Yoga Sutras


Yoga Sutras Studies


 “Nowhere on earth has the impulse toward transcendence found more consistent and creative expression than on the Indian subcontinent.”  Georg Feuerstein, “The Yoga Tradition”

Huston Smith, in his book on the universality of religious teaching,  ‘Forgotten Truth, ” points out that human societies have always recognized two levels of reality; the human realm where the day to day world unfolds with constant change and surprises, and transcendence, a vaster, more mysterious realm of absolute truth “that is rooted in the unchanging depths of the universe”. Religious historian Mircea Eliade’s famous book “The Sacred and the Profane” explores the multiplicity of ways in which human beings and societies have tried to come to terms with these two orders of reality. Spiritual traditions and teachings provide society with a guide to the origins, structure and functioning of the cosmos and rules of behavior to help the human remain aligned with this cosmological order.

Human society has truly needed this guidance. There has been human suffering from the time of Adam and Eve. The capacity for abuse and violence towards ourselves, our family members, other humans, other life forms, and the planet is seen in every culture. As societies evolved, spiritual understanding also evolved. Several thousand years ago there was a spiritual renaissance that gave birth to the great religions and within these newly emerging religious traditions great sages, saints and spiritual teachers. Out of their inquiries came refined understanding on how the human could break out of the cycle of being hurt and hurting others. They showed that it is humanly possible to be in the world with love, compassion and wisdom. Yoga arose in India as a path of awakening to this possibility of liberating ourselves from our destructive behavioral patterns and realizing the boundless capacity for wisdom, compassion and creativity which is our true nature as human beings.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are summation of the teachings of yoga as they were being explored in the early centuries of the modern era. At this time Buddhism, Vedanta and other philosophical schools abounded and there was much competition and debate over how to articulate the principles and practices of the art of awakening and liberation. Patanjali, writing for the school of Yoga and including Sankhya metaphysics, distilled the spiritual teachings of the times into 196 succinct statements knows as sutras. Like the English word suture, a sutra is a thread in a tapestry of work, a concise and multi-layered statement woven together with other threads to present a body of teaching.

The Yoga Sutras are about the practice of yoga, which, through fruition, brings about the end of psychological/emotional confusion and suffering, leading to transcendent clarity and the capacity to act in the world with both wisdom and compassion. Patanjali presents in detail various types of practices to refine and integrate the qualities of mind and emotion that underlie human experience. He also articulates many obstacles or impediments to practice, and describes the living experience of the results of the practices. As such, it is an amazing map and tour guide for an awakening consciousness.

The Yoga Sutras include teachings on the truth “that is rooted in the unchanging depths of the universe”, a philosophical model of the structure and functioning of the universe and practices based upon the science of the mind that promote individual spiritual transformation. The sutras on practice are most important for the yoga student venturing into spiritual practice as here is where Patanjali’s genius shines. The philosophical presentations provide a context, language and reference points to follow the unfolding of the practice so it will be helpful to at least have a rudimentary foundation here.

Integral Spirituality

The emergence of the Vedic tradition in India and the subsequent development of great religions two plus thousand years ago clarified and codified spirituality and these traditions are certainly dominating the modern perspective. They provide not only a long history of written experience, but also a methodology of inquiry into both of these realms. The development of science has radically changed the exploration of the cosmological order.

Combining masculine and feminine energies, transcendence and imminence, the Absolute and the relative, Integral Spirituality is an expression of wholeness, of interconnectedness. Thich Nhat Hahn calls this inter-being. The urge for transcendence, to realize the unbounded, limitless Absolute, is balanced with the urge for imminence, to give birth to forms, to create, sustain and dissolve an infinite number divine possibilities within time and space; to be embodied. Fully mature humans inhabit both realms, understanding each perspective, knowing intimately the dynamic relationship between them and the ultimate underlying unity of wholeness. They embody the clarity of transcendence known as wisdom as well as the empathetic depth of imminence known as compassion. They are not just waking up, but also waking down!

This level of understanding is still rare state in the human realm, but the numbers of those awakening are growing steadily. Theologians and philosophers still get entangled in the concepts and language. There is still fear, control and confusion in the ranks of the religious, with competing belief systems and ideologies claiming absolute truth. For most the Absolute/Transcendent is still conceptual. “God is in heaven, and I am here on earth. Maybe, someday, I’ll get to heaven.” It is extremely common to confuse the relative and the absolute. “God is out there somewhere”. It takes patience, contemplation and discrimination to help sort through the confusion.

The Great Wisdom traditions of the world have always tried to cut through the confusion and as quickly and clearly as possible point to this Integral Truth. In India the Vedic tradition gave rise to Vedanta, Buddhism and Yoga. In their earlier forms, the masculine transcendence took precedence over the feminine imminence, often repressing the world of forms as a degraded or inferior state. This will be seen in some of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. As Buddhism evolved, the Boddhisattva tradition appeared, bringing compassionate engagement in the world after stabilizing the transcendent. Adi Shankara in India revitalized Advaita Vedanta, non-dual Vedanta, where the world of forms is celebrated as expressions of Ishvara, the manifest aspect of Brahman, the absolute.

Adi Shankara’s brilliant expositions on the relationships between the Absolute and Relative which serve as the foundation of modern Vedanta  are relevant today and can help us as we work our way through Patanjali.  Advaita literally means ‘not two’ and refers to the fact that it is universal to see two realities, to separate the world we perceive, the world of time, space and continuous change, the world described by science, from the Spiritual, whether we call it the Divine, the Unchanging Absolute, The Ground of Being or God. What we see versus what we do not see. Creation is separate from the Creator. Philosopher and religious historian Mircea Eliade’s famous book “The Sacred and the Profane” explores this in depth. The Samkhya School of Indian Philosophy retains a dualistic perspective, because it works for beginners. However, say the non-dualists, these two realities are actually ‘not two’, but different orders of reality of a single unified whole. Lets use a wedding ring as a limited but useful metaphor of how this might work.

Imagine a gold wedding band. It has weight, a specific shape and color. If we ask the question ‘is the ring real?’, ‘does it exist?’, the obvious answer is yes. A non-dualist would probe more deeply. What happens if I were to melt the ring down, leaving an amorphous blob of gold metal? Where did the ring go? The gold is real, the ringl was real, but now the ring has disappeared. The ring is a dependent reality, subject to change. The gold remains the same. From the melted gold I could make a coin, an earring, an amulet. The forms are subject to change, but gold remains gold and continues to reveal itself no matter what form arises. The ring is never separate from gold, not other than gold, but exists at a different order of reality. It is dependent upon other conditions. The gold is independent of the form it appears as. Whether as ring or bangle or coin, the gold remains unchanged. Only the form changes.

The non-dual vision sees all of creation, from atomic particles to living beings to stars and galaxies, as dependent reality, subject to continuous change and simultaneously reflecting the infinite absolute. The absolute is like the gold, the unchanging substrate underlying all forms throughout all of space and time, including space and time, and simultaneously present, shining forth through all forms, to one whose spiritual eye is open. Science and the world of forms it describes emerge as tangible expressions of Divine Creativity. Theology often stumbles through this philosophical minefield in trying to explain the nature of creation and the creator, but the yogis, Buddhists and Vedantins, each in their own way are very clear about this.

See a flower. Any flower. It has a stem, possibly leaves, petals. It may be a certain color, have a specific scent. It emerges from a seed, forms a bud, and unfolds its petals to reveal its full beauty. But then it fades, falls to the earth and eventually rots, returning its components back to the soil. It is transient, changing. And yet, if I look deeply at the flower, and see the whole cycle of birth and death, I see the radiant expression of transcendent intelligence, of divinity. The flower is spiritually transparent. A flower is easy, but this is true for any form, any manifestation of creation we choose. With a spiritual ‘eye’ we see wholeness everywhere, we see divinity in all forms, in all of creation. If our spiritual eye is closed we see inert matter.  This is the curse of the modern world.

If we examine our own personal perception of the world, we will similarly find two realities, but frame them slightly differently. The two realities of my world, consciously or unconsciously, are me and everything else. And usually included in ‘everything else’ is  the Divine, God, or however we conceive of the spiritual realms. This is our biological inheritance. My immune system has this as its foundation. I am enclosed by my skin, everything else is not me. In fact what is not me can be very threatening to my existence. Fear and anxiety easily arise from a sense of ‘not me’, of a threatening ‘other’.

When we study interpersonal neurobiology we will see how this sense of ‘self and other’ actually evolves through time, and organically, begins in-utero. Healthy parenting nurtures a vulnerable infant into a mature and self-sufficient adult. Through this process, I recognize others who are actually nurturing to me, who are intimately intertwined into my being. My self sense extends beyond my skin to include many relationships. From this perspective, spiritual maturity arrives when we are in a healthy realationship with all of creation and there is no other, no threat to ‘I’. In fact, the ‘I am’ recognizes itself as wholeness, as both the absolute and the relative, as self and other simultaneously.

Thus we arrive at the key spiritual question, What is this ‘I’ sense we all have? Who, or possibly, what am I?  By the time we are old enough and ready to ask these questions, we most likely have an ‘I sense’ based upon thoughts, beliefs, emotions and previous experiences. However, if we observe closely, we will see that these are all transient forms, aspects of prakriti, the dependent reality. And If we relax into the depths of observing we realize that what is arising, the ideas and thoughts and sensations and emotional energies, arise out of and dissolve back into an infinite spaciousness. What is this infinite spaciousness?  It is the timeless Absolute, the ‘Ground of Being, and the Truth of “I”. Patanjali begins his treatise on yoga here, in the first four sutras of the Samadhi Pada. The rest of the sutras discuss either practice (science of yoga) or philosophy.

Patanjali the Scientist

   Relaxing into the depths of observing does not necessarily come easily because the mind has a mind of its own. Thus we have practice and Patranjali’s Yoga Sutras. Paatanjali’s genius is in his unfolding of the role of yogic discipline in harnessing the powers of the mind. It is not necessary for the mind to turn on itself in self-destructive patterns of behavior, but the reality is that it often does. And these habits and patterns can be changed. Neuro-plasticity is the modern term describing the adaptability of the mind and brain. The mind can change the brain and we can transform ourselves.

Science asks questions about the universe we come to know through our senses. What is matter? What is energy? How and why do things change. It has nothing to say about timelessness, of God and eternity, but lots to say about everything else. Patanjali is a scientist of the mind. Yoga is the science of the east and the sutras are one of the earliest writings on neuroscience. We will use modern terminology to help translate the Sanskrit descriptions of mind states and mind activity that make up the core of Patanjali’s work. Patanjali recognizes that spiritual awakening requires both individual practice and healthy relationships. The emergent field of interpersonal neurobiology is amazingly revelatory around this subject as we will see that suffering always involves some type of confusion in the relationship between the self sense and either the world, or itself.

Patanjali the Philosopher

 Philosophy tells us how to live a good life, how to be a kind, compassionate and productive member of society, and how communities themselves can thrive. Philosophy can also offer a detailed cosmological vision, somewhat parallel to what science has to offer. Patanjali’s Sutras offer the cosmology of the Sankhya school, one of the six classical schools of Indian philosophy. Sankhya is a dualistic school which postulates that the absolute, known by the term Purusha,  is separate form the world of forms, Prakriti. Here, Kaivalya or liberation involves a total dissociation of Self, Purusha, from Prakriti, and remaining in that state.

The non-dual schools honor this stage, but then proceed to go to another level by bringing full self-realiztion back into the world. Being in the world, but not of the world, as Jesus has said. In Buddhism it is the great Bodhisattva vow of returning to the world with a spiritually awakened integral understanding, to help with others and their suffering. It can also be seen as an integration of the masculine urge for transcendence with the feminine urge for immanence. It combines unbounded wisdom with unbounded love and compassion

Because of the social climate at the time it was written, Patanjali’s work heavily favors the masculine transcendence, and many of the sutras are less than subtle in naming the feminine creative principle as an obstacle to transcendence. This is similar to the Adam and Eve story of how it is Eve consorting with the serpent (devil?) to corrupt poor Adam and get them both booted out of heaven. Fortunately we have a much deeper understanding of the inter-realtionship between the Absolute and Relative realities. We need not fear creation, but must come to understand its functioning in either revealing or obscuring the non-dual wholeness of the Absolute. To do this is to begin the quest of seeing how we make sense of the world.

 Why is there suffering?

    We have this relative world of creation, and the all permeating Absolute. The primary question for a spiritual seeker is ‘where do I fit in to this? Who, or what, am I? All humans, in the natural process of growing and maturing, develop a sense of self, of  I – me – mine, of “I am”. Intertwined in this emergence is a sense of other, of the types of relationships this ‘I’ has with people, objects, ideas and beliefs. This self sense begins in infancy and evolves. The emerging scientific field of interpersonal neurobiology recognizes the relational component of the human brain/mind and explores how parenting/nurturing affects the development of the child’s brain and their self sense. From the point of view of modern psychology, it is possible to have a healthy self-sense, to be a well adjusted, mature human being. This person has a clear confident sense of themselves and is comfortable in relationships with others. He or she is capable of many levels of intimacy.

In “The Mindful Brain, Dan Siegel offers a neuroscientific view on self. ” The brain continually maps out the deep layers of its own activity. A ‘neural map’ is a cluster of neural firings, or a neural net profile of activation, that represents the thing it is mapping. Antonio Damasio (1999) outlined at least three levels of maps of the self. At the basic level we have ‘first-order maps” that are the way the deeper brain stem structures have ongoing firing patterns of life affirming processes like breath and heart rhythms: the proto-self. We have little awareness of them but they correlate neurologically with our basic bare experience, moment by moment.

Next we have second order maps in which the proto-self at time 1 is contrasted to the proto self at time 2. This Damasio called the “core self” and embeds the event that may have changed the proto self across time within the field of attention. This is called our core consciousness and exists in the here and now. A rabbit hears a movement in the grass behind him. His heart rate goes up. His ears become alert. He orients to the sound with his attention and responds by glancing up, sees a cat and runs away.

Finally we have a third-order map” which functions to map changes in the core self over time. As acceleration is to velocity, the autobiographical self is to the core self. An autobiographical self includes a connection of past, present and future. ” As a human, I have more complex possibilities. When I see person A, I get a warm feeling in my heart, I smile, I move toward them, welcoming them. Many memories come rushing in. I see person B, I have the opposite response. I feel threatened and unpleasant feelings and memories come, I can imagine what horrors might befall me in this next encounter. In such a way my self sense grows.

This third order map is where we tend to live. I am a father / son / husband / brother / friend / neighbor /student / teacher. These are some of the relationships, (energy exchanges), I have with others that are part of my ‘self-sense’. I have relationships with food: I like tomatoes, rice, coconut, etc; I dislike okra, eggplant, and brussel sprouts. My hip is tight, my neck is sore, that last piece of cake is mine. Endless are the possibilities for this constellation ideas and beliefs. We all know this, live this reality. However, if we look deeply we see this “I sense” is totally transitory. There is nothing solid or permanent anywhere that is truly me. The ideas, beliefs, desires, emotions and memories that make up our I sense are constantly changing, as is our body, another source of self-ness.

There are other points of view around our sense of self. If a baseball comes whizzing past my head, just missing me, I say to myself, thank god that didn’t hit me. From this perspective, my ‘self’ ends at my skin. Outside my skin is not self, inside my skin is self. I feel safe and relieved for the moment.

On the other hand, if my son gets hit with a hard thrown baseball, I can feel a very real sense of pain. Not the same as my body being hit, but nonetheless very tangible. I see that my sense of self has extended to include family and loved ones. I ‘identify’ with them. They (other) become we (part of me). When my son was on a baseball team and during the season, my sense of self, my sense of identification expands to include the team. My emotions rose and fell with the success and failure of the team. This self sense is pliable, changeable.

As I grow and mature I notice my self sense expanding to include members of my town/country, my religion/belief system, possibly all humans. As my maturity enters the spiritual dimensions I ‘identify with’ all living beings, and ultimately, all of creation and the formless, the non-dual view. It is an evolutionary journey to expand our self sense until there is no ‘other’. Awakening, enlightenment, or the end of suffering as the Buddhists would say is nothing but a full realization that I, the ‘self’, am the non-dual wholeness of all arising forms and the timeless, unbounded formlessness. Always was, always will be. Nothing excluded, no other, no ‘not-self’. This is not just a good idea, but an all encompassing ‘knowing’ that is beyond words and concepts. In the very beginning of his Yoga Sutras Patanjali defines yoga as the dissolving or dissolution of any confusion about the nature of the “I am” and goes on through 196 sutras to unfold just what this means and entails..

The yogi’s offer a way to re-cognize, to realize this ever present Absolute. Realization, or ‘awakening’ does not require time, as the Absolute is ever present, unlimited, unbounded by space or time. However, because of the mind’s confusion, a sustained enquiry into the nature and activities of mind and the processes by which we create a sense of reality and a sense of self is usually necessary to dissolve the obscurations that prevent us from ‘seeing’. The yogis point out that what arises in awareness is always transient and inherently limited, whether thoughts, beliefs, memories, sensations or perceptions. On the other hand, Awareness, the source or ground of all forms, is stable, unchanging, unbounded. Being able to discriminate between these two is the teaching of Patanjali and the other great spiritual teachers.

If our I-sense is grounded in the Absolute, if we recognize of realize that unconditioned Awareness is the truth of ‘I am”, the world of forms is a playground, the field in which creativity continually gives birth to new possibilities. If the I-sense tries to locate or define itself in the world of forms, it will suffer. Patanjali’s definition of yoga gets to this right away in Sutras I-2 – I-4

The Buddha called this fruitless quest of finding a self in the world of impermanence dukha or suffering. The Vedantins and yogis call it avidya, or not seeing. The middle eastern religions used derivatives of the word sin, meaning to miss the mark, to refer to this confusion. Spiritual teachings are an attempt to re-orient the human, to point out the ever present, ever accessible Absolute as the true nature of the “I am”, and to help the student intelligently navigate the world of impermanent forms as they go about the activities of day to day living. This shift in perspective is not always easy or obvious, as the human mind easily becomes enthralled in its own activities and forgets that there is an alternative. Thus the need for very carefully articulated instruction to help disentangle the confusion.

 The Structure of the Yoga Sutras

    The Sutra’s are divided into 4 sections or padas, each with a primary topic. The first section, the Samadhi Pada, is written for advanced students and introduces the definition of yoga, detailed instruction in the basic practice known as samadhi, and some upayas, or skillful means to help facilitate the samadhi state. The second section, the Sadhana Pada is for a more beginning level students and introduces some preparatory practices, including the first five limbs (angas) of the well known 8 limbed (astanga) yoga series. Section 3, the Vibhuti Pada presents the final three practices (of the 8) as a unified whole, samyama, gives a more detailed description of the process of the advanced mind training of samyama, and then discusses some of the skills and powers that accrue to one who practices with diligence. They are presented as a way to assess a certain level of progress, but also with a warning not to confuse these achievements with the goal of yoga which is complete freedom from suffering. The dualistic mind can attach itself to the most subtle aspects and thus remain in delusion. Section 4, the Kaivalya Pada ties together the first three chapters in a detailed articulation of the deepest levels of integration leading to full realization of the transcendent and the end of the yogic quest.

Neuroscience is our Rosetta Stone

    Patanjali was one of the all time great neuroscientists. The Yoga Sutras fundamentally discuss the mind: its strengths and weaknesses, it habits, tendencies and functioning, and the possibilities for its further integration and evolutionary development. Because the Sanskrit terminology can seem strange and confusing, modern yoga students often miss out on penetrating past the words to the direct experience of Patanjali’s teaching. The language and insights of neuroscience and the consilient field of interpersonal neurobiololgy can offer a way to translate Patanjali’s timeless teaching into a language relevant to the 21st century.

Sanskrit is a very precise and nuanced language for articulating the activities if the mind. Until very recently the Western world has not made such a refined inquiry into mind, or developed a language of mind activity. That is no longer the case. Dan Siegel’s pioneering book, The Developing Mind and his many subsequent writings are opening up the world of the mind to the language of systems theory, physics, neuroscience, anthropology and more to allow new levels of communication and dialogue.


  The sutras and commentaries contain many Sanskrit terms that have no English equivalent and to understand the deeper meanings of the sutras, we need to find a ‘felt sense’ of what these terms are hinting at. An English translation follows as a starting point.

yoga: According to Vyassa, in his commentary to sutra I-1, yoga is samadhi. (see below) The Sanskrit root ‘yuj’ means to contemplate and this is the fundamental definition we will see in the sutras. Yuj also means to yoke or join together and thus indicates the integrative quality of yoga, linking various aspects of mind, as well as the recognition of the unity of small self and True Self. As we will see in neuroscience, linking is a key component in neural integration and deepening mental health

samadhi, is one of the key words in the Sutras. Vyasa, the foremost commentator on the Sutras, and held with the same level of esteem as Patanjali, defines yoga as samadhi in his commentary on Patanjali’s very first sutra. Vyasa goes on to say that samadhi is a natural state of the mind, not something esoteric or exotic. This natural state is the awakened/enlightened heart-mind, the unbounded wisdom and compassion of the awakened heart.  Like many Sanskrit words, samadhi has many layers of meaning and Patanjali uses samadhi to also mean an evolving series of practices that lead to the awakened heart/mind. From this perspective, samadhi is a state of mind where one’s attention is clear, focused, unwavering and relaxed simultaneously. It literally means to bring or place (dha) together (sam) with, the bring the mind together with the object of observation/contemplation. Later in chapter 1, Patanjali describes several levels of samadhi which relate to the level of subtlety of the forms that hold your attention. In chapters 2, 3 and 4 Patanjali returns to samadhi again and again with more detailed descriptions of the process and its evolution through stages of deeper and deeper refinement.

Although the all important terms purusha, prakriti and guna do not appear until later, they are implicated in these beginning sutras and an understanding of them is crucial to unfold the deeper meaning of the teachings.

Purusha refers to the Absolute, the unchanging, infinite consciousness, the Seer.

Prakriti refers to creation, the relative world of forms, of change, the seen, the world studied and described by science

In the Sankhya philosophical system, Purusha and Prakriti are said to be ultimately separate entities that come together to create the evolutionary process and separate again upon the dissolution of the evolutionary cycle. This makes Sankhya a ‘Dualistic” school of philosophy.

In the Non-Dual teaching of Advaita Vedanta (advaita= not 2), or Vedanta (the advaita seems redundant), Purusha is called Sattyam and Prakriti is called mithyam. Mithyam is said to be wholly dependent upon Sattyam for its existence, whereas Sattyam is wholly independent. They are not 2 separate entities, not are the exactly the same, but 2 layers of a single reality.

Guna refers to the three fundamental attributes or expressions of prakriti, which in differing combinations, manifest as all forms. These are:

tamas: the tendency to remain the same, inertia of rest, matter, stability or stagnation.

rajas: the tendency to change, energy, to keep moving, inertia of motion, action, dyamism, disturbance, chaos

sattva: balance, harmony, transparency.

In the world of form, these three gunas are always present, always in movement, but one of the three dominates the other two. When tamas is dominant, stagnation sets in. Change and growth are resisted. Mudha is the state when the mind is totally dominated by tamas. When rajas dominates, there is movement, but instability or chaos often ensues. A mind totally dominated by rajas is called kshipta or disturbed. When sattva is dominant, it balances rajas and tamas. Tamas becomes the stability of form and rajas provides the energy for growth and transformation.

A viksipta mind has moments when sattva dominates, but rajas and tamas also assert themselves so the sattvic state is unstable. Again, this is the average mind-state of the human. When sattva remains effortlessly stably present, samadhi begins. The various practices given in the sutras are all based upon attenuating the rajasic and tamasic tendencies, transforming the energies contained there to the harmony of sattva and stabilizing the samadhi state. Samadhi itself has levels, with the deeper practices diving into the unconsciousness to root out the latent tendencies lurking there, bringing more depth and stability. Stability is a key principle in yoga.

The fundamental obstacles to yoga, to samadhi, are called kleshas (the major impediments, discussed in section 2) or citta-vikshepas, (minor disturbances discussed in section 1). They fundamentally arise from inadequacy-evoking traumatic responses to life experiences that get encoded in the brain as part of the self-sense. If my self sense is fundamentally inadequate, if I do not know that I am wholeness, the Absolute, then I have to constantly find ways to feel adequate, with no respite. I create a multi-layered personality that constantly needs to acquire or get rid of something. For me to be whole, I need this, I need to get rid of that. For me to be happy, something has to change. These are thoughts that are the root of suffering. This is the mind of suffering and the realization of this is the starting point of the spiritual quest.

In his description of samadhi, Vyasa’s commentary to sutra I-1 goes on to describe 5 major mind states which we can experience. These are:

mudha: a state of extreme dullness or stupification, which may come from alcohol, drugs, illness, fatigue, or acute stress. This state is totally dominated by tamas. (See tamas below).

kshipta: a state of intense agitation, disturbance or emotional dysregulation. This state is totally dominated by rajas. (See rajas below).

vikshipta; a state of distraction. Some clarity is present, but dullness or distraction are also still present disturbing the clarity. This is the typical mind state of the average human, and as the clarity increases, the urge for deeper realization often arises, beginning the path of spiritual enquiry. In this state, cycles into sattva  for periods of time also cycles through  tamas and rajas

ekagra: one point focus, a higher order of clarity without division or distraction. Mindful awareness. Samadhi begins here and has various evolving stages as more of the mental processes are integrated into the focused awareness. Sattva stabilizes. Rajas and tamas are held at bay for longer periods of time. Their seeds are still present and thus conditions can cause the sattva to degenerate.

niruddha: controlled: In this samadhi, the unconscious disturbances (tamas and rajas) which lie latent in the previous levels of samadhi have been transformed and integrated.

citta is the general term for the elusive English word mind and is the word used most by Patanjali. It has three components; manas, ahamkara and buddhi . It is analogous to the Greek work psyche.

manas or lower mind, which includes processing and mediating perception, memory and the application of previously learned ‘autopilot’ functions, which we can call habit or conditioning.

ahamkara is the aspect that builds a sense of self from experiences. It is sometimes equated with the word ego, but that is not a perfect match.

buddhi is the intelligence that spontaneously arises in the present moment and can observe, analyze, ponder, wonder over what it notices. The buddhi also performs the integrating function, uniting diverse mental processes to create more complex operations. Mindfulness practice is based on developing the buddhi. (The Buddha, the awakened one, the one whose buddhi is fully awake.)

We will now jump right in to the Samadhi Pada and uncover the secrets of yoga as articulated by Patanjali two thousand years ago.





Related Links

Samadhi Pada
Sadhana Pada
Vibhuti Pada
Kaivalya Pada


Recent Posts

Micro-Cosmic Orbit: Pt 2

Exploring and Embodying Three Dimensions

In the previous post we explored the micro-cosmic orbit as a means to refine our focal attention (samadhi) through bringing our attention to specific points along the orbit and linking these points into lines, arcs and circles. As we work more deeply this way, we may discover that we can find these points at three levels. The first is out beyond the confines of the skin, in an ‘orbit’ in the energy field around the body. The second is directly on the skin, where an acupuncturist or shiatsu practitioner would apply needles or pressure. The third is in the interior of the body along the planes of fascia interwoven through the organs, blood vessels and nerves. When we can feel all three of these levels simultaneously, we are inhabiting our spherical energy field and can begin to fully realize the possibilities of having three dimensional/spatial sensitivity, perception and consciousness.

images-5The girdle vessel (Dai Mai,) the fourth vessel we use, is a latitude line and is essential in finding our three dimensional perceptual field. This yang vessel pairs with the yin ‘thrusting vessel, the vertical center axis, creating horizontal stability, and allowing us to rotate/twist. Rotation inherently builds the third dimension of depth ( A circle has length and width. To create a sphere you add depth. ) and is the gateway to cosmic awareness as well as a more vibrant embodied presence.

Rotation drives the whole manifest universe. In our solar system, the planets spiral around milky_waythe sun. In our Milky Way galaxy, the stars, including our sun, spiral around a center (probably a giant black hole! If you can find Sagittarius in the night sky, and you will probably have to wait until next summer, look through and imagine 26,000 light years off in the distance.) The earth rotates on its own axis creating weather patterns as well as a sense of day and night.

The spinning top (one of the oldest toys known to humans, found in archeological sites all over the world) demonstrates the cosmic principle in physics we are embodying. The faster it rotates, the more stable the vertical line. When the top slows down it starts to wobble and when it stops spinning, it falls over. To keep the rotation, you need to keep feeding it with energy. The bicycle uses this same principle, flipped 90 degrees. Another aspect we explore is the radius of the horizontal circle. Rotation pushes from the center outward (yang) in what is called centrifugal force. As this is counterbalanced by theGM2434B-1 yin centripetal (center seeking) force, we can change the volume of the energy field by playing with this ‘expanding – condensing’, yang – yin relationship.

In this top, the widest circle with the most outward thrust, the purple one, is below the center of the vertical axis. Lowering the center of gravity adds even more stability, which is why we emphasize the lower dantien in our breathing, movement and meditation practice. When we discover how to work with this principle in the energy field, our twisting poses can actually help expand the body. If we work muscularly, you will feel constricting in twisting poses.

SBK_1711254-24Traditionally the ‘dai mai’ girdle vessel surrounds the body at the level of the pelvis in the lower dantien. but we can move our attention to awaken other ‘latitudes’ of the body. To begin in the feet, stand with the right foot forward, the left foot back, as if you are about to move into a standing twist (without the forward bend), but haven’t yet begun. Before you move any further, imagine a spiraling coil of energy beginning below the floor (the Antarctic Circle) and traveling up the center. Notice how this mimics the girdle vessel. Now imagine the coils widening as they rise up from the base ( moving toward the equator), as the yang energy expands outward. The girdle vessel is very yang so this is quite natural. Feel the energetic volume expanding and condensing with the breath, but slowly expanding in overall volume

To awaken the front body-yin energy field, we can take the hoop forward to fully engage the arms and shoulders. Now imagine the hoops extends through the back body, receiving the rising spiral and expanding as the action of twisting. SBK_1711254-2SBK_1711254-9Most students eventually leave half of the body behind and end up contracting rather than expanding, especially along the spine column. Imagine the center of the spinal canal opening outward in an expanding circle/spiral, melting the tissue, feeling spaciousness, transcending the limitations of structure.SBK_1711254-4 (My front foot turns out much more than average to release the inner groin. Don’t feel you have to imitate this, but find out for yourself where openness and balance meet.) The hoop is moved to the front to expand the yin/organ/front body qi field and expand the ‘wings’ of the body, but also feel the back body softening and opening. This feeling can be evoked in sitting, lying and inverted twists as well. If you do not have a hula hoop handy, you can also use a thera-ball to find the volume.SBK_1711254-8


Another key component awakened here is the Pericardium 8 point, PC-8 (or P-8) in the center of the palms. Analagous to the K-1 points on the feet, P-8 is a gateway between the inner and outer qi fields. The SBK_1711254-11Pericardium, the fascial connective tissue membrane surrounding the heart, arises embryologically from the same cells and tissues that create the diaphragm and liver. The ‘heart protector’ literally does this, on many levels. As someone with a well-armored heart, I am finding that opening and nurturing the heart protector so that is does its job with over doing it is awakening a level of sweet vulnerability that is both precious and scary.

SBK_1711254-12In acupuncture, the pericardium meridian is part of the JueYin channel and connects all the way through the femoral canal to the legs. For those of you who have been practicing ‘climbing the wall’ for the last few years, you can actually trace the whole fascial continuity of the Jue Yin. (Use imagination to fill in the blanks.) Rise up from K-1 (not the heels, even though they do rise on their own) (DFL for those of you who know Tom Myers’ ‘Anatomy Trains’ system) to P-8, passing through liver, diaphragm and pericardium.

You can also track the qi from P-8 back into the body horizontally, again using the wall.SBK_1711254-14 Using the tip of the  middle finger of your other hand (PC-9) to feel the connections, trace the qi from the the wall and P-8 into the area around the pec minor muscle and then go inside the body to the pericardiam itself, along with the liver and diaphragm. Use the breath and your imagination. Then go back and try the twistings shown above with these new perceptions.

SBK_1711254-20To continue our building of a three dimensional perceptual qi field, we can return to the thera-ball to provide sensation and visualization. I like the feel of my third chakra having organ support, so I find placing the ball there and using a wall creates a powerful presence on the inside. Embryologically speaking, this is the extemely yin yolk sac which becomes the entire gut body. The conception vessel points on the micro-cosmic orbit are stimulated by the ball, bringing sensation and perception here. The liver comes from the yolk sac, so I can use this position to also find the Jue Yin channel we explored above. Lying SBK_1711254-19over the ball in a forward bend creates a similar feeling, with even more yielding and softening to the yang back body erector muscles. By moving the ball to the sternum, I can activate a new set of points on the conception vessel and engage the inner tissues surrounding the 4th chakra

If I want to build up my back field perception, I use the ball from behind and awaken sensation on the yang Governing Vessel.SBK_1711254-16 Here I have dropped it a bit lower to find the sacral-lumbar junction and here I can feel the possibility of both lumbar flexion and extension, from S curve to C curve and back.  The very important GV-4 Qi gong Image‘gate of vitality’ is here The inner abdominal space also opens and the front back and center plane begin to become conscious. This becomes trickier as you move upwards towards the liver. You can place the ball anywhere and feel different points coming alive. Feel their inner as well as outer presence. Back support can also help open the front. I haveSBK_1711254-17been trying to open my throat more for my sax sound and using the ball (or any elastic support) helps soften and melt tight tissue.

SBK_1711254-21Fish body support, opening some Gall Bladder Meridian points is another way to use the ball. I am using the wall, but this can be done on the floor as well, with slightly different effects. All of these ways of playing with the three dimensional field are ways of awakening and establishing a dynamic energetic field, centered in your heart, and radiating out throughout the whole of the cosmos. When you are out in Nature, feel this. When you are out and about in the human sphere, feel how you respond. It is fascinating to see what happens.

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