Archives for Patanjali

Say Grace

On the surface, gratitude appears to arise from a sense that you’re indebted to another person for taking care of you in some way, but looking deeper, you’ll see that the feeling is actually a heightened awareness of your connection to everything else. Gratitude flows when you break out of the small, self-centered point of view—with its ferocious expectations and demands—and appreciate that through the labors and intentions and even the simple existence of an inconceivably large number of people, weather patterns, chemical reactions, and the like, you have been given the miracle of your life, with all the goodness in it today.

When you awaken to the truth of this incredible interconnectedness, you are spontaneously filled with joy and appreciation. It is for this reason that one of the most transformative practices you can engage in is the cultivation of gratitude. Patanjali wrote that santosha (contentment, or appreciation for what you have) leads to unexcelled joy, while other yogic texts say that this sense of appreciation is the “supreme joy” that naturally leads to the realization of the Absolute. Thankfully, gratitude can be cultivated. It simply takes practice.

Embrace Reality

When you deny the reality of life, you appreciate it less. Meditate on the Buddha’s Five Remembrances and rediscover the magic of life just as it is.

Ignorance, or avidya, is a root cause of suffering, according to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (II.5). But the ignorance Patanjali refers to is less a lack of knowledge than an almost willful ignoring of reality. Today we call it denial. For instance, we may intellectually know that all things change, yet we desperately deny this truth—a denial that leads to anxiety, fear, and confusion.

At a recent lecture, I led a group of interfaith seminarians in the contemplation of the Five Remembrances, Buddha’s teaching on impermanence, aging, health, change, and death. Afterward, one of the students asked, “Isn’t this just negative thinking?” On the contrary, the Five Remembrances is what the Buddha offers to awaken you from denial, to cultivate gratitude and appreciation for the life you’ve been given, and to teach you about nonattachment and equanimity.

If you think of it this way, the meditation is not a bleak, depressing list of things you’ll lose, but a reminder of the wonder and miracle of life as it is —perfect and whole, lacking nothing. When you accept impermanence as more than a philosophical concept, you can see the truth of it as it manifests itself in your mind, your body, your environment, and your relationships, and you no longer take anything for granted.

Once you accept the reality of impermanence, you begin to realize that grasping and clinging are suffering, as well as the causes of suffering, and with that realization you can let go and celebrate life. The problem is not that things change, but that you try to live as if they don’t.


To work with the Five Remembrances (see end of article), it helps to memorize and repeat them daily. Say them slowly and let the words seep in, without analyzing or interpreting them or your experience. Just notice your reactions. Let them rest until they shift and pass away—as all things do, being impermanent. Stay with your breath and observe the sensations under all your thinking. You may experience huge relief as the energy you’ve spent denying and hiding from the truth is liberated to move freely through your body.

Some remembrances are easier to accept than others. For me, it’s easier to consider that I’m growing older and will die, than it is that I have the potential for ill health. I have a strong constitution and am rarely ill; I always believed that if my practice were “good” enough, I wouldn’t get sick. So, on those rare days when I was ill, I often reproached myself for being sick and was a pretty cranky person to be around. But with the help of the Second Remembrance, I’m more accepting of illness and can now feel a profound sense of ease and even gratitude (for my usual good health) beneath it.

Another way of practicing the Five Remembrances is through something Buddhist master Thich Nhat Hanh calls hugging meditation. When your partner or children leave for work or school, hug each other for three full breaths, and remind yourself of the Fourth Remembrance: “All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.” If you’re having a disagreement with someone, remind yourself, before getting swept away by heated emotions, of the Fifth Remembrance: “My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.” None of this means you should be passive or reluctant to advocate your views. Instead the meditation helps you respond more skillfully with awareness of how things truly are rather than from conditioned reactions.

You can also get used to the concept of impermanence by listing things that have changed in your life over the past month or two. Perhaps a difficult posture has become easier, or an easy posture is now challenging. Perhaps a problem with a family member has resolved or grown more complicated. You’ll be hard-pressed to find something that hasn’t changed!


Again, facing the truth of impermanence shouldn’t depress you; it should free you to be fully present. It should help you realize that the freedom and inner peace you seek are already here. When you really see that all things change, your grasping and clinging fade under the bright light of awareness, like the stains in a white cloth bleached by the sun.

If nonattachment sounds cold and unappealing, you may be mistaking it for indifference. It’s the experience of attachment, based on the denial of ceaseless change, that is lifeless. Life without change is a contradiction in terms. When you’re attached to something, you want it to stay the same forever. This attempt to “freeze-dry” elements of your life squeezes the vitality out of them. The practice of nonattachment allows you to enjoy life wholeheartedly in its very passing.

Through your attachments you create mental manacles that bind you to the limited view that life is your life, your body, your lover, your family, your possessions. As your insight into impermanence deepens you start to see the truth of the “no-separate-self.” When you can extend beyond the limits you’ve created you see that your life is not really “yours” but all of life itself manifesting through you.

As the Buddha tells us: “When one perceives impermanence, the perception of no-self is established. With the perception of no-self, the conceit of ‘I’ is eliminated, and this is nirvana here and now.”

The Five Remembrances

I like this version of the Buddha’s Five Remembrances, offered by Thich Nhat Hanh in The Plum Village Chanting Book (Parallax Press, 1991).

I am of the nature to grow old. There is no way to escape growing old.

I am of the nature to have ill health. There is no way to escape ill health.

I am of the nature to die. There is no way to escape death.

All that is dear to me and everyone I love are of the nature to change. There is no way to escape being separated from them.

My actions are my only true belongings. I cannot escape the consequences of my actions. My actions are the ground upon which I stand.


(by Frank Jude Boccio. He is the author of Mindfulness Yoga. He teaches yoga in New Paltz, New York, and leads Mindfulness Yoga sessions throughout North America. view original source here.)

The Practice of Surrender

Ishvara pranidhana is not about what your yoga can do for you, but about approaching your practice in the spirit of offering.

When I was an Ashtanga student in Mysore, I loved walking the several blocks to Pattabhi Jois’s yoga shala (school) for 4:30 a.m. practice. In the quiet darkness before dawn, the side streets would be dotted with the neighborhood’s sari-clad women kneeling upon the earth in front of their homes drawing rangoli, intricate sacred diagrams (also known as yantras) made by sifting rice flour between the fingers. Sometimes simple, sometimes elaborate, these offerings to Lakshmi, the goddess of good fortune and prosperity, were always vibrant and destined to be erased as soon as the streets filled with traffic. I was inspired by the women’s dedication, creativity, and lack of attachment to their beautiful creations. As I became friends with some of the neighborhood women and they taught me a few simple rangoli, I learned that these offerings are not merely duty or decoration, but creative meditations that invoke a connection to the Divine on behalf of everyone. As one mother told me with a smile and an expansive wave of her hand, “These offerings remind me of the big picture, which helps me take care of the small things with love.”

These morning offerings, like so many everyday rituals in India, embody the yoga practice of Ishvara pranidhana—surrendering (pranidhana) to a higher source (Ishvara). Ishvara pranidhana is a “big picture” yoga practice: It initiates a sacred shift of perspective that helps us to remember, align with, and receive the grace of being alive.

Yet to many modern Westerners the idea of surrender as a virtue may seem strange. Many of us have only experienced surrendering to a higher source as a last resort, when we’ve confronted seemingly insurmountable problems or in some other way hit the edge of our individual will and abilities. But in the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali transforms “surrender” from this sort of last-resort, emergency response into an essential ongoing practice. Patanjali repeatedly highlights Ishvara pranidhana as one of the five niyamas, or inner practices, of the ashta-anga (eight-limbed) path (Chapter II, verse 32) and, along with discipline (tapas) and self-study (svadhyaya), as part of kriya yoga, the threefold yoga of action (II.1).

For Patanjali, Ishvara pranidhana is a potent method for dissolving the endless agitations of the mind, and thus a means to the ultimate unified state of yoga: samadhi. Why? Because Ishvara pranidhana shifts our perspective from the obsession with “I”—with our narrow individual concerns and perspective—that causes so much of the mind’s distraction and creates a sense of separation from our Source. Since Ishvara pranidhana focuses not on ego but on the sacred ground of being, it reunites us with our true Self. As Indian yoga master B. K. S. Iyengar states in his Light on the Yoga Sutras (Thorsons, 1993), “Through surrender the aspirant’s ego is effaced, and grace pours down upon him like a torrential rain.” Like the descent through layers of tension to rest in the release of Savasana (Corpse Pose), Ishvara pranidhana provides a pathway through the obstacles of our ego toward our divine nature—grace, peace, unconditional love, clarity, and freedom.

The Face of God

To practice Ishvara pranidhana, we must first start with our own intimate connection to the universe. In yoga, this is referred to as your Ishta-Devata. The yogic concept of Ishta-Devata recognizes that we each have our own, personal relationship with and taste of the Divine and that this serves as a powerful means of yoga (unification) for us. Traditionally, many sadhus (monks) in India have revered the god Shiva in his role as the archetypal yogi. Many other Indians revere Vishnu, especially in his incarnations as Rama or Krishna. Still others are drawn to female manifestations of divinity, like Lakshmi or Kali or Durga. But Sri T. Krishnamacharya, probably the most influential figure in the spread of yoga to the West, advocated that Western yoga practitioners use their own language, imagery, and names of the sacred to deepen their connection to Ishvara.

I have always been naturally drawn to Indian culture, but I’m sure I was also influenced by my Catholic grandmother’s devotion to Mother Mary. When I was a child, I often found my grandma rapt in prayer, saying her rosary while lying on her bed under a picture of the blessed Mother. Your Ishta-Devata can also take a more abstract form; my father, an artist, describes light as his way of seeing the Divine in nature, in people’s eyes, in art. In yoga, Ishvara is understood as being beyond one form yet expressed through all forms, and thus is often represented as the sacred syllable Om, as pure vibration. Your Ishta-Devata is the form that vibration takes within your own heart.

In the Yoga Sutra, Patanjali refers to this inner presence of Ishvara as our foremost teacher (I.26). Through intimate listening to this voice within us, we begin to have a relationship with inner guidance in all aspects of our life. When I think of my most important teachers, including my parents, I see that they were there not just for the big lessons but also in a thousand small ways, constantly showing me when I was on target or beginning to wander off the path, opening my being to new vistas and reminding me when I was closing myself to life. My experience of my inner teacher is similar: As my attunement to this inner sense of direction grows, it increasingly guides my thoughts, speech, and actions.

The Spirit of Offering

If Ishvara is the inner compass, pranidhana is remembering to stay connected to that essence not just occasionally but throughout the day. Ishvara pranidhana is also translated as “offering the fruits of one’s actions to the Divine.” As we consider how to make Ishvara pranidhana a living part of our yoga, it’s useful to look to India, where the act of offering pervades the culture. I found living there, even with all its challenges, really helped me understand how Ishvara pranidhana can be integrated into daily life. Throughout India, images of the Divine are everywhere, and people of all ages are continuously making offerings of fruit, incense, and gestures, from Anjali Mudra (hands together at the heart) to full-body prostrations. At the local fruit stall, the merchant offers the money of his first sale at the altar on his cart; your rickshaw driver touches the feet of an image of Krishna before zooming off; a neighborhood mother places the first spoonful of the meal before her kitchen shrine. As Ashtanga Vinyasa master Sri K. Pattabhi Jois enters the yoga room, his forehead always shows the markings of his tilak, the sign that he has made his morning puja (offering). All these practices cultivate an underlying connection with the Source; “Me, me, me” starts to move into the background, and spiritual life moves more front and center.

The Way to Begin

For Americans, who seldom grow up with such a constant ritual life, establishing Ishvara pranidhana may require some extra attention and internal listening, much like the process of learning to take long, slow, and constant breaths in asana. Like breathing more deeply, Ishvara pranidhana shouldn’t feel strange or uncomfortable. The practice isn’t really foreign to anyone, although it may feel a bit unfamiliar to Westerners. Anybody, regardless of spiritual orientation, can practice Ishvara pranidhana, and any action can be enhanced by this practice. There is no inner state, emotion, or obstacle that is beyond the positive influence of Ishvara pranidhana. Remember, whether you are a natural bhakti (devotional) yogi or a complete skeptic, whether you are undertaking a simple act like cooking a meal or a challenging task like a difficult conversation, whether your state of mind is Joyous or confused, the whole mandala of life is the realm of Ishvara pranidhana.

Because the scope of Ishvara pranidhana is so vast, Western yoga practitioners often welcome a few practical guidelines to help them get started. Here are some arenas in which I’ve found Ishvara pranidhana to be especially useful: at the beginning of any action, as a way of shifting your perspective when faced with difficulty, and as a method for experiencing fully the simple acts of life. The yoga mat or meditation cushion is a wonderful “safe space,” a “closed course,” on which you can test drive Ishvara pranidhana. As with any action in the world, the way you begin your practice can make a huge difference in how your yoga flows. Inner listening, setting your intention, chanting, and visualization are all formal ways of initiating Ishvara pranidhana. I often begin my practice stretched out on my belly in full prostration, visualizing the lotus feet of the Goddess, my Ishta-Devata, in front of me. I breathe and empty the residue of the day and find that I am soon filled with an intuitive sense of direction, inspiration, and clarity that I experience as an inner compass, a teacher whose presence deepens throughout the practice. Suryanamaskar (Sun Salutation) can also be a method of Ishvara pranidhana; in its origins, it was a moving prayer in which every breath offered the yogi’s energy back to the sun.

As you practice asana, you can start treating challenging yoga poses as microcosms of life’s difficulties, and thus great opportunities to practice the art of offering. In my own practice, I am becoming more and more able to recognize tension as a signal; holding and gripping are signs that my connection with Ishvara pranidhana is lessening. As I offer my tension back to the Source, emptying and surrendering again, I very often experience a boost of strength or a deepening of my breath and flexibility. Even more importantly, I experience a shift from my small, crowded inner world to a big picture of being alive. Then, as with the Mysore women’s rice-flour offerings, the grace from the process remains even when the pose has dissolved.

Because Ishvara pranidhana connects every action to its sacred source, Krishnamacharya is said to have described it as the most important yoga practice for the Kali Yuga we live in, an “Iron Age” in which all humanity has fallen away from grace. Just as the Buddhist commitment to bringing awareness to every action is called mindfulness practice, Ishvara pranidhana could be called “heartfulness” practice; it awakens our constant devotion to the Source of life and keeps our hearts open to the Divine in every moment, no matter what arises.

(View original source here. Shiva Rea lives in Malibu, California. She can be reached at

Yoga Sutra #17

An object is known or unknown dependent on
whether or not the mind gets colored by it.

Intro into Ashtanga Yoga…

Ashtanga Yoga Background

Ashtanga yoga is a system of yoga recorded by the sage Vamana Rishi in the Yoga Korunta, an ancient manuscript “said to contain lists of many different groupings of asanas, as well as highly original teachings on vinyasa, drishti, bandhas, mudras, and philosophy” (Jois 2002 xv). The text of the Yoga Korunta “was imparted to Sri T. Krishnamacharya in the early 1900′s by his Guru Ramamohan Brahmachari, and was later passed down to Pattabhi Jois during the duration of his studies with Krishnamacharya, beginning in 1927″ (“Ashtanga Yoga”). Since 1948, Pattabhi Jois has been teaching Ashtanga yoga from his yoga shala, the Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute (Jois 2002 xvi), according to the sacred tradition of Guru Parampara [disciplic succession] (Jois 2003 12).

Ashtanga yoga literally means “eight-limbed yoga,” as outlined by the sage Patanjali in the Yoga Sutras. According to Patanjali, the path of internal purification for revealing the Universal Self consists of the following eight spiritual practices:

  • Yama [moral codes]
  • Niyama [self-purification and study]
  • Asana [posture]
  • Pranayama [breath control]
  • Pratyahara [sense control]
  • Dharana [concentration]
  • Dhyana [meditation]
  • Samadhi [absorption into the Universal] (Scott 14-17)


The first four limbs—yama, niyama, asana, pranayama—are considered external cleansing practices. According to Pattabhi Jois, defects in the external practices are correctable. However, defects in the internal cleansing practices—pratyahara, dharana, dhyana—are not correctable and can be dangerous to the mind unless the correct Ashtanga yoga method is followed (Stern and Summerbell 35). For this reason, Pattabhi Jois emphasizes that the “Ashtanga Yoga method is Patanjali Yoga” (Flynn).

The definition of yoga is “the controlling of the mind” [citta vrtti nirodhah] (Jois 2003 10). The first two steps toward controlling the mind are the perfection of yama and niyama (Jois 2003 10). However, it is “not possible to practice the limbs and sub-limbs of yama and niyama when the body and sense organs are weak and haunted by obstacles” (Jois 2002 17). A person must first take up daily asana practice to make the body strong and healthy (Jois 2003 10). With the body and sense organs thus stabilized, the mind can be steady and controlled (Jois 2002 16). With mind control, one is able to pursue and grasp these first two limbs (Flynn).

To perform asana correctly in Ashtanga yoga, one must incorporate the use of vinyasa and tristhana. “Vinyasa means breathing and movement system. For each movement, there is one breath. For example, in Surya Namskar there are nine vinyasas. The first vinyasa is inhaling while raising your arms over your head, and putting your hands together; the second is exhaling while bending forward, placing your hands next to your feet, etc. In this way all asanas are assigned a certain number of vinyasas” (“Ashtanga Yoga”).

“The purpose of vinyasa is for internal cleansing” (“Ashtanga Yoga”). Synchronizing breathing and movement in the asanas heats the blood, cleaning and thinning it so that it may circulate more freely. Improved blood circulation relieves joint pain and removes toxins and disease from the internal organs. The sweat generated from the heat of vinyasa then carries the impurities out of the body. Through the use of vinyasa, the body becomes healthy, light and strong (“Ashtanga Yoga”).

Tristhana refers to the union of “three places of attention or action: posture, breathing system and looking place. These three are very important for yoga practice, and cover three levels of purification: the body, nervous system and mind. They are always performed in conjunction with each other” (“Ashtanga Yoga”).

Posture: “The method for purifying and strengthening the body is called asana” (Jois 2002 22). In Ashtanga yoga, asana is grouped into six series. “The Primary Series [Yoga Chikitsa] detoxifies and aligns the body. The Intermediate Series [Nadi Shodhana] purifies the nervous system by opening and clearing the energy channels. The Advanced Series A, B, C, and D [Sthira Bhaga] integrate the strength and grace of the practice, requiring higher levels of flexibility and humility. Each level is to be fully developed before proceeding to the next, and the sequential order of asanas is to be meticulously followed. Each posture is a preparation for the next, developing the strength and balance required to move further” (Pace). Without an earnest effort and reverence towards the practice of yama and niyama, however, the practice of asana is of little benefit (Flynn).

Breathing: The breathing technique performed with vinyasa is called ujjayi [victorious breath] (Scott 20), which consists of puraka [inhalation] and rechaka [exhalation] (“Ashtanga Yoga”). “Both the inhale and exhale should be steady and even, the length of the inhale should be the same length as the exhale” (“Ashtanga Yoga”). Over time, the length and intensity of the inhalation and exhalation should increase, such that the increased stretching of the breath initiates the increased stretching of the body (Scott 21). Long, even breathing also increases the internal fire and strengthens and purifies the nervous system (“Ashtanga Yoga”).

Bandhas are essential components of the ujjayi breathing technique. Bandha means “lock” or “seal” (Scott 21). The purpose of bandha is to unlock pranic energy and direct it into the 72,000 nadi [energy channels] of the subtle body (Scott 21). Mula bandha is the anal lock, and uddiyana bandha is the lower abdominal lock (“Ashtanga Yoga”). Both bandhas “seal in energy, give lightness, strength and health to the body, and help to build a strong internal fire” (“Ashtanga Yoga”). Mula bandha operates at the root of the body to seal in prana internally for uddiyana bandha to direct the prana upwards through the nadis (Scott 21). Jalandhara bandha is the “throat lock” (Jois 2002 23, n.27), which “occurs spontaneously in a subtle form in many asanas due to the dristi (“gaze point”), or head position” (Scott 23). “This lock prevents pranic energy [from] escaping and stops any build-up of pressure in the head when holding the breath” (Scott 23). Without bandha control, “breathing will not be correct, and the asanas will give no benefit” (“Ashtanga Yoga”).

Looking Place: Dristhi is the gazing point on which one focuses while performing the asana (“Ashtanga Yoga”). “There are nine dristhis: the nose, between the eyebrows, navel, thumb, hands, feet, up, right side and left side. Dristhi purifies and stabilizes the functioning of the mind” (“Ashtanga Yoga”). In the practice of asana, when the mind focuses purely on inhalation, exhalation, and the drishti, the resulting deep state of concentration paves the way for the practices of dharana and dhyana, the six and seventh limbs of Ashtanga yoga (Scott 23).

Instruction in pranayama can begin after one has learned the asanas well and can practice them with ease (Jois 2002 23). “Pranayama means taking in the subtle power of the vital wind through rechaka [exhalation], puraka [inhalation], and kumbhaka [breath retention]. Only these kriyas, practiced in conjunction with the three bandhas [muscle contractions, or locks] and in accordance with the rules, can be called pranayama” (Jois 2002 23). The three bandhas are “mula bandha, uddiyana bandha, and jalandhara bandha, and they should be performed while practicing asana and the like” (Jois 2002 23). “When mula bandha is perfect, mind control is automatic” (“Ashtanga Yoga”). “In this way did Patanjali start Yoga. By using mulabandha and by controlling the mind, he gradually gained knowledge of Yoga” (Jois 2003 11).

Practicing asana for many years with correct vinyasa and tristhana gives the student the clarity of mind, steadiness of body, and purification of the nervous system to begin the prescribed pranayama practice (Flynn). “Through the practice of pranayama, the mind becomes arrested in a single direction and follows the movement of the breath” (Jois 2002 23). Pranayama forms the foundation for the internal cleansing practices of Ashtanga yoga (Flynn).

The four internal cleansing practices—pratyahara, dharana, dhyana, and samadhi—bring the mind under control (Stern and Summerbell 35). When purification is complete and mind control occurs, the Six Poisons surrounding the spiritual heart [kama (desire), krodha (anger), moha (delusion), lobha (greed), matsarya (sloth), and mada (envy)]—”will, one by one, go completely” (Stern and Summerbell 35), revealing the Universal Self. In this way, the correct, diligent practice of Ashtanga Yoga under the direction of a Guru “with a subdued mind unshackled from the external and internal sense organs” (Jois 2002 22) eventually leads one to the full realization of Patanjali’s eight-limbed yoga.


Works Cited
“Ashtanga Yoga.” Ashtanga Yoga Research Institute: Method. 2001. 11 June 2003 <>.
Flynn, Kimberly. “FAQ.” Ashtanga Yoga Shala: Articles. 2001. 11 June 2003 <>.
Jois, Sri K. Pattabhi. “An Informal Public Talk on Traditional Yoga.” NAMARUPA Spring 2003: 9-12.
Jois, Sri K. Pattabhi. Yoga Mala. New York: North Point Press, 2002.
Pace, Annie. “Ashtanga Yoga in the Tradition of Sri K. Pattabhi Jois.” Articles. 1998. 11 June 2003 <>.
Scott, John. Ashtanga Yoga: The Definitive Step-by-Step Guide to Dynamic Yoga. New York: Three Rivers Press, 2000.
Stern, Eddie, and Deirdre Summerbell. Sri K. Pattabhi Jois: A Tribute. New York: Eddie Stern and Gwyneth Paltrow, 2002.
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Yoga Sutra #47

Beauty, grace, strength, and adamantine hardness
constitute bodily perfection.

Yoga Sutras #28 and #29

By the practice of the limbs of Yoga, the impurities dwindle away and there dawns the light of wisdom, leading to discriminative discernment.

The 8 limbs of Yoga are:

  1. yama (abstinence)
  2. niyama (observance)
  3. asana (posture)
  4. pranayama (breath control)
  5. pratyahara (sense withdrawal)
  6. dharana (concentration)
  7. dhyana (meditation)
  8. samadhi (contemplation, absorption, or super-conscious state)

Yoga Sutra #5

Ignorance is regarding the impermanent as permanent,
the impure as pure,
the painful as pleasant,
and the non-Self as the Self.

Yoga Sutra #36

To one established in truthfulness,
actions and their results become subservient.

Yoga Sutra #33

By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy,
compassion for the unhappy,
delight in the virtuous,
and disregard for the wicked,
the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.