Tag Archive: yoga sutras

Dear Friends,
I write to you from the National Iyengar Convention, where I have been deeply moved by the classes, the community and cultural events, and the sense of depth and longevity in our tradition. A special guest teacher, Birjoo Mehta, who is a Senior Iyengar teacher from Mumbai has come from India for this Convention. I am struck by the combination of stucture and continuity in our form, and the wisdom, maturity and new flowering I experience within this trustworthy vessel over time—  especially as experienced through Birjoo’s teaching.  I look forward to the seeds of these current teachings I am experiencing sifting through my body and being in my own practice, and finding their way into my teaching as well.
On May 18th, THIS COMING SATURDAY, I will offer the last opportunity of the season for gathering with others in community to explore deeper aspects of yoga, this time at Turtle Haven! Please come and join in for any, or all of the following:

9:30 to 11 am:  Gait of Freedom: Hips that Hike, Dance, Garden and Meditate! Hip openers for all our two legged activities! Sliding Fee: $10 to $20

11:15 to 12:30 pm:  Sitting Meditation followed by Community Reading of the Yoga Sutras. This will be a wonderful moment to simply read aloud this profound text, and let it flow through us without analysis, but to have exposure to the work as a whole. I will present a very brief orientation, and we will read taking turns.   No Charge!
12:45 pm until 2:30 pm:  Community Potluck Lunch and Meanderings
It will be possible to walk the trails, visit the Patanjali shrine, and any other shrine areas which call to you. You may also draw nourishment from the river, and peaceful atmosphere of Turtle Haven… 
Please do let me know by Tuesday the 14th if you plan to attend, so I may organize accordingly, with the hopes of organizing some carpooling! 

Self Study in Asana

BKS Iyengar in his Light on the Yoga Sutras commentary describes “Svadhyaya (Self Study) as the repetition of sacred mantra and the study of the mind.” Most translations, his included, also acknowledge that direct translation of Svadyaya brings forward the idea of studying sacred text as integral to self study. Since most of the Iyengar students I encounter spend the majority of any practice time in a physical practice, I think it wise to consider how much we can learn about ourselves through self reflective intentions during our asana practice. I might consider how I choose the poses I practice? Is it in an easy, casual way? Is it with some amount of tapas? Am I sloppy when I practice? Do I never undertake a home practice for fear of making mistakes, and thereby deprive myself of ANY practice? Do I promise to practice and not get there? What do I learn as I notice myself in practice, in other words?
I might also consider HOW I am in my life, and choose asanas that balance my less desired tendencies. If I am scattered and spacey, perhaps an extended tadasana, or mountain pose will bring me into a place of earthy, grounded connection, more solidity, more clarity. If I am needing other perspectives, perhaps I should do some extra inversions… the possibilities are endless. Exploring Svadyaya within the mainstay asana work can provide rich exploration, and perhaps deeper motivation to HAVE and sustain a practice.

(photo credit: a_alkhawarizmi’s photostream on flickr.com)

Obstacles to Practice

Last week, I focused on the classical version from the Yoga Sutras of what constitutes the obstacles to practice. This Sutra can provide a framework for our individual explorations of what seems to impede our progress in practice. Here is one translation of the Sutra from Swami Satchidananda:

Sutra 1:30
Source: Sanskrit transliteration from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Sri Swami Satchidananda)

Source: English translation from The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (Sri Swami Satchidananda)
Disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, false perception, failure to reach firm ground and slipping from the ground gained — these distractions of the mind-stuff are the obstacles of yoga.


Aligning With Justice Without Condemnation

Sutra I-33   A clear and tranquil mind results from cultivating friendliness towards those who are happy, compassion towards those who suffer, joy towards the virtuous, and impartiality twoards wrong-doers.

Is it possible to align ourselves with what we find to be true and good without “condemnation”? Does condemnation have its place? To condemn, according to the dictionary I consulted, is “to declare to be reprehensible, wrong or evil, usually after weighing evidence and without reservation.” I know there are situations in close proximity, and afar, actions by individuals and collectives, and by formal governing bodies which I would easily judge and perhaps in my mind “condemn.” Does this Sutra tell me to follow an alternate course of action? I know it does not CONDEMN me for my impulse to judge!

When we judge, and we condemn we create separation, and ultimately yoga is a practice of union, of love, of communion. And yet we live in a world where at least for most of us, there is much to speak out against, and attempt to rectify, each of us having our small say, our one drop impact in the giant ocean of the world.

I myself will continue to make my attempts to align with what I perceive as justice and compassion, while trying to hold a larger view of imagining that Marshall Rosenberg is right in suggesting that any behavior we find reprehensible in another,  somehow tragically expresses an unmet need. I will hold the possibility of there being a larger picture, and elements of mystery beyond my individual understanding. While attempting to align myself with love, justice and kindness I will continue to wrestle with what is asked for in this Sutra as I try to comprehend impartiality as a way of nonjudging that still allows for me to stand up for what calls to me as fair and “right” on the world stage, whether it is in my small, immediate world, or in another country.

And I know my yoga practice helps me to maintain faith and peace within as I observe the world inside and around me.


Sutra I-33 contains four directions for achieving tranquility of mind, through our ways of being in relationship with other people. In this Sutra, which has the same content as the Buddhist teachings called the Brahmaviharas, or the Four Immeasurables, we are called to be happy as we witness happiness, or even joy, in another individual. As we know, this can present us with challenging moments.

At least most of us would hope we could meet the good fortune of those in our midst with joy that would NATURALLY emerge, especially as we witness the good things happening in the lives of those with whom we feel closest. But this teaching is present in the Yoga Sutras because joy upon hearing of someone else’s happiness is not always what simply arises for us. We may surprisingly, somewhere in ourselves, register a lack within, or in our current situation that causes us to feel envy or jealousy when good fortune appears for another.

It is essential that we not turn on ourselves in these moments, but instead notice uncomfortable feelings and let them guide us towards greater self understanding through compassionate curiosity about a particular response.

I believe that The Sutras invite this psychological and emotional exploration geared towards one dimension of self study, but there is simultaneously a sense of letting our practice itself carry us closer and closer towards a spontaneous ease and joy in relation to the happiness of another person. When we have ease and acceptance in who we are and how our lives unfold, when we are content and recognize in ourselves interconnection and peace, we will be more able to be present for others compassionately in their pain, and in meeting them in their joy and abundance.

(photo credit: http://farm1.static.flickr.com/98/234563412_e543cb2195.jpg)

MeditationLast week, I focused on the Sutra that calls us to avoid future suffering, and there were numerous reflections from students about compassion’s place within the Yoga Sutras.

The Sutras are a meditation manual of sorts, and there are not many sutras referring to compassion, though there are a few that are certainly pertinent. Sutra II-33 addresses our yoga practice within the context of relationships, and in part speaks of offering compassion towards the suffering, so that we may achieve inner tranquility.

While each of us may indeed either perceive ourselves as presently compassionate, or at least aspiring towards that state, when we look more deeply into the practice of being compassionate many hardships can prevent us from finding our way to its true expression. Compassion in its very etymology suggests that we identify with the one who suffers, and are aware of our own likeness to that person; compassion becomes an embodied, intuitive arriving in full presence with the one who suffers. This may be really different than what we have done in the name of compassion, in giving recommendations, offering advice, and staying separate on some level from the one who is right before us in pain. Active ways of showing compassion can of course be most needed and welcome, but there is also a quality of presence that can be the most powerful expression of compassion.

I listened to a Zen teacher, Harada Roshi in teachings he offered over last week-end at One Drop Monastery on Whidbey Island. His teachings, focusing on compassion, suggested that the open hearted presence that allows us to find true and deep compassion emerge from practice. In yoga, the direction of practice is towards an experience of communion where we know our inviolable and true connection with all of the life around us. The more I know this in my body and being, the more I can offer the one who suffers not ONLY my concrete acts of help in the forms of recommendations, advice, food preparation and so forth, but also my true deep presence.

(Photo credit: http://www.allposters.com/)