by other realities,
                                                   likely to be experienced by a sattvic mind.
                                                                                                    preferably, comfort, wellness, and joy.
Yoga, Samkhya, and Dualism
                                                   A mind that is too agitated (rajasic), or too
                                                                                                    The Sutras explore many aspects of living,
Samkhya describes all reality as having two        dull (tamasic) only experiences its own
                                                                                                    including: relationships, lifestyle, body,
components: purusa, or consciousness, and          movement, and cannot know the conscious-
                                                                                                    breath, the senses, and mind. The aim is to
prakriti, matter. Samkhya, being dualistic,        ness at its core. Samkhya’s conclusion, then,
                                                                                                    achieve wholeness by refining the individual
states that these components are connected,        is: “In order to know the deepest truth, to be
                                                                                                    parts and clarifying their relationships.
but separate. In samkhya, as in yoga, the goal     stable and happy, a sattvic mind is required.”
                                                                                                    Since, according to Yoga, they are all inter-
is not to dissolve all things into one whole.
                                                   Yoga Sutras and the Sattvic Mind                 connected, refinement in one area will create
Instead, emphasis is placed on illuminating
                                                                                                    improvement in the others. Therefore, using
the individual parts, and clarifying their         Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is in simple terms a
                                                                                                    slow deep breathing to move the body into
relationships. Relationship, as we shall see, is   guidebook for cultivating a sattvic mind. The
                                                                                                    stable, comfortable postures helps to focus
central to Yoga.                                   great sage compiled the sutras approximately
                                                                                                    the mind and brighten the emotions.
                                                   2,300 years ago. Little more is known about
Purusa is consciousness: unchanging, form-
                                                   this man, except that he also composed           This brings us full circle, to just how good
less, and watching. Purusa sees but remains
                                                   foundational works on Ayurveda and San-          you feel right now with your warm chai after
forever unchanged by what it observes.
                                                   skrit Grammar.                                   your favorite yoga class. Go ahead, have
Prakriti is the manifest world. This includes
                                                                                                    another sip. Enjoy.
all matter, nature, and the human mind. Un-        The Yoga Sutras are 195 aphorisms, succinct
like purusa, prakriti is ever-changing.            teachings on life, suffering, and the nature
According to samkhya, prakriti has three           of the mind. The first psychology text, the
                                                                                                    In subsequent articles, we will explore Patanjali’s Sutras,
distinct qualities or rates of change, called      Sutras resemble lecture notes more than          yoga’s source text, in detail. We will look at Yoga’s view of life,
gunas. First is rajas: intense, dynamic change.    completed lessons, and have many possible        the mind, practice, discipline, healing and transformation.

38 yogi times march 2006
yoga series

how yoga
looks at life
by robert birnberg

my brother’s mullet
Part Two in a Series:
The Evolution of Yoga

        efore introducing a new posture, con-
        cept or technique, my teacher, Kausthub
        Desikachar, always takes time to help us
review, digest and integrate what we’ve already
learned. This review is called ksema, and it is
essential to the study of yoga. Before we pro-
ceed, let’s honor my teacher with some ksema
on what we’ve covered so far.

Last month’s article explored yoga’s roots in the
Vedas, India’s oldest oral teachings. We looked
at yoga’s link to the dualistic samkhya philoso-
phy. This ancient philosophy or darsana sees
life as having two components: purusa (spirit or
consciousness), which always observes but does
not change; and prakriti (matter, the material
world, including the mind), which is always
changing.                                             making serves an important function.               breathing can contribute to asthma and depres-
We also explored prakriti’s three different rates                                                         sion. Lying often results in angry, confused
                                                      For instance, the habit of standing with the up-
of change. These qualities of matter, or gunas                                                           relationships. And overeating is a contributing
                                                      per back rounded hides the chest and protects
are: rajasic, the hot, quick, fiery transformation;                                                       factor in numerous health issues. Simply put,
                                                      the heart. Holding the breath stops the flow
tamasic, the slow resistant, like-a-rock quality;                                                        yesterday’s solutions become today’s problems.
                                                      of unpleasant emotions. Habitually telling lies
and finally, sattvic change, balanced, appropri-       helps us cope under pressure. Overeating serves    My brother, still sporting his mullet, can’t seem
ate, sustaining. We saw how the human mind,           as a reward for a difficult day. These familiar      to land a job – or a date.
though material, is closest to spirit when it         patterns have one thing in common: they help
moves toward the sattvic state. Finally, we saw                                                          This is our dilemma, our mullet. A mind that
                                                      us feel better. They work... for a while.
how yoga’s foundation text, the Yoga Sutras of                                                           is totally free of habits would be unstable and
Patanjali, is a guide for reducing suffering by        Even my brother’s mullet hairstyle used to         overwhelmed by life’s infinite choices, but years
cultivating a sattvic mind.                           work. This short-in-front, long-in-back haircut    of unconscious conditioning confine us. So we
                                                      defined him and expressed his twin values. His      are stuck in an eternal tug of war between the
How Yoga Looks at Life                                sholo once told the world he was someone who       urge for freedom and the need for security.
Though human beings have the potential to             could, as he put it, “work all day and party all
                                                                                                         Yoga’s Solution
experience boundless joy, most people would           night.”
                                                                                                         Yoga’s strategy for solving this age-old problem
admit that suffering and sorrow are facts of life.     Things Change
                                                                                                         is ingenious. Rather than insisting that we stop
According to the Sutras, this distress or duhkha
                                                      Life, however, (at least the material part) is     creating habits, yoga encourages us to become
comes from the mind, specifically from our
                                                      constantly changing. Over time, even our           fully involved in the habit making process.
habits. As long as we are alive, we are creating
                                                      best habits (or haircuts) can stop working.        With yoga’s help, we can begin to create pat-
habits or samskaras, both consciously and un-
                                                      Responses to present-moment challenges from        terns consciously, becoming healthier, more
consciously. These patterns are interconnected
                                                      past experience are often inappropriate and        positive versions of ourselves. When we use our
and exist in all areas of our lives. Our tastes,
                                                      inadequate. The result is increased suffering in    native intelligence to refine our samskaras, we
emotions, attitudes, beliefs and behavior are all
                                                      daily life.                                        are linked with a universal power as steady as
linked to habits of body and mind. Samskaras
                                                                                                         the seasons and as old as the tides.
are essential, as they help create a sense of         Eventually, a rounded back can lead to back
identity, stability, and control. Therefore, habit-   pain and low self-esteem. Shallow, irregular       To aid in this process, yoga recommends find-

40 yogi times april 2006
ing a person with the perspective and detachment       a different experience of oneself. This is described      Asana: Yoga postures replace our old and limiting
to see us clearly, and the experience and skills to    as “cooking out the impurities.”                         neuromuscular patterns with better ones. Contin-
help us change. We need a teacher. (In the classical                                                            ued practice reshapes the spine and improves the
                                                       Svadhyaya: reflection. Usually, this is with the help
model, only one teacher.) Since the yoga teacher                                                                body’s overall flexibility and strength.
                                                       of a teacher, revealing the correct way to change a
will teach largely by example, we must have a
                                                       pattern. It is also an aid to measuring progress.        Pranayama: Breathing techniques are designed
teacher who is equally committed to self-transfor-
                                                       Isvarapranidhana: willingness to change, teach-          to replace short, shallow, irregular breathing with
mation, and who has a teacher. In other words, we
                                                       ability, emphasis on the quality of behavior, letting    slower, deeper breath. Over time, pranayama vital-
need a teacher, who is also a student. For many of
                                                       go of the results.                                       izes the system, stabilizes the mind, and brightens
us, committing to a teacher is itself a new pattern.
The old habits of stoic self-reliance and keeping                                                               the emotions.
                                                       The Eight Limbs of Yoga
our options open by not committing (which once                                                                  Meditation: Visualization and other meditation
worked) will now keep us from progressing on the       The Sutras also name specific areas of life in which
                                                                                                                techniques replace negative mental patterns with
yoga path.                                             habits form, as well as tools and guidelines to
                                                                                                                more positive ones. A distracted, dull or agitated
                                                       create positive change in these areas. Collectively,
The Dynamics of Transformation                                                                                  mind is transformed into one that is focused,
                                                       the areas and tools are known as the eight limbs
                                                                                                                attentive and relaxed. As the mind becomes more
The Yoga Sutras outline several components             (ashtanga) of yoga. (Ed. – The Sanskrit term
                                                                                                                stable and sattvic, an inner light begins to shine
of conscious habit making, and guidelines for          ashtanga does not refer to the modern branch of
                                                       hatha yoga.)                                             through for all to see.
smooth, positive change. These include:
                                                       The areas are: relationships, lifestyle, body, breath,   Mini Ksema
Abhyasa: a new practice, habit, or pattern. It must
                                                       senses and the mind (three limbs deal with the           Yoga, therefore, is a process of constantly refining
be the correct practice, done gradually, for a long
                                                       mind). Yoga’s transformational tools include:            our habits and continuously improving our lives.
period of time, without interruption, and with the
                                                       relationship counseling, lifestyle guidance, asana,      With the help of a qualified teacher, we can choose
right attitude.
                                                       pranayama, visualization, ritual, sound, and medi-       the appropriate tools and practice regularly to
Viragya: detachment. This is releasing, letting go     tation, among others.
                                                                                                                achieve our goals.
of old patterns, the results of the old patterns and
                                                       Refining and replacing outdated patterns through
the emotions attached to both the patterns and the                                                              The results are a richer, deeper life, a mind that is
                                                       daily practice is the principle behind yoga’s three
results.                                                                                                        stable and free – and increasingly better hairstyles.
                                                       most popular and most recognizable tools: asana,
Tapas: refinement. Taking contrary actions to have      pranayama, and meditation.                               Next month: The Role of the Mind

                                                                                                                                        april 2006 yogi times 41
yoga series

yoga for life
by robert birnberg

the yoga sutras of
Part Three in a

        efore learning something new, we
        should always begin by acknowledging
        and assimilating what we already know.         mind that is sattvic, stable and free. Such a mind       direct perception is the ultimate knowing, we all
This is ksema, and according to the legendary          is capable of achieving any goal: gross or subtle,       have areas where we can greatly benefit from an
yogi T. Krishnamacharya, whether it is a new           great or small.                                          experienced, authoritative reference.
pose, insight, or behavior, all learning is deep-
                                                       Although many still practice Yoga as a physical          Misperception is defined as taking something
ened by review and repetition.
                                                       exercise regimen, we have seen that tradition-           to be true until more information proves our
Once More, With Feeling                                ally, this subtle spiritual psychology was used          perception false. By this definition, not know-
Previously, we discussed the fundamental nature        to improve life by consciously transforming the          ing is not misperception, but being thoroughly
of reality according to samkhya, the dualistic         human mind. In fact, of the 195 Yoga Sutras,             convinced of something, which later proves to
philosophy (darsana) linked to Yoga. The first          only three are concerned with asana (posture).           be false, is.
component of this ancient system is purusa,            Five sutras deal with the breath, and the remain-
                                                                                                                Imagination is when the mind creates an impres-
the seer, which is always watching, but remains        ing 187 explore the mind, its capabilities and
                                                                                                                sion based on what one has heard about, but has
unchanged by what it sees. Purusa or cit is            limitations.
                                                                                                                not perceived directly. Here, the possibilities are
pure spirit. Cit’s essence is unchanging truth,
                                                       The Mind: It Is What It Does                             endless.
consciousness and joy. The second component is
                                                       Sutra 1:5 defines the mind functionally, by its
the material world, prakriti, includes all of nature                                                            Memory is defined as the part of an experience
                                                       five activities (vrittis). The five vrittis are: percep-
and the mind. Unlike purusa, prakriti – or mat-                                                                 which is never destroyed. This explains why
                                                       tion, misperception, imagination, memory and
ter – is constantly changing.                                                                                   Yoga claims to replace rather than eliminate
                                                       sleep. This sutra also states that the vrittis can
                                                                                                                samskaras. For better or worse, habits based
Matter’s three distinct qualities of change are:       either be klishta (possibly a problem) or aklishta
                                                                                                                on memory will always be with us, albeit in a
rajas, quick, hot, agitated change; tamas, slow,       (possibly not a problem). This is a challeng-
                                                                                                                dormant state.
heavy change with great resistance; and sattva,        ing notion for those seeking a black and white
change that is appropriate, graceful, sustain-         philosophy with simple solutions, for yoga is            Sleep is the activity of mind most dominated by
able, and balanced. This sattvic quality is the        pure relativity, as rich and complex as the person       tamas, the quality of matter, which is heavy, dark
closest that matter gets to spirit. Therefore, the     practicing. According to the Sutras, there is no         and dull. Although sleep usually feels wonder-
fundamental aim of Yoga is to make the mind            ultimate right or wrong, no absolute good or             ful, too much sleep or sleeping at the wrong time
more sattvic. Whether sattvic, tamasic or rajasic,     bad. Life is conditional, and the same mental            (while driving, for instance) can be a problem.
the fact remains that the mind, being prakriti, is     activity under different conditions can yield
                                                                                                                Again, klishta or aklishta.
always changing.                                       painful or pleasurable results. Sometimes the
                                                       truth hurts, sometimes delusion soothes.                 The Role Of Mind
In an effort to create stability and control amidst
                                                                                                                To fully understand the mind’s role, however,
this constant change, the mind forms habits,           The Sutras also nullify the popular notion that
                                                                                                                we must go beyond the vrittis, beyond matter, to
or samskaras. Though initially an effective             Yoga is about ‘always being in the present.’ While
                                                                                                                purusa, or cit, the seer. For according to Yoga, it
survival strategy, clinging to old mental patterns     clarifying perception in present time is a positive
                                                                                                                is in service of cit, the seat of consciousness, that
eventually causes us to misperceive present-time       thing, Yoga teaches that any mental activity, a
                                                                                                                the mind’s activities find their real purpose.
challenges. Action based on misperception is,          pleasant memory, a vividly imagined future, or
according to the Sutras, a primary source of hu-       deep sleep, can be appropriate and enjoyable             In fact, suffering occurs when the mind, forget-
man suffering.                                          under the right circumstances.                           ting that its true role is to serve cit, begins to
                                                                                                                act on its own. To illustrate this, I could use the
In addition, we saw that according to Yoga, we         More On The Vrittis
                                                                                                                standard Vedic image of purusa or cit as the
can – with the support of a qualified teacher           Perception, according to Patanjali, comes either
                                                                                                                charioteer and the mind and senses being like
– choose appropriate tools and individualized          from direct sensory experience, through infer-
                                                                                                                runaway horses.
strategies to observe and refine our habits.            ence, or from a credible authority. Here again,
Consistent practice helps create and maintain a        Yoga stresses the need for a teacher. Although           As I feel slightly more connected to the Hol-

42 yogi times may 2006
lywood sign staring in my office window than                on is anyone’s guess. Without cit or consciousness        life-promoting practice, but the activities of the mind,
to horses and charioteers, I’ll use a slightly more       directing the show, citta’s images are repetitive and     the drunken cameraman, are winning out. Ultimately,
modern, relevant metaphor: We can liken cit, the          chaotic, their meanings distorted and imprecise.          I go back to sleep. Cit has left the building.
seer, to the director of a film. The movie is our lives,   Eventually the confused cameraman, lacking direc-
                                                                                                                    The Problem
and this cit, the director, is our consciousness, our     tion and drunk on his own power, denies the very
                                                                                                                    Because consciousness can only observe the world
deepest self.                                             existence of cit. Believing himself to be the director
                                                                                                                    through a mind colored by memory and condition-
                                                          of the film, the mind begins to control the behavior
The central themes of cit’s film, of our lives, are                                                                  ing, even our best intentions are often subverted.
                                                          of the individual. Here’s an example:                     When the mind – the obsessive, drunken camera-
truth, existence, and joy (sat-cit-ananda).
                                                          If I follow through on my conscious decision to           man, not consciousness – makes the choices, our
Enter The Cameraman
                                                          do a thirty-minute morning practice of breath-            sweet lifetime story can become a feel-bad comedy
Because this movie exists in the physical world how-
                                                          ing, sound, and movement, I will undoubtedly feel         of errors in which the drama goes on too long, and
ever, the director cit hires a cameraman to observe
                                                          lighter and brighter all day. Before I can get to the     the ending comes too soon.
and record specific people, places and things. The
                                                          mat, however, the activities (vrittis) of my drunken      A Happy Ending
mind or citta is this cameraman. For consciousness,
                                                          cameraman mind kick in, focusing on a multitude           Thankfully, Yoga offers a solution. By choosing a
cit can only perceive the world through the mind,
                                                          of distractions and alternatives. There is clear olfac-   teacher who is conscious in areas we are not, by fol-
through citta. Therefore, the cameraman’s job is to
                                                          tory perception of my neighbor’s pancakes cooking:        lowing their direction, and practicing on a regular
focus his camera on images and events and record
                                                          Mmmmm.                                                    basis (despite the pancakes), we can create a life in
the essence of cit’s movie. Unfortunately the camera-
man has a strong tendency to get drunk, ignore cit’s      Misperception informs me that perhaps a double            which all the mind’s activities – perception, imagi-
                                                                                                                    nation, memories and even sleep – are linked to our
directions, and focus on the things he is familiar        latté will have the same effect as a yoga practice.
                                                                                                                    deepest consciousness, our cit, and truly serve our
with. These might be objects that once brought him        My memory reminds me of all the great music and
                                                                                                                    core values. Only then can our lives unfold as beau-
pleasure or things he wishes to avoid, objects he         pretty pictures waiting to be enjoyed on my com-
                                                                                                                    tiful epic adventures starring truth, love and joy.
fears losing, or that which he wishes to become.          puter. Thanks to my vivid imagination, I can clearly
                                                          see myself buying a new car that runs on corn oil....     I think we’re talking Oscars, here.
Who’s Running The Show
                                                          right now.
As anyone who’s tried to converse with a drunk                                                                      Next month:
knows, what the inebriated cameraman focuses              Consciousness, the director, is calling for a beautiful   The Role Of Practice In Yoga

                                                                                                                                              may 2006 yogi times 43
yoga series

yoga for life,
the yoga sutras
of patanjali
by robert birnberg

the impossible possible:
the role of practice in yoga

        he secret to mastering any new skill,      – is, in simple terms, an instruction manual        tice, or abhyasa, is the first of two essential
        concept or behavior, according to          for creating a satvic life.                         steps toward positive change. The second is
        my teacher’s teacher’s teacher, Yoga                                                           vairagya, the ability to detach, to let go of the
                                                   We also learned that purusa, consciousness,
master T. Krishnamacharya, is repeating and                                                            negative. Abhyasa and viragya are like two
                                                   is the source of limitless wisdom and insight,
digesting so as to become comfortable, or                                                              wings of a bird. To arrive at a new destination,
                                                   and the basis of our core values. It is a guiding
ksema. So before we move on, let’s look back.                                                          both are required.
                                                   light which, when followed, always leads to
In issues # 40, 41, and 42, we saw that ‘yoga’     a better life and greater joys. Meanwhile, the      This sutra also suggests a simple strategy:
is a common Sanskrit word with many mean-          mind, in an attempt to create stability amidst      that we should always add something positive
ings, including, ‘to link.’                        prakriti’s constant change, is constantly form-     before attempting to give up the negative, that
                                                   ing habits, or samskaras.                           abhyasa precedes vairagya. For it is much
The word ‘yoga’ however, is distinct from
                                                                                                       easier to let go of a bad habit or limiting belief
Yoga, one of six formal philosophies, or           Problems arise, according to yoga, because
                                                                                                       after we have replaced it with something bet-
darsanas extracted from the ancient Indian         purusa can only perceive the world through
                                                                                                       ter. The new pattern provides the strength and
Vedas. The aim of Yoga darsana, a cohesive         the conditioned mind. When the mind
                                                                                                       stability to release the old; and focusing on the
healing art fully articulated in the Yoga Sutras   imposes past mental patterns on present time
                                                                                                       new prevents us from dwelling on the loss of
of Patanjali, is to reduce human suffering by      events, our perception is distorted and our be-
                                                                                                       the familiar.
transforming the mind.                             havior inappropriate to the challenge at hand.
                                                   This inevitably leads to suffering and sadness.     The next sutra, 1:13, explains that every prac-
We saw that yoga’s view of reality is linked to
                                                                                                       tice should be carefully designed to achieve
Samkhya, a dualistic philosophy, also derived      So, while many still think of yoga as a simple
                                                                                                       a specific goal. The Yoga Sutras never insist
from the Vedas. According to Samkhya, the          exercise regimen, we have seen that this subtle
                                                                                                       on a specific goal, but explain that whatever
first element is purusa, the formless seer.        spiritual psychology was traditionally used to
                                                                                                       the goal, the correct practice is required to
Pure spirit, purusa is ever unchanging, and        refine mental habits. This helps us to achieve,
                                                                                                       obtain the desired result. If the student’s goal
is characterized by truth, clarity and joy. The    with greater ease, any goal, gross or subtle,
                                                                                                       were to reduce the stress caused by being
second element is matter, or prakriti, which       great or small.
                                                                                                       self-destructive and overachieving, the cor-
includes all of nature and the mind. The
                                                   That’s the good news. Yoga’s bright promise,        rect practice would probably be one that is
essence of prakriti, of the material world, is
                                                   however, comes with a condition:                    more gentle and kind. A practitioner eager to
change. Samkhya describes matter’s three
                                                                                                       heal a physical injury might need to forego
distinct rates or qualities of change: rajas is    We must practice.
                                                                                                       postures altogether in favor of breath work
the agitated, quick-like-fire quality, tamas is
                                                   You Mean I Have to Do Something?                    or visualization. The number of goals and the
the slow, dull resistant-as-rock quality, and
                                                   From the very First Sutra, 1:1, yoga is intro-      practices needed to achieve them are infinite.
sattva is luminous change, always balanced,
                                                   duced as ‘anu asasanam’, ‘ following direc-         Clearly, vinyasa krama, or individualized
appropriate, and sustainable.
                                                   tions which leads to a new experience.’ Not         course planning (with the aid of a qualified
Because Samkhya is based in dualism,                                                                   teacher) is crucial.
                                                   merely an academic study of interesting ideas,
prakriti and purusa are seen as connected,
                                                   yoga is, by definition, taking action. To feel      Owning New Habits
but separate. The deepest connection of these
                                                   something different, we must do something
elemental forces is through the quality of sat-                                                        Sutra 1:14 describes the very mechanics of
                                                   different. To be more, we must do more.
tva. When this quality predominates, it is the                                                         learning, the dynamics of habituation. Ac-
closest matter comes to spirit.                    Sutra 1:12 reveals the way to more. Yoga’s          cording to Patanjali, the abhyasa will be most
                                                   definitive tool for self-improvement, for           effective when the practice is repeated: 1)
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras – yoga’s foundation text
                                                   achieving our goals, is practice. Regular prac-     continuously over time, 2) without inter-

42 yogi times june 2006
ruption, 3) with belief that it will work, and       To make the student’s body strong, light and
4) with enthusiasm. Only through faithful            flexible, appropriate postures (asana) were
repetition can the foreign become familiar,          selected, adapted and sequenced. Lengthy,
the impossible, possible. This fits with Yoga’s      arduous practices emphasizing perfect
definition as ‘the ability to do today what we       posture were taught primarily to children.
could not do yesterday, to do tomorrow what          Adult students, fully occupied with the day’s
we cannot do today.’                                 activities, were prescribed just enough asana
                                                     to help them fulfill their responsibilities
Moreover, Yoga teaches that consistent,
                                                     and enjoy their lives. Though better posture
enthusiastic practice makes the impossible
                                                     signified improvement for children, the true
possible in several specific areas of life. Com-
                                                     measure of success with adults was richer,
monly known as the eight limbs, or ashtanga,
                                                     more satisfying relationships.
they are listed from gross to subtle, from
outer to inner. They are: relationship, lifestyle,   Because of the strong link between breath,
body, breath, senses, and mind (three are            mind and emotions, breathing techniques
about the mind). While the Yoga Sutras are           (pranayama), designed to make the breath
rich with wisdom and insight, the eight limbs        long and smooth, were a central feature in
are the true yoga sadhana, ‘that which can be        mature yoga practice. Classical teachings sug-
practiced, that which can be done’.                  gested as many as four pranayama practices
                                                     per day.
What Is a Practice?
                                                     To refine the student’s sensory diet, further
For the average modern student, yoga prac-
                                                     lifestyle changes were suggested. Sounds,
tice may consist of one to six group asana
                                                     mantras and chants were carefully chosen
classes per week, or performing a prescribed
                                                     for both their physiological effects and their
sequence of postures at home, or, perhaps,
                                                     meaning. Sound, correctly applied, is a pow-
following along with a guided workout
                                                     erful addition to any practice, as it lengthens
video. While this can be enjoyable and has
                                                     the exhale, focuses the mind, and stabilizes
yielded positive results in the west for the last
                                                     the emotions. Also, sitting quietly for some
40 years, it is worlds apart from yoga’s first
                                                     time was often added to the practice.
2,000 years. Fortunately, there are still some
contemporary lineages (the one in which I            Reaping the Benefits
practice, for instance) that still offer yoga in
                                                     Integrating these various elements in a
the traditional manner.
                                                     daily personal practice shifts the student’s
Traditionally, a practice began with a student       focus from outside stimuli to more inward
having the humility to admit to himself or           (pratyahara) phenomenon, such as one’s own
herself (and later to a teacher) that he or she      memories, values, sensations, dreams and
needed help. This led to serious searching and       goals. Interestingly, this inward shift is a ma-
ultimately finding the right teacher. (Serious       jor factor in improving the student’s outward
searching is when the intention is ultimately        relationships. Over time, the effects of regular
to choose one teacher, rather than endless           practice are profound, transforming the
shopping for shopping’s sake.)                       practitioner’s world from the inside out and
                                                     the mind from the outside in.
If the teacher accepted the student, they
would begin a relationship. Then, they would         Meditation, the ability to focus on a chosen
meet regularly, always one on one. (Children         object or in a chosen direction, is both
were taught in groups.) Using the Yoga Sutras        the result of other practices and a practice
as a guide, the student and teacher would            unto itself. Gradually, an inner light shines
explore various strategies to help make the          through, and problems are replaced with
student’s mind more sattvic and improve his          clarity, joy, and boundless enthusiasm. This
or her life.                                         is yoga in full flower, a truly universal, yet
                                                     highly individualized celebration of life in all
Working the Limbs
                                                     its changing forms.
First, the teacher might suggest practical
                                                     To reap the marvelous benefits of yoga, one
methods for integrating more honesty and
                                                     needs only to find his or her teacher and be-
kindness (yamas) into the student’s personal
                                                     gin practicing. Through correct practice with
                                                     the right teacher, we will surely find what
If necessary, the teacher would help find ways       we’re looking for.
to clean up, simplify and refine the student’s       For more information about traditional Yoga practice,
lifestyle (niyamas).                                 contact Robert at 323.661.1500.

                                                                                                             june 2006 yogi times 43
yoga series

yoga for life
the yoga
sutras of
by robert birnberg

the light, the heat:
understanding the mind
THE SOURCE                                        ing two elemental components. First is purusa,        with the right teacher, therefore, was as a kind

                                                  the formless seer. Always watching and ever           of psycho/chiro/respiratory re-parenting pro-
          student of yoga is a student to the
                                                  un-changing, purusa is pure spirit, character-        cess, the success of which was measured less
          core. Which must be why I find
                                                  ized by truth, clarity and joy. The second ele-       by improved postures (as was appropriate for
          myself, in the middle of my life, in
                                                  ment is matter, or prakriti, which includes the       children) and more by improved relationships.
the middle of the afternoon, in the middle of
                                                  material world, nature and the human mind.
June, writing the fifth of ten articles on the                                                          THE NEW
                                                  Prakriti is always in the process of continual
Yoga Sutras in the middle of Chennai in South                                                           According to Yoga, both the root of life’s
                                                  change. Whether the rate is uncomfortably
India in a rented room which, I’m quite sure,                                                           problems and their salvation lies in the mind.
                                                  slow (tamasic), painfully fast (rajasic), or bliss-
the equator runs through the middle of. It’s                                                            Sadhanda Pada, the Sutra’s second chapter,
                                                  fully just right (sattvic), in the physical world,
hot here.                                                                                               outlines in detail the nature of the problem, as
                                                  everything is in constant transition. In simple
                                                                                                        well as the solution.
Yet, once again, I have returned to the source,   terms, Yoga and its foundation text, the Yoga
to study yoga with my teacher, Kausthub           Sutras, is a guide for creating this ‘just right’     In Sutra 2:2, Patanjali names the ‘klesas’ as
Desikachar, grandson of the legendary yogi        quality of movement through life.                     the source of suffering. Klesas are tenden-
T. Krishnamacharya. Outside, the air is heavy                                                           cies woven deep in the mind like a virus in a
                                                  Purusa is the source of boundless wisdom and
with jasmine, mango, and masala. Inside, I                                                              computer’s operating system. As they exist at
                                                  basis of our core values. According to Yoga,
hear Kausthub’s voice reminding me that all       problems arise because our unerring con-              a basic level, and affect us both mentally and
lasting growth requires continuous repeti-        sciousness interacts with the world through           emotionally, klesas have awesome power to
tion, digestion, and assimilation. So, I will     the deeply conditioned mind. When the mind            distort perception and shape behavior.
spend much of my time here reviewing past         imposes past mental patterns (samskaras)              KLESAS
lessons, linking the unfamiliar with the firmly   on present time events, the result is distorted       There are five klesas. The first, avidya, is de-
established, until, like magic, the new and       perception and inappropriate behavior. Not            scribed as the root klesa. Avidya is mispercep-
the known are one. This learning process,         surprisingly, suffering ensues.                       tion, looking directly at something, but seeing
or ksema, is the key to moving forward with
                                                  We’ve also seen that Yoga offers a solution.          something else. As avidya is universal, our
steadiness and comfort.
                                                  Through consistent, individualized practice           lives are filled with examples. Some are harder
THE KNOWN                                         (abhyasa) with a teacher adept at recognizing         to look at, some are easier to see. Clearly, a
In parts one through four of this series we saw   and refining patterns (of body, breath and            liver-damaged alcoholic believing another
that ‘yoga’, a common Sanskrit word, is dis-      mind), we can improve our habits, replacing           drink is the answer to his problems is avidya.
tinct from Yoga, one of the six formal philoso-   outdated samakaras with clearer perception            However, avidya might also be a practitioner
phies, or darsanas extracted from the ancient     and more effective behaviors. Though asana            of Yoga holding his breath to perform a diffi-
Indian Vedas. Yoga darsana, fully articulated     is the most popular tool for creating positive        cult asana, or mechanically repeating the same
in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, is a complete,   change at the gross physical level, historically,     practice for years. In any case, much like death
cohesive healing art whose aim is nothing less    adult students were exposed to Yoga’s vast            and taxes, klesas are inevitable.
than the radical reduction of human suffering     range of transformational techniques.
                                                                                                        The next four klesas are connected to this
through transforming the mind.
                                                  Furthermore, as our deepest patterns are              primary misperception. They are asmita (mis-
Samkhya, a dualistic philosophy, also derived     acquired not through instruction but by mod-          identification), raga (excessive desire, craving),
from the Vedas, is the foundation for Yoga’s      eling, Yoga’s primary tool for change was the         dvesa (aversion, avoidance), and abhinivesa
view of life. Samkhya describes reality as hav-   student/teacher relationship itself. Studying         (insecurity, fear of loss).

 62 yogi times july | august 2006
july | august 2006 yogi times 63
                                    Asmita, which literally translates as a (not),      SAMYOGA
                                   smita (smiling) or ‘inability to smile,’ is over-    Sutra 1:17 says that these fundamental
                                   identifying with objects peripheral to our core      misperceptions are ‘samyoga,’ i.e. confusing
                                   self. A gross example is basing my self-esteem       two things which are very close together:
                                   on the car I drive, the clothes I wear, or the       purusa/prakriti, consciousness/mind, me/you,
                                   size of my bank account. More subtly, I might        the controllable/the uncontrollable, failure/
                                   define myself by the books I’ve read, the yoga       opportunity, actions/results, form/spirit, etc.
                                   postures I do, the foods I do or don’t eat, or       The list is exhaustive and exhausting.
                                   the people I count as friends.
                                                                                        As with every other obstacle presented in the
                                   Next is raga, or craving. Rooted in pleasure,        Sutras, there is hope.
                                   raga is the desire to repeat something that
                                                                                        First, Patanjali offers some practical advice.
                                   once provided a good feeling or pleasant
                                                                                        The klesas, we are told, may be dormant,
                                   sensation. This includes everything from
                                                                                        somewhat evident, or fully manifested. Be-
                                   recurring desire to full blown addiction, from
                                                                                        cause it is easier to remove a tiny sprout than
                                   mild crushes to outright obsession.
                                                                                        a giant weed, we should learn to recognize
                                   Its opposite is dvesa, or aversion: negative feel-   the subtle signals and signs to reverse the
                                   ing toward someone or something that once            klesas while they’re small. Furthermore, Sutra
                                   caused me discomfort. Again, this includes           2:16 encourages ‘heyam duhkham anagatam’,
                                   everything from moderate distastes to debili-        taking appropriate action while klesas are still
                                   tating phobias.                                      dormant to prevent them from ever manifest-
                                   The fifth klesa, abhinivesa, is insecurity, fear     ing at all.
                                   of ending, of death. According to Sutra 2:9,         Cutting back at the first signs of habitual
                                   this fear creates its own momentum, and no           drinking is much easier than treating full-
                                   one, not even the wise, is exempt from its           blown alcoholism. Admitting we have a pre-
                                   influence.                                           disposition to addiction and avoiding alcohol
                                   THE FACT                                             altogether is better still.
                                   At first glance, klesas may seem like extensions     THE SOLUTION
                                   of normal human functioning. For isn’t it            In Sutra 2:26, Patanjali introduces ‘viveka’, or
                                   natural to identify with the objects in our life?    discernment. The opposite of avidya, viveka
                                   Don’t all healthy humans seek pleasure and           is the ability to discriminate between two
                                   avoid pain? What sane person doesn’t want            similar objects. A discerning mind distin-
                                   to prolong the good, the important things as         guishes between black, white and all shades in
                                   long as possible? Perhaps, but a fundamental
                                                                                        between. In such a mind, avidya is more easily
                                   fact of life is that everything material ends,
                                                                                        recognized and the klesas are less likely to take
                                   all form changes. Machines stop running or
                                                                                        root. This is a mind not motivated by prestige
                                   become obsolete; friends (and hairlines) come
                                                                                        and power, not running towards or away from
                                   and go. Everything living dies. Because this
                                                                                        anything, and not driven by fear. It is stable
                                   change is inevitable, actions based explicitly
                                                                                        and free. Incorruptible. All behavior based on
                                   or implicitly on the expectation that things
                                                                                        viveka is more appropriate to the task at hand.
                                   will stay the same are, according to Yoga, the
                                                                                        With discernment, we find ourselves moving
                                   path to endless sorrow. Building castles in the
                                                                                        through life with increased confidence, ease
                                   sand is fun. Constructing them with the ex-
                                                                                        and grace. So, how does one cultivate viveka?
                                   pectation that they will survive the pounding
                                   surf is a pointless, frustrating endeavor. The       DEDICATION
                                   core confusion over what changes and what            In Sutra 2:28, Patanjali reveals that to cultivate
                                   stays the same is avidya.                            a discerning mind (the context for all classical
                                                                                        Yoga) and reduce the effects of the klesas,
                                   Avidya is also mistaking the gross for the sub-
                                                                                        one must practice, devotedly, the eight limbs
                                   tle, confusing that which cannot be controlled
                                                                                        of Yoga. In addition to creating ‘abundant
                                   and that which can. Although I am powerless
                                                                                        viveka’, the dedicated practice of Yoga will,
                                   over your actions and feelings, I can control
                                                                                        according to this sutra, ‘refine the individual,
                                   my own actions and, to some extent, my feel-
                                                                                        and allow the inner light of knowledge and
                                   ings as well. This confusion over what is and
                                                                                        wisdom to shine.’ Mmmm…a cool breeze
                                   is not controllable, particularly in intimate
                                                                                        just blew through my room.
                                   relationships, is another source of discomfort
                                   and despair.                                         Next Issue: The Eight Limbs.
64 yogi times july | august 2006
yoga series

yoga for life,
the yoga
sutras of patanjali
by robert birnberg

swinging on the
branches, eight limbs
to freedom

           o More Ksema                           and change. All matter, according to            that all yogic teachings are based on data
           So far, we’ve begun each article       samkhya, yoga’s parent philosophy, has          collected from self-experimentation, then
           in this series by reviewing and        three qualities or rates of change (gunas).     handed down from teacher to student
summarizing what we’ve already learned            First is rajas, the turbulent, fiery, active    for thousands of years. Therefore, the
(ksema). At this point, however, reviewing        guna. Mentally, this is distraction, anger,     principles presented in the the eight limbs
all we’ve covered each time would take            agitation and stress. Second is tamas,          are based not on ideological, religious,
up all the space allotted for the current         the slow, heavy, resistant quality that we      moralistic, or ethical codes, but on time-
topic. Inasmuch as each new article builds        experience as dullness, doubt, lethargy, and    tested, experientially proven methods
on what was previously learned, it might          depression. Finally there is satva, matter’s    for achieving citta vritti nirodha, a stable,
be beneficial to leaf through those back          balanced,appropriate, luminous quality,         focused mind. Like modern science, yoga
issues lying around the house or go to            which we know as being ‘in the zone’,           doesn’t judge as good or bad. It simply and download the previous           energized yet relaxed, ready for anything.      states that all actions have consequences,
installments.                                     Because satva guna is the most stable and       and certain attitudes and behaviors are
                                                  sustaining, it most resembles cit. This         more likely than others to yield the desired
If you are new to the series, welcome. Read on.   quality of mind is, therefore, the closest      results.
Okay, a Little Ksema                              matter comes to spirit. Thus, the primary
                                                                                                  Two in One
In our exploration of Patanjali’s Yoga            goal of yoga and its foundation text, the
                                                                                                  Due to the condensed nature of a sutra
Sutras, we’ve learned that the human              Yoga Sutras, is to cultivate a more focused,
                                                                                                  and richness of the Sanskrit language,
mind is merely a tool, an instrument,             satvic mind.
                                                                                                  the eight limbs are expressed as both the
of something much deeper. This deeper             Certainly, the Sutras promise a plethora of     specific areas in which we need to change,
something is called purusa or cit. It is the      extaordinary gifts, powers and freedoms to      and the tools needed for the task. The areas
limitless seer, unchanging and formless.          be experienced on yoga’s endless journey;       of the eight limbs are, in Sanskrit: yamas,
This inner observer is the source of our          but just as playing a scorching saxophone       niyamas, asana pranayama, pratyahara,
greatest intelligence, deepest joy and core       solo requires a functioning, well-tuned         dharana dhyana and samadhi. In
values, our spirit. The cit represents our        instrument, yoga’s many benefits are            contemporary terms, they are: relationship,
potential to perceive clearly, understand         impossible to attain without a stable mind.     lifestyle, body, breath, senses, and mind
deeply, and act with confidence and               To help us along in our quest to achieve        (the last three are about the mind).
integrity. Sutra II:20 explains a simple truth    and sustain this fundamental satvic mind,
                                                                                                  Can’t I Just Be Alone?
about purusa: that the changeless cit, for        the Sutras present a model called the
                                                                                                  The first limb is the yamas, or relationships,
all its light, can only interact with the world   astanga (pronounced ashtanga), or eight
                                                                                                  and the first of the five relationship
through the mind.                                 limbs of yoga.
                                                                                                  guidelines is ahimsa or kindness, not
What About the Mind?                              Not Just a Good Idea                            harming. Violence and cruelty are, quite
The mind, according to the Sutras,                First, a clarification. Sutra 1:1, ‘Atha yoga   simply, not conducive to mental stability.
belongs to the material world, and is             anu asasanam,’ states emphatically that         Although there may be times when
therefore subject to constant instability         yoga is thoroughly experiential. This means     violence is appropriate, (we’ll discuss the

62 yogi times september 2006
exceptions later) the Sutra’s first suggestion    only accept the appropriate fee for services     perspective (pratipaksa bhavana) provided
for a healthy mind is to be kind to life in all   rendered. No gifts. No perks. The perfect        by a teacher or guide.
its forms.                                        counterpose for greed and entitlement,
                                                                                                   The last niyama, isvarapranidhana, is
                                                  aparigraha ultimately leads to the greatest
The second yama, satya, often defined as                                                           about knowing our limits. In any endeavor,
                                                  gift and the perfect perk...gratitude for what
honesty or ‘not lying,’ is not about merely                                                        despite our best efforts, there are greater
telling the truth, but rather, communicating      we’ve been given.
                                                                                                   forces that will ultimately determine the
appropriately. As distinct from rtam, ‘the        But I Like My Couch                              outcome. Though the orthodox meaning
truth as it is’, satyam is ‘the truth that can    The Sutras’ second limb is lifestyle,            of isvarapranidhana is surrender to God,
be told’. Thus, as the vedas suggest, “tell the   niyamas, our behavior toward ourselves.          a more acceptable one may be to focus on
truth that is pleasant, don’t tell the truth      The first guideline is souca or cleanliness,     the quality of our actions rather than the
that is unpleasant, and don’t lie just because    which includes everything from a neat            results. In the end, we should choose the
it is pleasant.’                                  house to a clean body to a pure mind. The        translation that most leads to a calm, stable
Together, these two yamas, kindness and           more sensitive we become to the outer            mind
honesty, are the basis of satvic relationship.    and inner environment, the more sauca
                                                                                                   May I Be Excused?
While some find it easier to lie to               is both a requirement for and a reflection
                                                                                                   Finally, expressing yoga’s relentless
spare another’s feelings, and others use          of a stable mind. This niyama, however, is
                                                                                                   relativity, Sutra 2:31, ‘the loophole Sutra’
pointed honesty as a weapon, yoga’s most          balanced by the next one.
                                                                                                   teaches that ‘although the yamas and
challenging balancing position is often the       Samtosa is contentment, or the concept of        niyamas will be highly transformational if
one between honesty and kindness.                 ‘enoughness,’ a recurring theme in yoga.         strictly adhered to, there can be exceptions
The third yama is ‘not stealing’, asteya.         Knowing that our actions are ‘good enough’       based on social norms, cultural conditions,
Another variation of honesty and kindness         is the antidote to perfectionism. Feeling        and individual needs.’ For instance, spies
in thought, word and deed. Subtle                 that we ‘have enough’ keeps us from the          must lie, and some cultures must kill to
examples of asteya are not being late             pointless accumulation of the inessential.       survive. Considering the mind’s tendency
(stealing another’s time) and not burdening       According to Sutra 2:42, one who                 toward self-delusion, a teacher or guide is
family, friends and strangers with a list         cultivates samtosa experiences the greatest      essential to help determine if you are a true
of hardships and complaints (stealing             joy in this lifetime, a happiness which the      exception or just looking for an easy way
another’s attention). Though we all need          upanishads say is “16 times better than          out.
a shoulder to cry on, we could practice           being in heaven.”
                                                                                                   Because humans are social creatures
asteya by first asking permission to vent
                                                  The next niyama, tapas refers to the             inhabiting a physical world, the yamas
for an alloted time (maybe offering to take
                                                  refinement of personal habits, especially        and niyamas are presented before asana
turns), or just paying your yoga teacher or
                                                  diet and exercise. Tapas is taking contrary      and pranayama. If our relationships and
therapist to listen.
                                                  action, making the effort to choose more         lifestyles are messy and unstable, yoga’s
The next yama, bramacharya, addresses             satvic foods and subtle practices instead of     more subtle practices will be difficult
appropriate sexual behavior. This                 the familiar, the comfortable, the ‘known        at best. (Just try to meditate following
guideline has many interpretations, the           devil’. Because life is change, choosing what    a heated argument with a loved one.)
most orthodox being celibacy. A more              worked in the past over something new            Practically, however, regular practice of
sophisticated,                                    often causes more agitation than benefits in     connecting the body and breath often
benign understanding is that sexual               the present moment.                              spontaneously leads to some of the
behavior should be in integrity with our          So, how do we know what are the                  attitudes and behaviors outlined in the
svadharma, our position in life. Therefore,       correct contrary actions to take? The            yamas and niyamas.
if you’re married, have sex with your             fourth niyama, svadhaya, answers this            I Hate It When We Disagree
partner. If you’re a teacher, don’t let sex       question. Svadhaya is reflection. Looking
corrupt the student/teacher relationship,                                                          Another reason that the yamas are
                                                  inward with the help of another person.
and if you don’t yet know your svadharma                                                           presented first is that a great deal of human
                                                  Traditionally, this was the role of the
(the roles and relationships which provide                                                         suffering actually occurs in relationships.
                                                  yoga teacher, although a good therapist
our deepest satisfactions), engaging in                                                            As rewarding as a perfect triangle pose
                                                  or family member might also work. The
sport sex can become a pale, distracting,                                                          may be, refining our relationship skills
                                                  orthodox translation of this niyama also
addictive substitute. Again, no moral                                                              may actually be the way to experience
                                                  included a sacred text, such as the vedas,
judgements. No shame. Bramacharya,                                                                 yoga’s greatest benefits. Or, as my teacher’s
                                                  as a reflective tool. Difficult questions
correctly interpreted and applied to the                                                           teacher, T.K.V. Desikachar, often says, “The
                                                  such as ‘Am I being kind at the expense of
individual, is simply the proven guideline                                                         only way to be sure your yoga is working is
                                                  honesty? Am I striving for cleanliness at the
for sex to support a stable, satvic mind.                                                          if your relationships get better.”
                                                  expense of contentment? Should I give up
The last yama, aparigraha, translates as ‘not     sex, cheese, backbends, or just give up?’ are    Next Issue: The next two limbs, Asana and
exploiting.’ For example, a teacher should        more easily answered with the additional         Pranayama.

64 yogi times september 2006
yoga series

       yoga for life: the yoga sutras of patanjali
       by robert birnberg

       lift your arms, breathe deep and close your eyes:
       asana, pranayama and pratyahara

        ounds Familiar                         in Samkhya, a dualistic philosophy          mind, according to the Sutras, has certain
        As repetition, review and integra-     fundamentally different from Hinduism       innate tendencies, or klesas, which distort
        tion (ksema) is the key to under-      and Hinduism’s source, the non-dualist      our perceptions, diminish our joy, occlude
standing, let’s review. So far, we have        Vedanta.                                    our natural intelligence and cause us to re-
presented yoga as one of India’s six formal                                                act inappropriately to present-time events.
philosophical systems, derived from the        Yoga’s Samkhya divides the universe into    As a result of this misperception, we often
ancient Vedas. We have seen that, far          two separate but connected parts. One       confuse or combine two things that are
more than a group exercise class, yoga is      is the seer, the unchanging observer, the   very close together, such as love and lust,
a holistic, multi-layered spiritual psychol-   conscious core; the other is the ever-      need and greed, devotion and obsession,
ogy, or ‘sarva anga sadhana’, (practice        changing material world, which includes     habit and choice, form and spirit. In the
for all parts). We have seen yoga’s roots      all of nature and the human mind. The       end, we mistake that which creates joy
36 yogi times october 2006
with that which promotes suffering.
Yoga states that to reduce suffering, we
must learn to distinguish between two
things so close they appear identical. To
cultivate this discernment, or, viveka, we
need a mind that is satvic, i.e. clear, calm,
balanced and stable. The eight limbs, or
astanga (pronounced ash-tana-ga), are
Yoga’s multi-layered strategy for cultivat-
ing a more satvic mind.
Patanjali’s astanga refers to both the areas
in which we can create positive change
and the specific tools for transformation.
The eight limbs translate into six areas
(three are about the mind); they are:
relationship, lifestyle, body, breath, senses
and mind. As we are social creatures ex-
isting in a physical environment, the first
two areas, which need to be “satvified”,
are relationships (yamas) and lifestyle
How To Be Together
For stable, satvic relationships, the sutras
prescribe honesty, kindness and fairness
in equal measure. This translates as telling
the truth in a way that can be heard, and
understanding that, in relationships, any
attempt to take more than we give will
ultimately result in suffering. A qualified
Yoga teacher (or therapist) can help im-
plement these principals in an area, which
for many, is fraught with problems.
It is important to remember that Yoga’s
guidelines are more like science than
religion. They are simply what has proven
to be most effective for achieving mental
stability rather than moral, ethical or
shame-based directives.
With regard to lifestyle, the sutras suggest
cleanliness, enoughness (the sense that we
have enough and are enough) personal
refinement, reflection and release. Unless
we continually observe our habits, taking
steps to clean up our lives and discard the
unnecessary, we become heavy and con-
fused by the internal and external clutter,
which tends to accumulate over time.

                                                october 2006 yogi times 37
Moving Still                                    and appropriate sequencing to achieve the      misperception and allow the inner light of
The next limb, asana, is familiar to most       desired effect.                                intelligence to shine through, thus prepar-
students of Yoga. Oddly enough, for many,       The third and final sutra on asana pro-        ing the mind for meditation.
Yoga and asana are synonymous. Howev-           vides additional incentive to twist one’s      The Yoga Sutras is primarily a psychology
er, as very few teachers have actually done     spine or stand on one’s head. Sutra II: 48     text aimed at inward refinement. There-
an intensive, guided Sutras study, asana as     promises that correct practice of asana
described by Patanjali and as it is cur-                                                       fore, all Yoga’s strategies, including asana
                                                will help the individual weather extremes,
rently taught is often strikingly different.                                                   and pranayama, were originally designed
                                                endure opposites and experience calmness
Let’s take a look at the guidelines for asana                                                  to cultivate a clear mind capable of deep
                                                and stability in the face of sadness or joy,
presented in Yoga’s source text.                                                               emotion, reflection and insight more than
                                                disease or health, dire poverty or abun-
                                                dant wealth. It makes you want to hit the      gross athleticism or the perfect body.
Sutra II: 46 says “stirha sukham asanam”.
                                                mat right now.                                 Again, viveka is the ability to distinguish
Asana means “to sit or to stay”, and is
                                                                                               between the dramatically different results
defined not by form, but by two qualities:      From Gross To Subtle
stirha and sukha, stability and comfort.                                                       of two very similar objectives.
                                                Once we have attained a familiarity with
If the goal in Yoga is a stable mind, then      the body and breath through asana, we are      Who’s The Boss
asana must be more than just stretch-           ready to put our attention entirely on the     The next limb, pratyahara, literally “di-
ing, which any gymnast or dancer, calm          breath. Pranayama is defined as replac-        verting the senses from their usual diet”,
or not, can easily do. According to the         ing unconscious breathing with a more          follows naturally from pranayama. Having
Sutras, asana must aim toward balancing         conscious focus on the inhale, the exhale      refined our attention by focusing on the
stirha and sukha on three levels. The kaya      and the pauses in between.                     breath, we are now able to control the
(body) must be free of trembling with no
                                                Sutra II: 50 elaborates, describing            senses, when formerly they might have
physical pain, the prana (breath) must be
                                                pranayama as manipulating the length           been in charge.
smooth and comfortable, and the mana-
                                                and manner of breathing (through the
sika (mind) must be fully alert, yet free                                                      For example, while standing in line at the
                                                throat, nostrils and mouth), as well as the
of agitation or fear. As no percentage is                                                      supermarket, we might have been drawn
                                                ratio and number of breaths. The aim of
mentioned, stirha and sukha should be in                                                       to the tantalizing pictures of bloated film
                                                pranayama, though there is no mention of
every posture, equally and entirely.            specific techniques, is to make the breath     stars and starving models on magazine
A Deeper Truth                                  long (dirgha) and smooth (suksma). To          covers; or perhaps the savory smell of
To this end, the Sutras suggest using slow,     this end, pranayama was always taught          barbecued meat threatened our commit-
deep breathing as an indication of the true     one-to-one and adapted to the individual’s     ment to vegetarianism; or the time the
quality of the asana. The breath is more        capacity, needs and goals.                     sweet sound of friend’s laughter in the
apt to be long and smooth in a posture          Breathe Happy                                  next room all but obliterated our desire to
that is firm, but not hard (stirha), soft,      The Sutras stress the link between the         study for a test.
but not slack (sukha). While the body           breath and mind. The saying “cale vatam        Greener Pastures
can be forced into postures, and a mind         cale cittam: as the breath goes, so the
                                                                                               My teacher’s teacher, T.K.V. Desikachar
embracing the “no pain no gain” myth            mind goes”, explains Yoga’s emphasis on
perceives discomfort as enjoyable (it’s the                                                    warns that pratyahara, withdrawal of the
                                                breathing. As every mental and emotional
good pain), the breath never lies, and is                                                      senses, has its own rhythm and cannot be
                                                state reflects a change in the breath, (an
therefore the most accurate indicator of                                                       forced upon oneself or another. Rather,
                                                overwhelmed sigh, nervous, anxious
the quality of practice. Only children, who     panting, holding the breath in fear or         through correct practice and values
lack the necessary attention span, were         under duress), the link between breath,        clarifying reflection, we find ourselves
taught to focus on perfecting physical          mind and emotions is easily observable in      effortlessly de-linking from the obstacles
form in asana, instead of a more subtle         everyday life. Yoga teaches that breathing     to our goals. Then, the stable mind is able
breath-centered practice.                       slowly and deeply, as we would if we were      to direct the senses toward the chosen
No specific postures are mentioned in           truly relaxed, healthy and focused can,        object, instead of the myriad splendid
the Sutras. This is because everybody is        over time, create the desired effect.          distractions. There’s a saying, “When one
seen as different and unique. Therefore,        Always offering the carrot with the stick,     door closes, many others open”. Pratya-
as the great Yogi, T. Krishanamacharya          Patanjali promises that consistent practice    hara is that closing door.
taught, asana requires individualization        of pranayama will remove the cloud of          Next month: Yoga, Meditation and the Mind.

38 yogi times october 2006
yoga series

        yoga for life, the yoga sutras of patanjali
                                                                by robert birnberg

                        polishing the jewel: yoga, meditation and the mind

          igging Our Roots                        practice and experience revealed new truths in       heard this enough, try teaching it.) So far,
                                                  the dense, multilayered Sutras. My intention         we’ve seen how yoga is a complete spiritual
          This series is based on T. Krishnam-
                                                  is for these articles to continue in the spirit of   psychology derived from the ancient Indian
          acharya’s translation of the Yoga
                                                  this gifted teacher of teachers.                     Vedas. This 2300-year-old system is dualistic
Sutras as taught by his grandson, my teacher,
                                                  One More Time                                        (things exist in relationship), and fundamen-
Kausthub Desikachar. Krishnamacharya’s life’s
                                                                                                       tally different from Hinduism and its root phi-
work was to translate, practice and teach the     Repetition and review are the key to integra-
                                                                                                       losophy, the non-dualist (all is one) Vedanta.
Yoga Sutras in a way that was both technically    tion (ksema). If you’d like a more comprehen-
correct and culturally relevant. He continued     sive version, download the complete series           According to Patanjali, humans suffer because
to refine his translation and interpretation as   at (If you think you’ve already       of the mind’s inherent tendencies toward self-

 yogi times november 2006
delusion, fear, insecurity, control and addic-
tion. These inclinations, or klesas, distort our
perception, cloud our judgment and diminish
the quality of our relationships. This is samyo-
ga, a core confusion between what promotes
joy and that which leads to sorrow. Yoga’s an-
tidote is viveka, or discernment, the ability to
distinguish between two similar objects such
as love and lust, need and greed, spirit and
form, gain and pain, choice and addiction etc.
Viveka is only possible when the mind is clear,
stable and balanced, or sattvic.

Why Yoga?

In simple terms, the goal of yoga is the cultiva-
tion of this sattvic mind. The astanga, (eight
limbs) model presents tools for cultivating sat-
tva in six areas of living: relationship, lifestyle,
body, breath, senses and mind (three limbs are
about the mind). The guidelines for stable re-
lationships (yamas) are honesty, kindness and
fairness. Balancing honesty with kindness and
giving as much as we take is the key to sattvic
relationships. As with ALL of yoga’s tools and
strategies, a qualified teacher is essential in
putting these principles into practice.

For the second limb, lifestyle (niyamas), yoga
suggests cleanliness, a sense of sufficiency, or
“enoughness”, and guided reflection. This leads
to refining old habits, releasing and replacing
those which no longer serve our ever-chang-
ing needs in an ever-changing world. For the
physical body yoga defines asana as postures,
which combine stability and comfort in equal
amounts. Working with these two opposing
qualities cultivates a body that is firm, yet soft,
and a mind that is alert, yet relaxed. According
to T. Krishnamacharya, only by sequencing
and adapting postures for each individual and
linking the physical movement with conscious
breathing can we experience the deeply trans-
formative effects of asana described in the
Yoga Sutras.

The eight limbs progress from outer to inner,
from gross to subtle. After asana we are ready
for pranayama, refining the breath. As breath
is the bridge between body and mind, pranaya-
ma is an essential preparation for yoga’s more
subtle practices. By manipulating the quality,
length and ratios, the breath becomes long and
smooth, the mind sensitive and stable, and,
according to the Sutras, an inner light shines
more brightly.

                                                       november 2006 yogi times 
                             The fifth limb, pratyahara, is de-linking       single definition of success can be quite
                             the senses from distractions from our           challenging. My teacher highlighted this
                             goals. Ordinarily, our senses are compul-       fact once in a shopping mall (“America’s
                             sively drawn to sights, smells, sounds and      Temples” he calls them). As we walked
                             sensations that we have been conditioned        among the overflowing racks, Kausthub
                             to notice. In pratyahara, the senses are        observed, “The true test of a yogi is not in
                             less attached and ready to be directed by       India, where simplicity (and poverty) is
                             the mind. Learning to consciously direct        a way of life, but rather, here in the West,
                             the senses is preparation for yoga’s crown      where there are so many wonderful things
                             jewel, meditation.                              to choose from.”

                             Am I Meditating Yet?                            Yes and No

                             Although there is a growing interest in         Dharana, therefore, requires saying yes to
                             meditation, the modern presentation is          one thing, and no to everything else. What
                             often a murky pop synthesis of Buddhism,        we say yes to is based on our own reasons
                             TM, hypnotism, new-age philosophy and           for meditating. Our object of meditation
                             relaxation techniques. The purported            should reflect our needs, our goals or our
                             goals, often vague and abstract, include:       dharma, the reason we are here. A good
                             stilling the mind, stopping thought,            yoga teacher (if you can choose one) will
                             achieving altered states, contacting higher     help you to decide on an appropriate ob-
                             forces, just being present and disappearing     ject of meditation.
                             entirely. The student-teacher relationship,     A practical illustration of meditation is
                             a core component of all classical Eastern       learning to play a musical instrument.
                             practices, is marginalized if mentioned at      Of all possible instruments, we must first
                             all. In the Yoga Sutras, however, medita-       choose one. We can learn others later, but
                             tion is clearly and concretely defined.         for now, let’s choose a guitar. Drop the
                             Classically, there are four purposes for        drumsticks, step away from the saxophone
                             meditation. First is power: we wish to          and pick one guitar to play. This is dha-
                             become something we weren’t or attain           rana.
                             something we didn’t have before. Second         The second step in meditation is dhyana,
                             is healing: to undo an unpleasant circum-       focusing on the object until, as Sutra 3:2
                             stance or relieve ourselves of a problem.       says, “there is a flow between the observer
                             Third is knowledge or wisdom: to clarify        and the object”. In dhyana, the object
                             values, gain insight, to see things in a bet-   shows itself to the observer. What was
                             ter light. Finally, there’s meditation for      once hidden becomes apparent. Where
                             its own sake: a dharmic necessity (think        we could only make crude, cacophonous
                             monks) with no expectations or concern          sounds, we can now play rich chords and
                             for results. This is quite an advanced path     elaborate melodies. The instrument is re-
                             and few, if they are honest, can undertake      vealing its secrets. Increasingly, we can see
                             it. Truthfully, most of us would more ef-       the object’s character and capabilities.
                             fectively use meditation to improve our
                                                                             The third stage of meditation is samadhi,
                             lives, solve a problem or help us find what
                                                                             absorption resulting from a sustained
                             we’re looking for.
                                                                             focus over time. In samadhi, the observer
                             Sutras 3:1 through 3:3 describe meditation
                                                                             and the object have become very close and
                             as a three-step process. The first step is
                                                                             deeply connected, almost like one thing.
                             dharana, choosing the object. In fact, this
                                                                             Although there is still a guitar and a per-
                             may precede pratyahara. For only after we
                                                                             son playing it, the player has given the in-
                             find something worth giving our attention
                                                                             strument so much attention, it appears to
                             to are we willing to turn away from the
                                                                             be an extension of himself. He plays like a
                             more familiar, albeit less important.
                                                                             master, expressing his ideas and emotions
                             In Western culture, where more choice           on the instrument with ease and fluidity.
                             is linked with greater wealth and free-         As anyone who has experienced this can
                             dom (samyoga), choosing one thing, one          attest, sustained focus is the essence of
                             teacher, one practice, one goal or even a       intimacy, of real relationship. Real medi-
 yogi times november 2006
tation results in two distinct benefits: the
meditator is transformed and the object’s
true nature is revealed.

Just What Do You Want?

 Although a guitar is outside of ourselves,
meditation follows the same course no
matter what the object. One can meditate
on the body (as in asana), the breath (as in
pranayama), sound (as in chanting), na-
ture, a symbol, another person (a teacher,
or mentor), God, gods or any object from
the grossest to the subtlest. Even noth-
ing, which is an object in itself, may be an
appropriate choice under the right condi-

Whatever the object of meditation, the
point is to choose something that has
the qualities we desire, that we wish to
absorb. A weak person would meditate
on something (or someone) with great
strength. A person with entitlement issues
should meditate on their many gifts, or
on someone filled with gratitude for what
they have. Also, we must choose an object
truly appropriate to the individual (ask
your teacher for help) in order to achieve
the desired results. There is no one correct
object of meditation, and none are higher
or lower than others. Yoga, a celebration
of relativity, states, in Sutra 3:6, “tasya bhu-
misu viniyoga”, the best object of medita-
tion is the one which suits the individual’s
needs, goals and conditions.

By Any Other Name

 Technically, meditation is dharana, dhya-
na and samadhi, the three limbs of astanga
yoga that deal with the mind. In Sutra 1:2,
however, yoga is defined as, “Citta vritti
nirodha”, the ability to direct attention to-
ward a chosen object and sustain the focus
without wavering. Therefore the definition
of yoga is quite similar, if not synonymous
with that of meditation. Another defini-
tion of yoga is the ability to do something
today, which we couldn’t do yesterday.
Therefore, yoga and meditation both aim
at a quality of mind needed to link with
the new, be transformed and accomplish,
achieve or become what was formerly not
possible. I love this stuff.

Next Month: The Dynamics of Change
                                                   november 2006 yogi times 
 yoga series

         yoga for life, the yoga sutras of patanjali
                                                               by robert birnberg

                                     part nine: easy come, gone tomorrow
                                    kriya yoga and the dynamics of change

How It Works                                     the key concepts in yoga’s foundation text,       based methodology, fully articulated in the

                                                 Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.                          Yoga Sutras, is the basis for yoga’s ability to
          hroughout the world, thousands of
                                                                                                   transform individuals and reduce suffering.
          individuals regularly attend group     Yoga’s profound teachings and their powerful
                                                                                                   Unless our teachers become familiar with
          yoga classes seeking the benefits      effects on the human psyche are the result
                                                                                                   the underlying principles of yoga psychology
of this timeless science of self. In an effort   of thousands of years of observation, careful
                                                                                                   as contained in the Sutras, modern yoga
to provide context and clarity to one of the     collection and comparison of data and
                                                                                                   students are likely to end up, to paraphrase a
planet’s most effective self-care systems, we    meticulous transmission of information from
                                                                                                   contemporary songwriter, “looking for ways
have, for the past eight months, explored        teacher to student. This experiential, lineage-

36 yogi times dec | jan 2007
to change, just finding new ways to stay the
same”, an army of well-stretched neurotics, a
flock of flexible sheep (at least we’ll all have
yoga butts).

Over and Again
Let’s review. In previous articles, we have seen
that India’s ancient Vedas are the source of the
Yoga Sutras, as well as Samkhya, Yoga’s sister
philosophy. Samkhya outlines a relationship
between the clear, unchanging consciousness
at the center of all living things and an ever-
changing, conditioned mind, subject to
addiction, distortion and delusion. According
to yoga, the mind’s inherent tendency to
confuse two similar objects, (happiness/
money, wisdom/knowledge, need/greed,
love/lust, choice/habit, spirit/form, freedom/
power) causes us to continuously choose that
which leads to suffering over that which leads
to joy.

Yoga’s solution to this universal dilemma is
viveka, the ability to discriminate between two
things which are very close together or similar
in appearance. One can cultivate abundant
viveka, according to Patanjali, through long-
term, uninterrupted, enthusiastic, guided
practice of the ashtanga, or eight limbs of
yoga. The eight limbs model presents tools
for replacing inefficient, outdated patterns of
perception and behavior in six areas of living.

The six areas are: relationships, lifestlye, body,
breath, senses and mind. The tools include
relationship guidelines, physical postures,
breath control and various techniques for
improving the senses, mind and emotions.
Ultimately, all yoga’s tools are aimed at
cultivating a balanced, satvic mind. Such a
stable mind, according to sutra 1:2, can more
easily focus on and sustain relationships
with chosen objects over time. In a dualistic
universe filled with infinite possibilities, our
ability to make intelligent choices, clarify
values, behave with respect to those values
and embrace the consequences of our actions
is essential for an individual or society to

The Yoga of Action
J. Krishnamurti, the great South Indian
sage used to say, “The confused mind finds
confused answers”. Because the imbalanced,
disturbed or distorted mind makes problems
out of everything, including attempts at
positive change. Sutra 2:1 presents a strategy

                                                     dec | jan 2007 yogi times 37
                               for self-improving without inadvertently            less teachers (reference-less references)
                               perpetuating suffering in the very attempt          inadvertently reinforcing the student’s bad
                               to reduce it. This process is presented as a        habits is staggering.
                               three-part model called Kriya Yoga. Kriya is
                                                                                   True tapas, real refinement for such students,
                               from the Sanskrit word for “action”, the root of
                                                                                   might be less effortful asana, perhaps 70% of
                               the English creation. Kriya Yoga, the yoga of
                                                                                   their maximum, or more pranayama, reflection
                               action, outlines the three components of satvic
                                                                                   or rest. For some, the most powerful tapas
                                                                                   might be no asana at all.
                               Acting As If
                                                                                   Yoga For Life
                               The first component is tapas. Classically
                                                                                   Kriya Yoga’s strategy of guided reflection
                               translated as “austerities”, tapas can be
                                                                                   leading to contrary action extends far beyond
                               understood as deliberate actions aimed at
                                                                                   the simple level of physical postures into yoga’s
                               personal refinement. According to yoga,
                                                                                   more subtle, complex realms: relationships,
                               suffering (duhka) is the result of self-
                                                                                   lifestlye, breath, senses and ultimately the life-
                               destructive patterns such as cruelty, dishonesty,
                                                                                   shaping patterns of the deepest unconscious
                               projection and negativity. These patterns, or
                                                                                   mind (citta). My teacher once insisted that
                               samskaras create stress, anxiety, addiction and
                                                                                   I buy some flowers for a colleague who, for
                               various behaviors that lead to a plethora of
                                                                                   some reason, constantly pushed all my buttons
                               physical problems. Tapas are specific practices
                                                                                   at once (I’m not perfect, yet). Following his
                               aimed at changing undesirable habits of body,
                                                                                   seemingly absurd suggestion was a difficult
                               breath, mind or speech.
                                                                                   task, one I would never have initiated on my
                               For instance, asana (yogic postures), practiced     own. (I had other ideas about what to give
                               correctly, softens and strengthens the physical     her). When I presented her with the flowers,
                               body; pranayama (yogic breathing) subtle-           however, she softened, began to cry. She
                               izes the breath; and yoga’s various meditation      confessed that she really admired my work,
                               techniques serve to refine the mind.                but was self-conscious, defensive and slightly
                               Outside Looking In                                  aggressive whenever we were together. From
                               However, not every action is tapas. The             that day on, I saw her in a completely different
                               foundation of tapas is Kriya Yoga’s second          light as a result of following my teachers
                               element, reflection, or svadhyaya. Svadhyaya,       direction. Today, this woman is the mother of
                               from the Sanskrit, sva, “oneself ”, dhyaya,         my children. (Not really... but we actually are
                               “to know”, classically required a religious         close friends.)
                               reference, such as a priest or sacred text.         Interestingly, the need for a teacher to aid in
                               Today, reflection can be accomplished with the      personal reflection highlights yoga’s central
                               help of a qualified yoga teacher, therapist or      paradox. On the one hand, all the answers
                               sponsor. Svadhyaya requires a clear reference       are inside the individual. Consciousness,
                               point other than our own minds to suggest the       intelligence and clarity (purusa) are at the
                               appropriate action needed to refine the body,       center of every living thing. At the same time,
                               breath, mind or behavior.                           the conditioned mind is subject to distortion
                               Right reflection is important, for no reference,    and blind spots. If left to ourselves we often
                               the wrong reference or too many references          lean toward our imbalance. Consider the
                               can often deepen our patterns and increase          spinach on the teeth metaphor: I might
                               our problems. For instance, yoga classes are        be a fairly wise (or wisely fair) individual,
                               often populated, in part, by overachievers who      self-aware and pretty good at what I do.
                               see themselves as lazy. A yoga teacher who          If, however, I have leftover spinach from a
                               possesses similar, perfectionistic, “no pain        lunchtime salad on my teeth, anyone else
                               no gain, just breathe through it” tendencies        would be able to see the spinach more easily
                               would be appreciated by students, but would         than I. An ongoing relationship with someone
                               ultimately deepen the students self-destructive     trained to watch for spinach (and tell me about
                               patterns, increasing their suffering. Sadly,        it in a way that I can hear) is indispensable. On
                               this happens more than most would like to           our own, we might have great knowledge and
                               believe. The number of unacknowledged               insight, but just as two eyes are required for the
                               injuries in yoga classes at the hands of teacher-   perception of depth, the added perspective of a
38 yogi times dec | jan 2007
teacher helps us to see our limiting patterns as
well as our full potential as human beings.

The Powers That Be
The third element in Kriya Yoga is
Isvarapranidhana. While this term was
classically translated as “surrender to
God”, a more modern translation is “the
acknowledgment that there are forces beyond
our control”. With Isvarapranidhana, we
can humbly admit that despite our best
intentions and most appropriate actions, the
final outcome is out of our hands. This aspect
of Kriya Yoga translates as focusing more
attention on the quality of our actions than on
the ultimately uncertain results.

The fundamental confusion between that
which can be controlled and that which cannot,
another example of samyoga, is a major cause
of human suffering. Trying to control the
uncontrollable, or failing to take action when
we should leads to anxiety and frustration.
In modern times, Kriya Yoga’s principles
are clearly expressed in the Serenity Prayer,
an invocation used extensively by 12-Step
programs: Grant me the serenity to accept the
things I cannot change (Isvarapranidhana),
the courage to change the things I can (tapas),
and the wisdom to know the difference

Setting the Bar
Not only does the Kriya Yoga model present
timeless truths about the nature of change,
it also establishes the standards by which
an action can be considered yogic. Washing
my hair, if undertaken with the intention of
refinement, after serious reflection, while
focusing on the quality of the action, captures
the essence of yoga far more than 144 sun
salutations done mechanically, without
adequate reflection, or with attachment to the

Kriya Yoga is yoga for adults. This essential
strategy embodies the spirit of yoga and
enables every action, from the extraordinary
to the everyday, to be highly effective, deeply
transformational and utterly joyful. Take that to
your Tuesday night stretch class.
Next Month: Moving On: The End of the Beginning
You can download the entire series at
We want to hear from you. Tell us what you thought of this
and other articles in Yogi Times by writing to us at info@

                                                             dec | jan 2007 yogi times 39
 yoga series

         yoga for life, the yoga sutras of patanjali
                                                             by robert birnberg

                   part 10: the spirit of the flesh, yoga and the ultimate goal

       very day, I start my yoga practice with   Krishnamacharya unraveled the three tightly      all translations of the Yoga Sutras (and the
       a short chant written by T. Krishnam-     woven strands of yoga, Hinduism and Indian       teachers who teach them) reflect this Hindu
       acharya, the teacher of my teacher’s      culture.                                         perspective.
teacher. I am continually inspired by this       Throughout yoga’s first five thousand years,     In actuality, the Sutras state that the practice
humble master, whose lifelong goal was to        all practitioners were Indian, and all were      of yoga can help anyone attain their own
spread yoga’s greatest truths and share its      Hindu. Thus, while sitting on the floor is an    highest, most satisfying goal, whatever that
many benefits with all mankind. To that end,     Indian custom (a lunch pose more than a          might be. For the many Westerners with con-
T.K. made three major contributions.             yoga pose), this position can be difficult for   fused values (too much freedom, not enough
The Birth of Modern Yoga                         Westerners and is not a requirement for yoga.    guidance), simply knowing what their true
First, he taught women. Prior to Krishnam-       Therefore many of T.K.’s Western students        goals are might be the first step.
acharya, yoga was seldom taught to women,        did breath work, meditated and rested while
                                                                                                  To illustrate, imagine a devout Christian
and rarely in public. Not only did T.K. in-      comfortably seated on chairs.
                                                                                                  watching the movie E.T., insisting that the
struct women openly, but he also predicted       Because all yogis were Hindu, the transla-       movie was a Christian film. He would un-
they would bring the dharma of yoga to the       tions of the Yoga Sutras were by Hindu teach-    derstand that E.T. stood for Jesus Christ, and
West. Second, he modified and adapted the        ers for Hindu students. For these Hindus,        that E.T. going home was really about Jesus
strenuous classical postures taught to healthy   whose ultimate goal is oneness with Brahma,      returning to his heavenly father. This person
young boys. The focus on function over form      the highest purpose of yoga is to help achieve   would find scenes and dialogue to support
allows people in any condition to experi-        union with God. With the striking excep-         his belief and explain to his friends and fam-
ence and enjoy yoga asana. Most remarkably,      tion of T. Krishnamacharya’s work, nearly        ily the true meaning of this deeply religious
30 yogi times february 2007
film. While this interpretation of the film
would be rewarding and reaffirming, it’s just
not what the director had in mind.
In fact, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is a metaphysi-
cal, psychological text that explores the nature
of reality, suffering and the mind. The source
of all sorrow, according to yoga, is mispercep-
tion (avidya), and actions that follow from
wrong knowledge. Distinct from not knowing
the truth, avidya is knowing for sure, some-
thing which proves to be incorrect.
Recently, my wife commented on the length
of my last article. Her exact words were, “It
could have been a little shorter.” Having once
endured merciless criticism at the hands of
perfectionist parents and teachers, what I
heard her say was, “You’re a terrible writer
and your article is flawed.” As I was abso-
lutely sure of what I heard, I reacted to her
response. She responded to my reaction. Suf-
fering ensued.
Nobody’s Perfect
Fortunately, yoga is a highly effective system
for reducing the negative effects of this per-
vasive human tendency for getting it precisely
Unfortunately, there is an increasing amount
of avidya around yoga itself. This wrong
knowledge occludes yoga’s essence, subverts
its effectiveness and in many cases, prolongs
or increases suffering for even the most ear-
nest practitioners.
In the modern West, many perceive and prac-
tice yoga as another “no pain, no gain” exer-
cise system. Every day, hundreds of teachers
encourage thousands of students to contort
their bodies into various shapes, explaining
(or implying) that to benefit from yoga, they
must obediently conform to preset postures
and sequences. The forceful lunges and pre-
carious arm balances of handsome models
in calendars and magazines have become
advertising shorthand for yoga’s transforma-
tive power.
Others, sensing that there must be more to
yoga and exposed to the aforementioned
Hindu-ized interpretations of the Sutras,
maintain that the true purpose of yoga is
“union with God”. This notion, although
deeper and more expansive than “yoga equals
posture”, is equally incorrect. Combining
these two myths leads to the questionable
conclusion that through arduous exercise one
can achieve union with a higher power, that
we can stretch our way to God. If this were
                                                   february 2007 yogi times 31
                              true, then all dancers and gymnasts would           sible, and what we believe cannot happen
                              be saints and avatars and Cirque du Soleil’s        will not.
                              contortionists would be enlightened masters.
                                                                                  The God of Choice
                              In fact, the only benefit guaranteed from
                                                                                  Sutra 1:23 offers the first of many tools for
                              stretching the body is a well-stretched body.
                                                                                  creating a stable mind. Patanjali presents Is-
                              It’s the Mind                                       varapranidhana, or devotion to higher power,
                              According to the Sutras, the source of suf-         in a simple but revolutionary manner.
                              fering is the disturbed, distorted mind.
                              Therefore yoga’s primary aim is to cultivate        First, God is optional. Unlike most organized
                              a mind that is clear and stable (sattvic).          religions, where God is the fundamental re-
                              Whatever the individual’s goal, a mind free         ality and belief is a requirement, Isvara pra-
                              from misperception and unshaken by life’s           nidhanad-va says that for some individuals,
                              inevitable changes is essential to make prog-       linking with a higher power helps to achieve
                              ress on the path. Patanjali’s Sutras offer a vast   a sattvic mind. For others, not so much.
                              array of techniques and strategies for achiev-
                                                                                  Also, while the ultimate goal of religion is
                              ing a sattvic mind as well as descriptions of a
                              mind in this condition.                             some variation of “union with God” (going
                                                                                  to heaven, being saved, etc.), Patanjali pres-
                              Yoga’s many tools are offered merely as             ents Isvarapranidhana as a means to an end.
                              suggestions and often introduced with the           Like lengthening the exhale, meditation,
                              Sanskrit word va meaning “or”. This freedom
                                                                                  visualization or sound, linking with a higher
                              to choose from optional tools reflects yoga’s
                                                                                  power is another tool for creating a mind
                              inherent relativity. The result is a system that
                                                                                  that is stable and free.
                              respects the uniqueness of each practitioner
                              and acknowledges the need for individual            Show Me the Way
                              adaptation. Not all tools are appropriate for       Sutras 1:24-1:26 offer suggestions for choos-
                              everyone, so we need to select (with the help       ing the right god, as misplaced devotion
                              of a teacher) whatever works best for us.           could have negative effects.
                              Before We Begin                                     First, your higher power must be free from
                              First, however, the Sutras describe two             errors of judgment. Choose a wise god, as
                              preconditions for any tools to be effective:        the possibility that the one “in charge” might
                              commitment to a teacher and faith. Sutra 1:1
                                                                                  be making mistakes could actually increase
                              emphasizes the need for a teacher, highlight-
                              ing the paradox that while yoga promotes
                              self-empowerment, a supportive student-             Second, we should choose a god that is all-
                              teacher relationship is the context for this        knowing. Because suffering, according to
                              process. Because of the mind’s inherent             yoga, results from our limited knowledge,
                              tendency toward self-delusion, a clear vision       it makes sense to align ourselves with a god
                              and strong voice from outside oneself reduc-        that knows everything.
                              es the risks of misperceiving and continually
                              leaning toward our imbalance.                       Finally, Sutra 1:26 describes Isvara as the
                                                                                  source of learning, the ultimate teacher.
                              In addition, a sutra is actually shorthand,         Inasmuch as all yoga is presented within a
                              like a lecture note. A knowledgeable teacher
                                                                                  student-teacher model, God is described as
                              is needed to unfold and articulate the incred-
                                                                                  the source from which all teachings flow.
                              ibly condensed phrases and provide the most
                                                                                  Distinct from the loving patriarchal God
                              relevant interpretation (because Sanskrit has
                                                                                  of the Judeo-Christian religions or the cre-
                              many levels of meaning); again, this custom-
                                                                                  ator, sustainer and destroyer of the Hindu
                              izes the teachings to each student’s needs.
                                                                                  tradition, this quality of Isvara emphasizes
                              The second requirement, presented in Sutra          self-empowerment, allowing the devotee to
                              1:20, is sraddha, or faith. The practitioner        continue to learn and grow from their rela-
                              must have some conviction that they can
                                                                                  tionship with a higher power.
                              do the practice and that the practice will
                              work. The strong connection between the             How to Do God
                              mind and reality runs throughout the sutras,        Having clarified what kind of higher power
                              teaching that what we believe possible is pos-      will best stabilize the mind, the next three

32 yogi times february 2007
Sutras offer practical suggestions for
creating a link with God.
First, according to Patanjali, we
should choose an appropriate name,
or pranava, for our higher power. To
a Hindu translator, the word pranava
is identical with Om, Hinduism’s sa-
cred syllable. Pranava, however, is not
just Om. (Considering the incredible
succinctness of the Sutras, Patanjali
would not have chosen a three-syllable
word—pranava—when he could have
gotten by with the one syllable—Om.)
Pranava is any name for God appro-
priate to the individual. Again, yoga
offers the freedom and responsibility
to choose the name of our own higher
power. On a practical level, it is easier
to focus on, identify with and relate
to that which has a name, rather than
something that cannot be spoken.
Secondly, we are told to repeat the
name of our higher power while
reflecting on its qualities. If linking
with God is the goal, continually
repeating his/her/its name (through
prayer, chanting, discussion, etc.) and
focusing on his/her/its transcendent
qualities will result in a deeper, more
meaningful connection.
The Ultimate Tool
Finally, Sutra 1:29 explains that the
benefits of Isvarapranidhana include a
more profound knowledge of oneself
and a graceful ease of living (even in
an arm balance).
With over 70 years of experience
studying, practicing and teaching
yoga, T. Krishnamacharya observed
that for those with an inborn faith in a
higher power, no other tools are nec-
essary. Nice.
Until Next Time
This is the last installment in the ten-
part series on Yoga for Life, the Sutras
of Patanjali. You can download the
entire series at We hope
you have been, as have we, touched
and inspired by these great teachings.
If you have any feedback, or wish to
study yoga and its Sutras in greater
depth, please email us at longexhale@ Deepest thanks to my wife,
teacher and students, whose compas-
sion and generosity allow me to be all
that I can.

                                            february 2007 yogi times 33

Shared By: