Sutra Sunday Posts

PatanjaliSundays, Maggie Reagh presents a series of blog posts on one of Patanjali’s key Yoga Sūtra-s (YS), encouraging you to reflect on how it relates to your current life situation through a Yoga Sūtra Journal Question.

The sacredness of Sun (Surya)-day, the day that the Sun is honoured in many cultures, is a brilliant day to do Sva-dhyaya (Self-reflection) through the vehicle of the YS, which like koans, can break your head open, revealing the wisdom of your inherent shining Heart.

Maggie honours her great Yoga-acharya, DV Sridhar of Yoga Rakṣanam, Chennai, India for teaching her the YS for more than 10 years. This blog is dedicated to him and her other Yoga Masters, Radha Sridhar and Viji Vasu with great gratitude.

While what she has learnt from her Masters is the starting point of her Sūtra reflections, Maggie’s blogs include her own insights and interpretations from 20 years of Yoga practice both on and off the mat.

She requests your indulgence for any mistakes unintentionally made and would appreciate any feedback.

Sutra Sunday – Yoga as Gardening, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra-s IV,3

Thu, 04/01/2021 - 15:55 -- admin

nimittam-aprayojakaṃ prakṛtīnāṃ varaṇa-bhedaḥ tu tataḥ kṣetrikavat

nimittam – skillful means/cause; instrumental in bringing about a desired transformation
aprayojakaṃ – not directly affecting a change; indirect cause; facilitating change through subtle means
prakṛtīnāṃ – to transform one’s fundamental nature/prakṛti
varaṇa – dikes, dams or walls/obstacles (blocking the flow of water) 
bhedaḥ – removing, breaking open
tu – but, however
tataḥ – as a result 
kṣetrikavat – like a Farmer or Master Gardener, who both knows how to work the land and do the work required to produce desired results

The skillful means of transforming our fundamental natures comes as a result of [a masterful Teacher], who like a Farmer, tends to their plants [students] by skillfully removing what blocks the flow of water to them. The Farmer [Teacher] is instrumental in facilitating this transformation, but does not directly bring it about. 

Gardening during the Pandemic
As we move into Spring, many of us are starting to garden again, sometimes for the first time in years. One of the gifts of the pandemic has been an increase in gardening as a means of creating food security for our families during uncertain times. Gardening stores can’t keep up with the demand. Seeds have been flying off the shelves. Gardening is thriving in our communities, one of the silver linings of this pandemic experience.

Garden Bay Gardening
I, too, have had the great fortune of being able to garden again during the pandemic. After a quarter of a decade of living in small apartments in Vancouver, Canada, my husband and I have fortuitously ended up in our newly built home on the Sunshine Coast to work remotely from the safety of our forest dwelling in Garden Bay, British Columbia. With this sudden transition to country living last Spring, we also felt drawn to working the land, and getting our hands dirty in its rugged soil. Vegetables and flowers surrounded us by the end of last summer with my first garden in 25 years. We are looking forward to an even healthier crop this summer, but the experience has not been without its obstacles to overcome!

The Lessons of Gardening
Gardening has many lessons for us all. It takes planning, patience, and consistent effort to get results like a long-term Yoga practice does. Pruning the old and weeding the unwanted are just as important as planting new seeds, and caring for them with both water and fertilizer, all at the right time, in the right amounts. Preventing obstacles like deer who come at night to eat all of our efforts is also essential through establishing strong boundaries such as the fences that my husband, Walter is now building for us. Saying yes to new habits and mental patterns must be balanced with saying no to old ones for our continuous whole-person transformation (see Yoga Sūtra-s I-12 to 16).

Yoga as Gardening
In Yoga Sūtra IV,3, Patanjali compares personal growth to farming. In order to thrive, grow and transform, a Teacher can be instrumental in removing the blocks that are holding us back and stopping the flow of prāṇa (vital energy) to where it is needed for healing within bodies, breath and minds. Like a Farmer removes weeds, rocks, and pests to allow for growth, a skilled Teacher can be instrumental in helping us cut away that which is blocking our personal transformation. Like a skilled Farmer removes knots from an irrigation system to allow nourishing water to flow to their fields, practicing what our masterful Teacher has taught us can subtly facilitate change. This transformation can ultimately break us open to experience our spiritual essence, naturally overflowing with endless Joy as the walls that used to confine us are deconstructed. As the obstacles are gradually removed, the Prāṇa that lies hidden in our Heart of hearts starts to release step by step (see YS, I-17). We start to radiate like the Sun, becoming fully established in the power of our authentic Self, our Draṣţa (see YS, I-3). 

The Fruits of our Gardening
This personal growth happens of its own accord indirectly through the healing and spiritual practices of Yoga supported by our Therapeutic Relationships. Yoga Teachers do not cause this growth directly but nurture it subtly as they tend to their students like small seedlings growing into independent plants capable of bearing extraordinary fruit. In the end, we must do the work if we want to become Free. Our Teachers can only point the way through their teachings and examples.

Happy Inner & Outer Gardening this Spring!
Happy Spring Equinox, Passover, Easter, Holi and Ramadan as we all tend to our personal transformation and growth during these uncertain times.

Yoga Sūtra Contemplative Meditation
What obstacles are holding me back from personal grow and transformation? What Yoga practices and Therapeutic Relationships can support their removal, including my relationship with my Yoga Teacher, Yoga Therapist, and/or Counsellor?


The Grace of Sweet Surrender

Thu, 08/07/2014 - 07:53 -- admin

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra-s (YS) I-23 Īśvara (Source)-pranidhānādva (OR continuously and completely offer yourself to)

OR (-va) you can continuously (pra-) and completely (-ni-) offer (-dhānā) yourself to the Source (Īśvara) of all That Is

As the fruit ripens on the trees around me on Cortes Island, Canada, where I am completing my yearly two-month retreat, we too arrive at the fifth and final pathway to that state of Heart called Yoga – sweet surrender. Sometimes this ripening process takes its own sweet time. Like nature, it cannot be rushed. Surrender arrives when we are ready to drop to our feet and let go like a fruit finally drops to the roots (pranidhānā) of its Tree of Knowledge (Īśvara) with perfect timing. It is not in our control, but an act of Grace.

The Five Pathways to Yoga

  1. Abhyāsa– By practicing – (Yoga Sūtra-s) YS I, 12-16
  2. Vairāgya – By detaching - YS I, 12-16
  3. Bhavapratyayo – By birth (naturally born in a state of Yoga) – YS I, 19
  4. Śraddhā – By trusting our Heart - YS I, 20-22 OR
  5. Īśvara pranidhānā - By surrendering to Source of all Wisdom - YS I, 23 with 24-29

Grace and Effort: The Two Wheels of Transformation

While effort (prayatnam) is needed for pathways 1-4, only Grace (anugrahan) is necessary for this fifth pathway. Surrender (prapatti/saranagati/pranidhānā) to Source by whatever name or form we prefer, only arises with the admission that we can’t do it on our own anymore, that we need help from some power greater than ourselves, or that we choose Truth over illusion, deciding to wake up to what is Real. Any form of surrender works, be it with a personal deity or Truth, itself!

By Grace we Surrender and Finally Let Go

Sweet Surrender only happens when the fruit of our life experience is ripe to fall of its own accord - when its fruit is sweet enough to fall effortlessly to the ground of our Being. The process cannot be forced. We can’t let go (Vairāgya) until the lesson has been learnt. It is only through Grace, that unquantifiable aspect of Life, that we somehow let go and let be when the time is exactly right. It is only through Grace that one day, we wake up and are ready to accept our lives as they stand before us. It is only through Grace that we accept what IS and ISn’t with equanimity and radical acceptance of the way things really are despite all efforts to change their course.

In this Sūtra, the self-reliant jnani yogi (contemplative) of pathways 1-4 becomes a bhakti yogi (a mystic) through the Grace of sweet surrender. She offers her head to her Heart and finally lets go (Vairāgya) of what she thought she had wanted, now accepting what IS instead. The fruit finally falls off the vine to the ground of her Being. She falls into the rapture of a mystical awakening: singing, dancing, and crying out the many names of the Divine with whom she now unites.

Śiva Meets Patanjali

Maha Mityunjaya Mahāmantra Tryambakam yajāmahe
puţi vardhanam Urvārukamiva bandhanān
Mrtyor muk
īya mā’mtāt

We meditate upon Śiva (the Transformer), the three-eyed one (tryambakam), the Lord (yajāmahe), fragrant (sugandhim) and nourishing (puţi) the growth (vardhanam) of all, so that as a ripened squash (urvārukamiva) is liberated (bandhanān) from bondage to its vine, Śiva may liberate us (mukīya) from death (mrtyor) for the sake of immortality (mā’mtāt).

This great Vedic health mantra has inspired my interpretation of this Yoga Sūtra because it says only when we have fully ripened from our life experience, will be become liberated from the death of suffering. The goal of chanting this mantra is to spiritually "ripen" so that we can be free from our bondage to all things that keep us from spiritual freedom.

My Personal Mantra
Standing firmly with gratitude, on the other side of some intense life lessons on letting go, my personal mantra/affirmation for 2014 has been, “May I accept both what is given and not given with perfect equanimity”. May I also accept what I can and cannot emotionally let go of in this moment, even when I intellectually understand that it is no longer serving me and have tried my best to move on. May Grace help me accept the spiritual ripening process just as it IS, as I patiently await the fruit of Wisdom to drop to my feet with perfect timing.

The Gift of Grace
Although I certainly have much more spiritual ripening to experience, this year, I have finally felt the breakthrough of the breakdown of some very old stuff deep within. Through some intense unhinging life experiences, I was forced to go very deep within and clear away some deep seated patterns that had been holding me back. More to come, as I transform step by step, but the Joy and Presence that have been gifted me this year are profound motivators to keep going deeper, clearing space for more and more Joy (Ānanda)!

Yoga Sūtra Questions
What do you desperately want to let go of but are simply not able to despite all efforts? Can you accept your present attachment as a necessary part of your life lesson, trusting that you will naturally let go of it when the time is right? If you are a theist, can you ask for help from Source, using any name or form of your choosing? If you are not a theist, can you ask your noble Heart to show you things as they are, accepting that Truth with Grace rather than resistance?

What’s Next
This exploration of Īśvara pranidhānā will continue over the next many months to come through further examining Yoga Sūtra-s I, 23-29. We will consider whether surrendering to the Source of all Wisdom is a choice for a Yogi or not, while discovering who Īśvara is as well as how to call upon that Wisdom through our continuous practice of Yoga.

Maggie Reagh, MA in Teaching, E-RYT 500, Certified Yoga Therapist (CYT) conducts private and public Yoga Therapy classes as well as her own 1000-hour Yoga Therapist Diploma program, recently accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT). She regularly teaches Therapeutic Yoga programs at Capilano University where, in addition, she teaches and coordinates the English for Academic Purposes Department. She started her own yogic studies in the Krishnamacharya lineage in 1995 in Vancouver before going to Mysore, India in 2000 with BNS Iyengar. She went on to study with the Desikachars in Chennai, India and the Kraftsows on Maui. She studied for 5 years with Lindsay Whalen, an Iyengar-based Yoga Therapist in Vancouver. She continues her studies in Yoga Therapy, Philosophy, Chanting, and Ayurveda with DV and Radha Sridhar, Viji Vasu, and Dr. Ganesh in Chennai, India.

Fanning the Fires of Faith

Sat, 02/22/2014 - 21:54 -- admin

PatanjaliThe fourth route to Yoga through śraddhā (faith, trust, enthusiasm, interest, motivation), can be fanned though never taught. The more intense the śraddhā, the faster we arrive at our heart’s deepest desires, so fanning the fires of faith should be a priority for teachers, encouraging their students’ transformation.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra-s (YS) I-21

Tīvra (very high)-samvegānam(speed) āsanna(be there – arrive)

The more śraddhā we have, the faster we will arrive at our goal of samadhi (enlightenment).

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra-s (YS) I-22

mdu (low) madhya (medium) adhimātra(high)-tvāt tatō (that)’pi(further) viśea(differentiates)

Śraddhā can be further differentiated by these three levels: low, medium, and high.

Faith is Taboo

The word “faith” immediate triggers ideas of being controlled and manipulated by a belief system that is not based in logic or science. In the West, we left the Dark Ages, the “Age of Faith”, in the 11th century with the early medieval universities, and later with the rebirth of art, culture, and humanism during the Renaissance. This culminated with the Age of Enlightenment/Reason, which questioned the authority of church over state and religion over science. Even though during the postmodern era, philosophers started to question our addiction to science and discursive logic, with its clearly defined subject-object relationships, most of us still revert to a modernist Enlightenment viewpoint that claims reason, logic, and science reign supreme over superstition, faith, and ignorance of the facts. If faith is equated with intellectual laziness and naïveté, why would we want to fan these fires of faith?

The Universe is Friendly

Contemporary metamodernist philosophers such as Timotheus Vermeulen and Robin van den Akker in Notes on Metamodernism are trying to bridge the gap between reason and faith as well as absolutes and relativism with an informed naïveté. They offer a bridge between the modernist faith in science and the post-modernist mistrust of it. They present a way to believe that life has meaning and purpose without falling back into superstitious belief systems. Chaos is tempered by knowing that there is an intelligence that pervades the whole.

This cultural shift can be seen in rhetoric from politics to sporting events. Barack Obama’s 2008 speech to Democratic Assembly asserted “Yes, we can change.” The 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics’ motto for Team Canada was “I believe”. Both point to an optimism that was made mechanistic by the modernists and naïve by the post-modernists. Metamodernism bridges that schism of world views, restoring our faith in a life that often feels uncertain.

Trusting that the Universe is friendly, that our Life has a certain logical flow, and that we are on Earth to learn, can all help us live happier lives that feel safe to embody. In order to move forward in our lives with any goal, we need a good dose of faith. We would not even wake up in the morning if we didn’t have faith that the Sun would come up and shine on us again. To some extent, we need to believe that most things will continue to flow as they did yesterday. We need to believe that things are semi-permanent to survive the constant flux of life events. Depressive realism is a labeled as a psychological abnormality for a reason. We have to have faith and hope to survive our lives, which are constantly challenging us with unforeseen changes.

The Mind is Not as Smart as the Heart

As my monk friend Matthew used to say to me in India, “The mind is just not sharp enough to penetrate reality.” According to the Yoga tradition, practicing being present is the only way to bypass our addiction to thinking that the mind will free us from our suffering. We need to find ways to create space for our Hearts to be heard away from the daily grind of obligations and tasks. With that practice, we will start trusting (śraddhā) the wisdom of our Hearts, our intuition, and our deepest sense of Self. This faith will bring us much more comfort than a harsh intellectualism that refuses to believe in the impossible or the unseen worlds of the mystic.

Believing in your Self and your Life

When we have learnt to trust our Hearts over our heads, we have developed a level of wisdom that cannot be taught but can certainly be encouraged by our teachers and friends. As that trust deepens, the innocence (from Latin “to not harm”) of our presence expands. We start to radiate an authenticity that others can feel. We feel less fear about outcomes and more certainty that Life will provide us with exactly what we need at any given moment. As my Yoga Sūtra-s teacher, DV Sridhar once said to me over 10 years ago, “Live as if everything in your life is perfect and see what happens!” Now that is Faith!

Yoga Sutra Questions What do you believe in? Is your level of faith high, medium or low? Is it enough to motivate you to transform your life into the one your Heart is asking for? If not, how can you fan its fires to inspire such change?

Maggie Reagh, MA in Teaching, E-RYT 500, Certified Yoga Therapist (CYT) conducts private and public Yoga Therapy classes as well as her own 1000-hour Yoga Therapist Diploma program, recently accredited by the International Association of Yoga Therapists (IAYT). She regularly teaches Therapeutic Yoga programs at Capilano University where, in addition, she teaches and coordinates the English for Academic Purposes Department. She started her own yogic studies in the Krishnamacharya lineage in 1995 in Vancouver before going to Mysore, India in 2000 with BNS Iyengar. She went on to study with the Desikachars in Chennai, India and the Kraftsows on Maui. She studied for 5 years with Lindsay Whalen, an Iyengar-based Yoga Therapist in Vancouver. She continues her studies in Yoga Therapy, Philosophy, Chanting, and Ayurveda with DV and Radha Sridhar, Viji Vasu, and Dr. Ganesh in Chennai, India.

Trusting The Heart

Sat, 02/15/2014 - 16:57 -- admin

PatanjaliAs we continue to explore the five routes to experiencing Yoga, we open up the fourth pathway to a focussed, stable mind (citta vṛtti nirodhaḥ - see YS I-2) through the door of Trust.

The Five Pathways to Yoga

  1. Abhyāsa– By practicing – (Yoga Sūtra-s) YS I, 12-16
  2. Vairāgya – By detaching - YS I, 12-16
  3. Bhavapratyayo – By birth (naturally born in a state of Yoga) – YS I, 19
  4. Śraddhā – By trusting our Heart - YS I, 20-22
  5. Īśvara pranidhānā - By surrendering to the Highest - YS I, 23

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra-s (YS) I-20 śraddhā (trust, faith, enthusiasm, interest, inspiration) virya (energy) smṛti (memory) samādhi (enlightenment) prajña (intuitive knowledge) pūrvaka (before mentioned) itareṣam (other than)

By trusting in our true heart’s desire, we find the energy to move forward, remembering to keep on course towards that enlightened state of intuitive knowing called Yoga.

Trusting our Hearts without Attaching to Outcomes Other than those who are naturally in a state of Yoga by birth, the rest of us must get there through our own efforts (pathways 1-2). Trust (śraddhā) is the motivation behind those efforts to stay on course. It helps us to practice being present and detach from anything distracting us. We must trust (śraddha) in our deepest heart’s desire without attaching to any outcomes because one never knows in life. All we can do is be true to this inner calling without worrying about what it means or how it will manifest. This trust (śraddha) will provide us with the energy (virya) to move forward and will keep reminding (smṛti) us of what our heart is truly calling for even if the desired outcome appears to be impossible.

Taming the Wild Horse Mind In this Chinese New Year of the Horse, the wild horse mind can take us towards many possibilities that seem equally compelling. We need to keep on course to guide that horse towards our deepest heart’s desire. As we saw last fall, it often takes letting go (vairāgyam) of old patterns to let in (abhyāsa) new ones. It often feels safer to hold on to what we know than to step out into something new with no certain outcomes. What fuels us to make those changes?

Enthusiasm – The Fuel of Transformation Where there is interest (śraddhā), there is energy (virya). This enthusiasm (from the Greek “being filled with Spirit”) helps us to remember (smṛti) where we are going and why. When that energy is lacking, ask yourself why. Maybe you are off course. Maybe there is another path which will bring you greater Joy (ānanda), inspiring you to live your life on purpose.

Is it Love or Lust? The Play of the Three Guna-s: Tamas, Rajas, and Sattva Sometimes we feel filled with apathy. We feel uninspired to get out of bed and face the tasks of our day. This is called tamas (heaviness, darkness, laziness). Other times we feel inspired to make a change, but those passions (rajas) are short lived. We fall in lust with a person or an idea, but it doesn’t last. By contrast, when we feel śraddha, we may be filled with a Love that doesn’t die. Something deep within us compels us to act. Our Hearts are running the show, and our heads are along for the ride. Nothing can stop us from reaching our heart’s true desire.

This śraddha (faith, trust) is a sattvic (pure, balanced) quality of mind that naturally arises when we are centred in the Heart and grounded in the body. The first goal of Yoga is to develop this sattvic state of being, freeing us from both debilitating lethargy (tamas) and unsustainable passion (rajas) to rather enjoy a balanced, grounded, pure state of being (sattva). In this mind-body state, we find our deepest Heart’s desire. It fills us with the trust and innocence of sattvic (pure) child, who dares do exactly what she wants with great enthusiasm(śraddha) and energy (viryam), continuously remembering (smrti) to play in the truth of her being (samādhi prajña).

Yoga Sutra Questions What is your Heart calling you to do right now? Do you have the energy to do it? If not, is your Heart just not into it? Are you lacking a particular direction for a fundamental reason? Is it time to change course?

Natural Yogis - Angelic Beings of Light

Sat, 02/08/2014 - 18:11 -- admin

Last fall, we started exploring the first two ways of the experiencing Yoga in our body-minds before uncovering the open Heart (Yoga Sūtra-s I, 18).

PatanjaliThe Five Routes to Experiencing Yoga:
Abhyāsa– By practicing – (Yoga Sūtra-s) YS I, 12-16
Vairāgya – By detaching - YS I, 12-16
Bhavapratyayo – By birth (naturally born in a state of Yoga) – YS I, 19
Śraddhā – By trusting in your goal - YS I, 20-22
Īśvara pranidhānā - By surrendering to the Highest - YS I, 23
This month, we will discover the last three routes to this mystery called Yoga: by birth, by trust, and by surrender. Today, we will delve into the angelic realm of experiencing Yoga by birth and consider the up and down sides of being naturally gifted in any domain.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra-s (YS) I-19 Bhava(to be)-pratyayo(with an empty mind) videha(angelic)-prakṛti(nature/bodies)-layānām(reincarnation)

There are also angelic beings who reincarnate with empty minds.

Natural Yogis – No Effort Required
Have you ever met someone who seems to radiant Light and kindness with an effortless ease? Does it seem like they are calm and relaxed most of the time even though they do no spiritual practices nor have a history of such practices? If so, they might be a natural yogi, born with an empty mind and open Heart!

Patanjali says there are such deva-s (angelic beings of Light) who don’t have to go through the process of transformation (YS I, 17-18) that the rest of us do. They don’t have to practice Patanjali’s 8-limbed approach (YS II, 29) to Yoga at all. They don’t have to do anything to empty their minds and enter into a state of samadhi (YS I, 18). They are naturally in that state of enlightenment by birth.

These are likely the Buddhist bodhisattva-s (pure=sattvic + minds=buddhi-s) of the Yoga tradition, who achieved enlightenment (samadhi) in a previous life, but have chosen to reincarnate to serve the world’s suffering.

The Upside of Being a Natural Yogi
This sūtra reminds me of a colleague at my University who never does spiritual practices and in fact, says she is an atheist, but is one of the most evolved souls I have ever met. We all so appreciate her because of her calm, loving demeanor with seeming effortlessness and stability. With such stability, you can always count on her to be there for you when the chips are down – a rock in a sometimes stormy world.
When I compare myself to her, I know that it has taken me 20 years of practice to achieve such stability and even now, I still get thrown off course at times by the karmic dumps of life! How can it be? How can she always be so calm and seemingly unfettered by challenging life events? Maybe she was just born that way!

The Downside of Being Naturally Gifted
Then, I am reminded that in order to become a great Yoga teacher, one needs to pass through the fires of transformation personally, not theoretically. Those special individuals who are natural born yogi-s are not always the best Yoga teachers because they haven’t had to make the same efforts as the rest of us have to achieve stability of body, breath, and mind.

In the same way, those who are naturally gifted and good at their jobs often get easily bored. They are always switching careers because they are not being challenged enough. They also get impatient easily because they can’t suffer fools gladly.

The Gift of Experience
The naturally gifted in any area, in fact, are not usually the best teachers. For instance, the best hockey coaches are sometimes those who were only mediocre players in the NHL. A fabulous music teacher might never have made a living as a performing artist at the top of her field.

There is a gift to having learnt through the school of hard knocks and challenging life experiences. We who have learnt the hard way often have much compassion for others who are still in the throes of suffering. We can offer solace based on personal experience to those who are still in the process of transformation. We can become great teachers of how to move from darkness to Light because we ourselves have been in our students’ or friends’ shoes not so long ago.

Yoga Sutra Questions
What do you do for a living? Does it involve something you are naturally gifted in or something that presents some challenges for you to overcome? Does it offer you room to evolve and grow as a person? If not, have you considered changing to a career that does?

Empty Mind – Open Heart

Sat, 11/30/2013 - 15:45 -- admin

An Empty Mind – The Final Transformation In October and November, we explored Yoga Sutra-s (YS) I, 12-16: how to arrive and stay at a place of being centred, focussed, grounded (nirodhah), the precursor to experiencing that state called Yoga.

For the last 2 weeks, we have been exploring the step by step process of transformation (YS I, 17), leading to Self-Mastery (samprajnāta).

This week, in YS I,18, Patanjali tells us that there is something beyond this process of transformation - an empty mind.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra-s (YS) I-18

Virāma(full stop)-pratyaya(contents of mind) abhyāsa(practice)-pūrvaḥ(previous) samskāra(deep-seated patterns of behaviour)-śeṣaḥ(left behind) anyaḥ(beyond that)

Beyond that previous practice (YS I,17), you will eventually experience an empty mind though you will still retain the essential samskāra-s(behaviours) needed for survival.

Beyond Practice – Form to Formless In YS I, 17, we learned about the steps leading to Self-Mastery (Samprajnāta). In today’s sutra, we move beyond that Mastery to Asamprajnāta. These are two stages of Samādhi (Enlightenment, Self-Realization): Samprajnāta and Asamprajnāta

In the first stage of Enlightenment (Samprajnāta YS I, 17), we are still practicing something. We are focusing our minds on a particular Yoga practice (abhyāsa) be it basic (vitarka YS I, 17), or refined (vicāra YS I, 17). We are still focusing on a form to bring us to the formless.

In the second stage of Enlightenment (Asamprajnāta YS I, 18), we move beyond practicing something. We start to experience an intuitive, spontaneous knowing that is not dependent on the mind but beyond the mind. This is the most refined level of practice (abhyāsa), where all practices cease to become necessary. We rest in that joyful state of knowing that is not based on the mind and its contents.

Beyond the Mind – Intuition In this state of beyond the mind, we start to experience intuition, which is not dependent on logic - the knowing of this, that, these, and those. In this state, we no longer need to concentrate the five cognitive processes of the mind (vrtti-s, YS I,2) to become grounded and centred (nirodhah YS I,2). We spontaneously and effortlessly experience the non-dual (Advaitan) state of Sat Cit Ānanda – Changeless Truth, Pure Awareness, and Endless Joy!

How Intuition Speaks Our intuition speaks to us in many different ways. It comes through special dreams, spontaneous insights, or experiences of synergy, beyond our control. For me, my deepest experience of this, was through a dream. I dreamt that I was at the source of the Ganges in Rishikesh, India. I was flowing down the river at a rapid rate, being flung here and there, with my arms stretched out overhead. At times, a vehicle (a Yoga practice, an idea, a situation, a person?) would come to support me temporarily only to dissolve, one after another. I held onto surf boards and boats of all shapes and sizes until I finally found myself in a paper sailboat, which quickly dissolved out of my reach. After that, I finally surrendered to the Flow of Life, the Ganges. With arms stretched out overhead, I gave up, and continued down with River (Life), without a vehicle, without a practice, and absolutely Free!

Yoga Sūtra Questions What are you holding onto in your life that is holding you back from Freedom? What is your intuition showing you through your dreams, insights, or experiences?

Sūtra Sunday will be on holidays for the rest of December. Happy Holidays filled with spontaneous experiences of Joy!

Joyful Learning Leads to Mastery

Sun, 11/24/2013 - 13:21 -- admin

The Result of Practice & Detachment = Transformation

PatanjaliFollowing from our exploration of YS I, 12-16 in October and November, this week we continue delving into the process of transformation that comes as a result of a committed Yoga practice and cutting away the negative obstacles to that experience of Yoga.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra-s (YS) I-17

Vitarka (basic) vicāra (refined) ānanda (joy) asmitā (strongly linked)-rūpa (what you want to learn) anugamāt (one follows another/step by step) samprajnātaḥ (deep Self-knowledge/wisdom/mastery)

Motivated by the Joy of learning, we will gradually progress from basic to refined levels of understanding until we attain Self-mastery.

Motivated by Joy, We Learn, We Transform

In order to learn anything, we need to love what we are doing. We need to find that Joy to feed the process of transformation. As a teacher, this is a powerful message. My students will be motivated to practice, to learn, to grow, to transform, if I skillfully provide joyful opportunities for learning. The more joyful the experiences, the more motivated we are to go through the process of transformation. More joy equals more learning!

As a student, this means to keep seeking the joyful nugget that keeps us going, especially when the going gets tough. Transformation is often challenging. There doesn’t seem to be much Joy there at times. But then, you discover the jewel, the gold that was hiding in that challenging experience. Reminding ourselves of those jewels along the way can keep us moving towards mastery.


Deep understanding of anything is a gradual process. What seemed difficult yesterday seems easy today, but then, after we surpass the plateau, something happens. We again see another level of complexity that brings us back to a beginner’s mind.

I often say that you know a student is advanced when they are seeking refinement of the basic knowledge that they have already mastered. As a beginner, we are open to learning. We want to learn it all. At some point, we become an intermediate student, when we think that we know it all, and that there is no more to learn. Then, something happens. We realize that there is still more to learn, that we need to examine the basics again and to explore more deeply. At that point, we become advanced students, who are not learning as much new material, but learning what we already know at deeper levels. We are now moving towards mastery.

Yoga Sūtra Questions What are you learning about yourself right now? Can you find the Joy in this experience to keep learning, to keep transforming?

Transforming Step by Step

Sun, 11/17/2013 - 10:47 -- admin

PatanjaliCommitted Practice In August, I introduced Yoga Sūtra-s (YS) I,1, where we learnt the importance of committing to our practice of Yoga as both a teacher and a student.

How to Get to that State Called Yoga – Centre the Mind In September, we looked at Yoga Sūtra-s (YS) I,2, which tells us how to achieved nirodhaḥ (a centred, grounded mind-body) so that we can experience that state called Yoga beyond the mind-body. In that state, we are comfortably resting in our true natures as awakened Souls or Seers (Draṣţa, YS 1,3).

How to Stay There – Practice and Detach In October, we explored YS I, 12, abhyāsa (letting in new practices) and vairāgyam (letting go of old habits) that are standing in our way of being tannirodhaḥ (strongly centred and grounded). This month, we have learnt how to stay in that grounded state.

The Result of Practice/Detachment - Transformation For the next three weeks, we will be exploring what the transformative process of Yoga looks like over time (YS I, 17-18).

Patanjali’s Yoga Sūtra-s (YS) I-17 Vitarka (basic) vicāra (refined) ānanda (joy) asmitā (strongly linked)-rūpa (what you want to learn) anugamāt (one follows another/step by step) samprajnātaḥ (deep Self-knowledge/wisdom/mastery)

Motivated by the Joy of learning, we will gradually progress from basic to refined levels of understanding until we attain Self-mastery.

Transformation Takes Time As an educator, this YS summarizes the transformative process of mastering anything. We have already committed ourselves to learning something new (our practice – abhyāsa) and have let go of any distractions that have been getting in the way (vairāgyam). As a result of our committed practice, we have started to transform. We have started to understand our-Selves. But even this takes time. We do not achieve mastery overnight. It happens step by step.

Many years ago, my teacher DV Sridhar, pulled me aside and said, “I know you want Enlightenment now. I know you want to be Free of your suffering today. But you have to go through the process of transformation. You can’t expect to get there today. It will take time!”

The other day, I said to my incredible Naturopathic Doctor, Dr. Eric Posen, “Do you think once I get through this layer of healing, that I will be done my major work? You do you think I have gotten down to the root of all my deepest pain?” He wisely replied, “Yes, you are healing deeply, but do you think we are ever really done? You will keep on experiencing suffering and pain. That is part of the life experience. But hopefully, you will get stronger step by step, and more able to face the challenges that Life is giving you with more Grace.”

Over the years, I have gained more patience with myself as I learn my many life lessons. I often say, “I don’t have time for perfectionism anymore.” I have learnt to be less hard on myself with more patience as I learn how to be more authentically who I really am in the world and in my life. I can’t expect to get to mastery over my mind and body overnight. To achieve that Freedom of Spirit I seek, I will have to go through the process, the fires of transformation, step by step.

Yoga Sūtra Question What are you learning about yourself right now? Can you find the patience to go through the process step by step?

How to Let Go of Unhealthy Attachments

Fri, 11/08/2013 - 18:15 -- admin

PatanjaliLast week, we examined how to make our Yoga practice of being present, abhyāsa, stable and strong (YS I, 13-14). This week, we are revisiting the other side of this practice – how to let go of unhealthy attachments, vairāgyam (YS I, 15-16), standing in our way of being present.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra-s (YS) I-15 Dṛṣtā (seen)-anuśravika (or heard about) viṣaya (sense objects)-vitṛṣ (thirst)-ņasya (gone) vaśīkārasamjnā (one who has mastered the senses) vai (no)-rāgyam (attraction)

For one who has mastered the senses, anything either seen (directly via the senses) or heard about (indirectly from others) is no longer attractive to this Yogi.

Attachments can Serve or Harm us Our attraction (rāga, YS II-3) to the world around us is endless. We see a beautiful new dress, and we want to buy it. We hear about a new style of Yoga, and we want to experience it. We are attracted to, and then become attached to, whatever we desire. The longer we feed that attraction, the stronger that attachment becomes.

These attachments are not bad in themselves. The question is whether these attachments are serving or harming us - will they keep us from being grounded and centred (tannirodha, YS I-12) or will they bring us closer to that yogic state of mind-body?

A Vaśīkārasamjnā is a Yogi who has complete mastery over the senses. She no longer thirsts for anything that takes her off the path of being present. She no longer desires those unhealthy attachments that keep her from being deeply grounded in her own being.

Letting Go Takes Its Own Time Detachment (vairāgyam) must come naturally as a result of our practice (abhyāsa). The more we link with our-Selves through self-care practices, the easier it will become to let go of unhealthy practices that throw us off-course. If we try to let go of something before we are ready, it will not last. We cannot use our willpower to let go. We must let it happen naturally like a ripe fruit falls off a vine when it is ready. That ripening process takes its own time. Our effort should be placed on letting in the new (abhyāsa) rather than desperately trying to let go of the old (vairāgyam). Sooner or later, that state of letting go will naturally arise and our unhealthy attachments will just fall away.

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra-s (YS) I-16 Tat (that)-param (which is higher) purua (Self)-khyāte(known) guņa (mental states)-vaitṛṣņyam (do not play tricks on us anymore)

An even higher level of detachment (vairāgyam, YS I-15) occurs when our mental states no longer play tricks on us. This only happens through Grace.

Freedom from the Mind’s Games - A State of Grace The Yogic tradition, based in Sāṅkhya philosophy, describes three mental states (guna-s): tamas- not enough energy, rajas - too much energy, or sattva – balanced energy. When these mental states no longer throw us off balance, we are in a state of Grace. We cannot control when this deeper level of detachment will occur. We have to patiently wait for that state of Grace to strengthen our resolve to let go of unhealthy attachments that are no longer serving our path towards wholeness.

This is one of my favourite Yoga Sutra-s (YS). It a reminder to surrender to what IS, to trust that our lives are perfectly orchestrated to bring us home to our true Selves (Purua). If you believe in Parampurua, the Great Spirit, this YS can also be a reminder to ask for help when lost in unhealthy attachments. Ask for healing, and Grace will come when you are ripe for Freedom.

Yoga Sutra Questions What unhealthy attachments do I want to let go of right now?  What self-care practices can I do to help me let go (see October 20th Tools of Support)? Can I ask for help?


How to Make your Yoga Practice Stable and Strong

Sun, 11/03/2013 - 08:25 -- admin

This month, we will be discussing how to stay grounded/centered in our mind-body (tannirodhaḥ) (YS I, 13-16) and what that transformative process looks like over time (YS I, 17-18).

PatanjaliPatanjali’s Yoga Sutra-s (YS) I-13
Tatra sthitau yatno’byāsaḥ
There (tatra) in that centred and grounded state (reached in YS I-12 = tannirodhaḥ), we must practice (abyasaḥ) with constant effort (yatno) to stabilize it (sthitau).

Stay on it – Keep Practicing! Patanjali warns us that the benefits of our Yoga practice cannot be maintained without constant vigilance. It is human nature to take our healthy balanced state of mind-body for granted after we have been practicing a while. We start to lose the motivation to practice when things are going well.

Indulgence Rules When I started practicing Yoga daily in 1995, my neck and back would start to hurt again if I didn’t practice for even a day. Pain was a big motivator to get me to the mat every day. Now I have days and weeks when my body and mind feels great, even with my severe arthritis in my neck and my history of anxiety-depression. Why should I practice when I feel so good? I have to remind myself that if I don’t continue to practice, I will lose the benefits. I will regress and not progress.

As one of my Capilano University Yoga students told me today, “I almost didn’t make it to class again today. I have so much work to get done. Each week is the same. But after I come to class, I remember how good I feel and how much more efficient and focussed I will be all afternoon. Why do I always forget?”

How can I Strengthen my Yoga Practice?  

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra-s (YS) I-14 Sa tu dīrghakāla nairantarya satkāra ādarā āsevito dṛdhabhumiḥ

And (tu) that (sa) abhyāsa (practice - YS I-13) only gains a strong (dṛdha) foundation (bhumiḥ) when it embraces (āsevito) these four qualities:

    •    Dīrgha (long) kāla (time) We need to practice over a long period of time. It can take years to get a strong practice established. Now in about 5-15 minutes, I can drop into a yogic state. It used to take 2 hours, 20 years ago! I hope one day I will be able to stay in it continuously!

    •    Nai (nothing) rantarya (in between) We need to practice without a break – every minute of the day. Ideally, practice is not limited to our mats. We are practicing being present both on and off the mat.

    •    Sat (truth) kāra (action = practice)
 We need to believe that in truth our committed practice will help us reach somewhere we have never reached before. Otherwise, where is the motivation to keep practicing?

    •    Ādarā
 We should adore (ādarā) our practice! We should enjoy it! This intrinsic motivation is key to finding the will to keep practicing.

Practicing Self-Care is a Yoga Practice Practicing Yoga is not just about doing postural, breathing, and meditation practices. It is also about developing more discernment in all aspects of our lives, so that we can identify which lifestyle practices bring us more Joy and less dis-ease.

For example, I generally eat very healthfully, watching food quality, amounts, and meal timings. When I am satisfied with my weight, energy levels, and health, it is easy to start indulging in poorer eating habits. How quickly we forget that we feel good today because of our disciplined self-care choices that have been keeping us healthy and happy!

Think about other lifestyle/self-care practices such as sleeping hours, exercise routines, work-life balance, and time for social support (see Tools of Support, October 20th). How can these practices be strengthened and stabilized to promote more Joy and less dis-ease?

Yoga Sutra Question How can I make my Yoga and other self-care practices stable and strong? Which of the four strengthening qualities can I implement right now?