Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita


Yoga in the Bhagavad Gita

The term yoga appears frequently in the Bhagavad Gita, but two verses stand out as very definitive expositions of the Gita’s point of view on what truly constitutes yoga. These verses are popularly quoted and often mistranslated and misunderstood, so we will look closely at them and unfold their meaning as clearly as possible. Here are the verses as they appear in Chapter 2, with Krishna speaking to Arjuna.

Chapter 2, verse 48

yogasthah kuru karmaani sangam tyaktvaa dhananjaya
siddhyasiddhyoh samo bhuutvaa samatvam yoga ucyate

Remaining steadfast in yoga, oh Dhananjaya (Arjuna), perform actions, abandoning attachment, remaining the same to success and failure alike. This evenness of mind is called yoga.

Chapter 2, verse 50

buddhiyukto jahaatiha ubhe sukrtaduskrte
tasmaadyogaaya yujyasva yogah karmasu kaushalam

One who is endowed with the samatva buddhi, sameness of mind, gives up both punya and paapa here, in this world. Therefore commit yourself to karma-yoga. Karma-yoga is discrimination in action.

The Bhaavad Gita discusses the two majors means for a seeker to arrive at spiritual awakening, Arjuna’s ultimate quest. The first is known as the path of knowledge, Sanyaasa, which involves renunciation of all worldly connections to pursue spiritual knowledge and insight. Traditionally, this path is for older adults who have completed raising a family and participating in society, and is the fourth and final stage of life for them. Also, a young seeker who is spiritually and emotionally mature may also become a sunyaasi, but this is not an easy path for the young, as the temptations of life are relentless and powerful.

UnknownThe second means of spiritual knowledge is the path of action, also known as karma yoga. In the Gita, the path of karma yoga means that every action you take in life is used as a means to deepen your spiritual self knowledge. Seva, or selfless charitable work is one aspect of karma yoga, but not all. This is the path Arjuna must take, although, as we see at the beginning of the Gita, he is trying to weasel his way out of his karmic duty. Arjuna argues that sanyaasa should be his path, however, Krishna will not let him escape and explains that action in the world is a valid means of spiritual knowledge, if one understands the two main principles of spiritual action as mentioned in the above verses in chapter 2. In these two verses, Krishna presents a two-fold definition of karma-yoga: samatvam yogah ucyate and yogah karmasu kaushalam.

Karma here has two related meanings, and thus one verse for each. In the first and most commonly known meaning karma refers the results of any action you make.  The results may be desirable, known as punya or good karma. Or the actions may bring undesirable results, paapa, or bad karma. A Karma yogi understands that the results of your actions are totally out of your control, once they have been completed. The results may be exactly what you wanted, more than what you wanted, less that what you wanted, or the total opposite of what you wanted. Whatever the result, the karma yogi receives the results as prasada, a gift from the Divine. With reference to the results of your actions, there is sameness, samatva, in your response. This equanimity with what arises is the first definition of karma yoga.

Karma also refers the actions themselves. A karma yogi understands that you are the author of your own actions. You can choose to do something, not do it, or do it differently. As a yogi you would always act for the benefit of the whole, not out of self-centered interests. So, with reference to action itself, because there is a choice involved, a karma yogi always chooses to follow the rules of dharma, basic ethics and morality. Thus the second part of the definition, yogah karmasu kaushalam, yoga is wise and compassionate action

These two verses are commonly quoted and frequently mistranslated and misunderstood. Verse 48 is often found to say “give up the fruits of your actions” implying that a yogi doesn’t participate in the world, is not able to enjoys the fruits of creation. It is like saying you can cook a wonderful meal, but you cannot enjoy eating it. Of course this makes no sense at all. The underlying teaching here is that there is nothing to give up, other than the attachment to a specific outcome. If your action was successful, fantastic. Enjoy the moment. If it was unsuccessful, that’s okay too. Experience disappointment if that is what arises, but recognize that the “Self” is unaffected by success or failure.

Verse 50 is often translated as ‘yoga is skill in action’, but one can be a very skillful con – artist, which is certainly not very yogic. Yoga is wisdom and compassion in action; and being at peace with whatever arises. Wonderful guidelines to work toward in our lives.



Related Links

Essential Verses of the Gita
Sthita Prajña (Stable Wisdom)
Summary of the 18 Chapters
















































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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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