Yoga Sutras

If you want page views, you should use the phrase “outing myself” somewhere in it or talk about dead people. Although the latter is usually the bigger draw here, I’ve had amazing results with the former this week though I suppose they are technically one in the same.

The last hour of training this last weekend was wiled away with Patanjali. I didn’t have much to say out loud. My opinions on life, energy and the transformation of true self (some people refer to that last as “soul”) are not fully formed and stray far afield of generally recognized lines. Mostly, I listen. Most of the others in the training are younger than I am, many of them could easily be my daughters had I been an early mother. I recognize a lot of passions and ideas that I’ve long since discarded. I am struck by the optimism and that’s a feat because I’ve always found it difficult not to err on the side of Pollyanna’s dreams.

A few things.

First was something I touched on in a reply to Sharon’s comment yesterday.

It’s easy to believe that you have the answers. Read a little Yoga Sutra. Cultivate a yoga practice. Eat quinoa and shun milk for soy. Enlightenment!

No, not really. There is a common feel to the Yoga Sutras. Issues we grapple with today can easily be addressed within its teachings. But that’s so with most philosophical/religious texts that have stood the test of time. The bible. The Koran. The Talmud. Even some of the timeless literature, The Iliad, Cinderella (did you know that every culture has its own version of her story? every single one.) Human beings are complex in their utter simplicity.

Yoga is a good path for the me as I am at this point in time. I would never speculate in detail about decade from now, but I feel safe saying that I will still be following this path or at the very least, a tributary.

But I have no answers. Sorry. I won’t be jumping into guru mode or overlaying sutra on my experiences or vice versa. The margin for serious error is too high.

Monks in Tibet sit around with sutra-like texts and debate it. I am a bit skeptical of my own ability to do much more than merely relate to it and pick up a theme here and there to run with. Apply it to others? Not so much.

The other thing that came up was the whole “religion” problem that yoga has. It clearly has meta-physical roots. One doesn’t have to read to far in before the “g” word comes up.

One young lady, who reminds me of DNOS and Edie in some ways because she has this tiger aura about her, brought up the fact that it is simply disrespectful to gloss over the religion in yoga. One doesn’t have to personally embrace it to gain from a yoga practice but to ignore or disparage it is … rude.

Rude is not the word I would use. I would say “arrogant”. In a very white sort of way. But I’m a fallen away American, and the my adopted country folk are often kinder than I am in their assessments of things.

Finally, our instructor, Kat, talked about the Hugging Guru who’s achieved such a level of  “yoga” in terms of non-attachment (quite different from “detachment”) that she radiates joy. A person can physically feel it radiating from her being like a soul heat lamp. Even before she is seen, people can feel her. A lightness permeates them and once in her presence, a single hug is a bath of love. As a result of this – um – enlightenment? – she really embodies what Kat described as “being in the world but not of it”. Therefore, this woman has caretakers. People who make sure that her physical needs are met, that she gets to where she needs to be when, and that no harm comes to her.

Not most people’s reality.


I realized, and not for the first time, that it comes pretty darn close to mine. And that can’t be an accident, can it?

Yoga grounds itself in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.

Sutra (get your mind out of the gutter) means “rule” or summary or a listing of “doctrinal summaries”. More simply put, they are teachings. Literally translated it means  “a thread or line that holds things together”.

The Yoga Sutras are the basis from which yoga emerges.

Part of my training includes studying, pondering, trying to make sense of Patanjali’s sutras.

Who was Patanjali? He’s the guy who, thousands of years ago, wrote down everything a person needed to know in order to reach the goal known as Yoga.

No one really knows who he is. In his workshop, Michael Stone told us that Patanjali was mythologized even – half man/half serpent. Scholars, however, are of the opinion that he really existed.

The second sutra, according to Sri Swami Satchidananda – whose translation I am reading, actually sums up the end goal, and means to it, of yoga.


The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.


It’s deceptive in its simplicity.

“If you can control the rising of the mind into ripples, you will experience yoga.”

Yoga is union.

So, if the mind can be hushed and thoughts tamed so they are not running off with the slightest distraction, you have achieved yoga.

Yoga is not the physical practice – the “asanas” or poses. That is a simplification of itself. Asanas are practiced to help a person still the mind by learning to focus on breath through movement.

It’s another way to learn meditation.

Bet those Bikram people feel all foolish now seeing how it’s not an Eastern Jane Fonda way to yoga butt.

It’s deceptively simple though because – in case you’ve never tried – reigning in thoughts isn’t easy. Try it. Take a few moments and silence the parade of thoughts stampeding through your mind. Or, just try to herd one thought in a single direction and see if it doesn’t get away from you. Go ahead. I’ll wait.

(musical interlude for the lazy)

Not so easy, is it?

It takes no time at all for the mind to wander off to the day ahead or the troubles of yesterday or off into a daydream or lament or idle speculation about why I am boring you with my yoga training again.

Our minds are programmed to modify. It’s perfectly natural for thoughts to meander. Sometimes it’s a good thing. But just as often, it isn’t.

The modifications or “vrittis” are named by Patanjali, the man-serpent.

Right-knowledge, misconception, imagination, sleep and memory.

They are neither good nor bad except for – as Shakespeare would put it later in Horatio’s mouth – thinking makes it so.

There is no good or bad in the world because they are labels only and projections of human interpretation – figments of our mind-stuff so to speak.

The world itself is nothing more than a projection, a shared one sometimes, but it makes sense when a person stops to consider how differently a group of people can view a common event or idea.

Kat, my training instructor, asked us to come up with two examples – good and bad – for each of the vrittis and write about them.

Ah, you think, this is why she is torturing us with her Eastern mumbo-jumbo.


I have to admit that I am a bit stumped.

Right-knowledge is that which is a universal truth. But are there truths that everyone agrees on really? Human beings pay lip-service to truth more than they actually practice most of them.

Killing for example. The killing of humans is bad. Except if they have killed or if the killing takes place during war and they are on the winning side or in instances of self-defense or if a person chooses to kill his/herself unless they aren’t terminally ill and it’s okay for police officers and white people who need land and resources from browner people. Just to name a few exceptions to that “truth”.

All humans are created equal. Except, it doesn’t say that. It says “men” and thus begins the “excepting”.

Misconceptions are the “eye of the beholder” thing that gets most of us into trouble. It’s the projection of our perception onto others, events, universal truths. Its the way we read into everything regardless of the actual depth.

Imagination are the fanciful thoughts that lead us into trouble or inspiration depending.

Sleep is either in feast or famine and nearly always we control that.

Memory. Ah, memories. Faulty and more prone to misconception than our real time dealings, in my opinion.

I’d be curious – and most grateful – to know your opinions on the vrittis. How can they be both good and bad? Positive force or negative?

Examples would be appreciated.