Review of Important Sutras for Beginning Students:

We chant them all in Sanskrit then read English translations aloud.

Patricia asks students to memorize the eight limbs.

Sutra 1.5 — the Pancha Vrttis or five fluctuations.  When we are not in a state of yoga this is where we are.  Non-painful thoughts are sattvic thoughts.  Read sutra 1.8.

For next week look over five vrttis, especially the first two vrttis  in sutra 1.6.

As you begin to learn about the different vrttis (mental fluctuations) take time to occationally sit and identify what types of thoughts you are having according to the vrttis.

Smrti is on of the vrttis – conscious memory.  Samskaras are subliminal impressions that create the vrttis.  Everything we do, think, feel is imprinted (in the samskaras) — there’s no escape unless we restrain our thoughts and actions, which is the ultimate aim of yoga.


Definiton of yoga

1.2  yogah cittavritti nirodhah

Yoga is the cessation of the movements of consciousness

1.3 tada drastuh svarupe avasthanam

Then, the seer dwells in her/his own true splendour

1.4 vrtti svarupyam itaratra

At other times the seer identifies with the fluctuating consciousness.

Defintion of practice and non attachment

1.12  abhyasa vairagyabhyam tannirodhah

Practice and detachment are the means to still the movements of consciousness

1.13  tatra sthitau yatnah abhyasah

Practice is the steadfast effort to still the fluctuations in the consciousness

1.14 sa tu dirghakala nairantarya satkara asevitah drdhabhumih

Long, uninterrupted, alert practice is the firm foundation for restraining the fluctuations

The eight limbs of yoga

2. 29  yama niyama asana pranayama pratyahara dharana dhyana samadhayah astau angani

Moral injunctions ( yama), fixed observances (niyama), posture ( asana), regulation of breath (pranayama),  internalization of the senses toward their source ( pratyahara),  concentration (dharana), meditation (dhyana)  and absorption of consciousness in the self (samadhi), are the eight constituents of yoga.

Definition of asana

2.46 sthira sukham asanam

Asana is perfect firmness of body, steadiness of intelligence and benevolence of spirit.

2.47 prayatna saithiyla ananta samapattibhyam

Perfection in asana is reached only when the effort to perform it becomes effortless and the infinite being is reached.

2.48 tatah dvandvah anabhigatah

From then on the sadhaka is undisturbed by dualities

Obstacles to practice

1.30 vyadhi styana samsaya pramada alasya avirati bhrantidarsana alabhdhabhumihkatva

anavasthitstvani cittaviksepah te antarayah

Thes obstacles are disease, inertia, doubt heedlessness, laziness, indiscipline of the senses, erroneous views, lack of perseverance and backsliding

Causes of human suffering

3.3 avidya asmita raga dvesha abhinevesha klesha

The five afflictions which disturb the equalibrium of consciouness are: ignorance or lack of wisdom, ego, pride of the ego or the sense of “I”, attachment to pleasure, aversion to painm fear of death and clinging to life


Happy New Year!

Patricia is back from India and has resumed the Tuesday night pre-class discussion.

This evening we chanted sutras 2.29-2.48 together.

Patricia pointed out that sutra 2.34 is an important sutra for meditation (and removing the obstacles that arise.)

She also pointed out the connection between sutras 2.42 and 2.43 and asked students to think about why these two sutras are put together.

We spent some time discussion sutra 2.44 on Svadyaya — self study and the forms that this can take: reading the scriptures, dealing with the psychological body (in therapy — not necessary for all, but very good for some people.)

We chanted sutras 2.46-2.48 together several times in a row and then chanted sutra 2.29, the eight limbs of astanga yoga.

Patricia asks students to please memorize sutra 1.6 in English.  This sutra teaches us the five vrttis: correct knowledge, illusion, delusion, sleep and memory.

What does Patanjali tell us is the state of yoga? What happens when the mind is stilled and quiet?  When we are in that state of quiet, we dwell in our own true nature.  When we are not in that state, it’s because we are identified with the chitta vrttis (fluctuating consciousness).  Sutras 1.2-1.4

As best we can, we try to reach this eternal state through asana, pranayama, pratyahara, dharana, dhyana.  Sometimes our vrttis are so strong that we believe we are our own experience.  Over time, we can discipline our consciousness to see that this isn’t so.

We chant sutras 2.1-2.4.  Kriya yoga, introduced in these sutras is the path of action.  It is easy to relate to, especially relative to the first chapter of the sutras in which, with the exception of the obstacles, Patanjali is describing experiences that most of us haven’t had.   Review of kriya yoga: Tapas – burning zeal; Svadyaya – study of one’s highest nature through sacred texts, chanting sacred sounds, living and examined life (this is not the classic interpretation); Isvara Pranidhana – devotion and surrender.

Kriya yoga gives us tools for dealing with our difficulties wisely.  Guruji says that when we’re dealing with difficult behaviors, especially emotional and mental, it is important to go to the root.  In the course of the discussion, Patricia points out that you don’t have to wait to understand the root of a behavior before you take action to stop it.  But once you stop it, it is important to continue to examine and understand it so that you can get to the root.

The tapas, or discipline of dealing with and letting go of behaviors that no longer serve us is like a series of small deaths — where something dies so something else can be reborn.  In this process, we bring compassionate attention to the things that are not serving us well and build support (through practice and community) in order to help ourselves let go of what is not needed.

We review the homework from last week.  Did anyone have insights from sutra 2.4? 2.4 says “Lack of true knowledge is the source of all pains and sorrows whether dormant, attenuated, interrupted or fully active.”  Issues in our lives that are mostly dormant can be the ones that require the most compassion when they flare up because we tend to think we’ve resolved them and that when they seemingly come out of nowhere, it feels like we’re not making progress.  We are, we just need to be vigilant.  An example of attenuated its more present in our daily lives — like a desire for chocolate, but it’s not very strong.  Interrupted is when you wake up one day and hit snooze many times and then the next get out of bed and practice, back and forth like that.  Fully blown is when we are completely identified with the vrtti.

The holidays are a good opportunity for exploring this sutra and beginning to practice the principles of kriya yoga — examining ourselves in relationship to events and people that deeply trigger us in positive and negative ways.

For homework, memorize sutra 1.6 and 2.1-2.4 in English.  Learn these sutras and paraphrase them for yourself.  Begin to explore the practice of Patanjali’s kriya yoga in your life.

Patricia leads chant of yamas and niyamas and sutras 2.1-2.4

Sutra 2.4 — Lack of true knowledge is the source of all pain and sorrows, whether dormant, attenuated, interrupted or fully active.

Homework for next time: Study sutra 2.4 and your relationship to it.

Patricia points out that Thanksgiving is in two days and this is a good time to feel gratitude.  We tend to experience the world through our own citta (mind stuff), so if we’re in a negative state we tend to see the world from this state.

In order to feel gratitude, we have to be in our hearts.  In Light on Life, Guruji says we need to learn how to exhale and use the exhalation to pierce through the negative emotions and go deeper into the boundless joy of the heart.  Then we are able to penetrate the koshas (sheaths of the body).

Take a dip into the deep joy of your heart in class tonight and see your life from this perspective.  Look at all aspects of your life in these last few years, both joyful and challenging, and try to see them with a neutral mind (which is what the yogi endeavors to do) and appreciate what you’ve learned.  When you view your life from this perspective, eventually you become more able to appreciate the divine core of each person, no matter how much they challenge you.

Patricia says that one of  her mantras for many years has been “Even in the darkest times, find one thing to be grateful for.”  She mentions the book Grace and Grit which chronicles  Ken Wilbur’s and his wife’s  equanimous approach to dealing with her breast cancer — that the path to enlightenment was feeling gratitude even in the most difficult of times.



One student asks how can you be a good friend to someone who’s been diagnosed with a serious illness.  Patricia responds that it’s usually best to listen and be real with them and respect how they are dealing.

Students share stories of those in their lives who faced death with courage.  One student points out that in these intense moments of birth and death we have more immediate access to the deeper layers of our being (penetrating the koshas) and that we can remember those times to help us move more deeply into our practice.

Patricia says we are practicing pranayama, so it’s the perfect opportunity to go more deeply inward.

Patricia says she assumes that most of her regular Tuesday night students are working with the yamas and niyamas (moral and ethical priciples) in their practice and their lives.

Observe that the yamas and niyamas come half way through the second book.  Why do the kleshas  come first? (We review kleshas : avidya -not knowing; asmita – ego; raga – attachment; dvesa – aversion; abhinivesa – clinging to life.)

The kleshas are the causes of suffering and the yamas and the niyamas are the way out of suffering.

Also, when you look at your own suffering, you begin to see yourself more clearly (vidya).  You need this clear sight in order to understand yourself in relation to yama and niyama.  Patricia makes the distinction between vidya or clear seeing and svadyaya which is reflection upon what you see clearly.  In class review of last week’s discussion (see post 11/10/09).

In terms of  jumping above our level of practice as we discussed last week, ask yourself how this relates to aparigraha or striving.  Why try to be ahead of where you are? Why be where we are not?  One student mentions that when our mind thinks we are supposed to be at a certain point or level (such as the advanced track because we’ve practiced for a certain amount of time) then we just do that without reflection on where we really are.

Patricia asks us to reflect on how our actions affect others.  In the example of the conference, if a teacher comes prepared to teach an advanced class and has many students who are not at that level, then the teacher must teach who’s there and the advanced students who signed up for the appropriate level don’t get taught what they could have learned.

Stand back and witness yourself — how are you working during class? Step back from time to time and reflect as you act.

What we are doing in these discussions is ‘culturing our consciousness’ as Guruji says.  Refining your consciousness so that you can see things in a more subtle and refinded way.  In this process, we use tapas and svadyaya — action and reflection — to create a positive samskara (pattern) in our awareness.

We chant sutras 2.1-2.3

Tonight Patricia asked us to look at:

Avidya — ignorance (not seeing clearly)

Satya — truth

Svadyaya — self study


Tonight we will look at these concepts as they relate to yoga class.   When we are in avidya we are not seeing clearly and therefore cannot be in a state of truth.

Tonight we will look at the striving mind.  At our recent yoga conference, for example, there were three tracks: beginner, intermediate and advanced.  Some beginning and intermediate students signed up for the advanced track.  If you are someone who does this type of thing in your practice, observe yourself.  What is your psychology around this?  Do you always have the mind that you have to be ahead of where you are?

Patricia talked about doing all the poses in the back of Light on Yoga in her twenties and feeling “advanced” for that reason.  The first time she went to Pune with BKS Iyengar she saw how challenging the standing poses and beginners work was for her and how much she needed it for stability and endurance in her practice.

She explained that this is where tapas — being present to who you are and accepting where you are, no matter what is essential.  Sometimes reality is painful but in this practice we need to see ourselves clearly so we can grow and address parts of body and mind that need to be addressed.

Look at sequencing and see how one pose leads to another.  A pose like baddanguliyasana helps to prepare the arms and shoulders for Pinca Mayurasana.  If you are present (tapas) you will be able to use svadyaya (self study) as a road map to guide yourself instead of ending up with a life you didn’t intend.

Homework:  Consider your relationship to avidya, satya, svadyaya for next time.

Discussion on the kleshas

Patricia points out difference between causes of human suffering (2.3) and obstacles (1.30).  We begin discussion of the causes of suffering:

Avidya — not seeing clearly,  spiritual ignorance, mistaking the unreal for the real.

When you are in the thrall of avidya, you are experiencing the world through the veil of ego — like dark clouds shadowing everything.  When we break through avidya we experience vidya — clear seeing like a magnificent, cloudless sky.

What role does asmita  (I am-ness) play in suffering?

2.6 Egoism is the identification of the seer with the instrument of seeing.

When the ego believes it is the doer, it thinks it is in charge and gets in the way of the real self.  We don’t want the ego to control our lives, but on the other hand we need a healthy ego in order to be motivated to live our lives.

Contemplate raga (desire).  Close your eyes for three minutes and observe which desires steer your life.  It can be overwhelming and confusing to begin to contemplate these causes of suffering, but that is normal as you start to figure these things out.


Become a witness to yourself, watch the qualities of your desires throughout the week (ie tamasic -heavy, rajasic – in motion, sattvic -light or luminous).  Simply observe and categorize instead of judging.

About twenty minutes before class on Tuesdays we meet for a discussion of yoga philosophy.

The weekly homework assignments from this discussion will be posted on the blog.  Please post comments from your memories of the class discussion or your thoughts as you do the assignment during the week.

Class Discussion 10/27/09

We chanted Yoga Sutras 2.1-2.9  the kleshas (causes of suffering)

Patricia discussed avidya (ignorance) as a lack of spiritual knowledge.  “When we do not see clearly, we mistake the small self for the true self.  The true self is like a radiant sun — when it is covered by the dark clouds of the kleshas it is impossible to see it.  Suffering takes place when you keep identifying with those things that are transient.”  Yoga gives us tools to work with and transform our samskaras (tendencies).  In previous weeks we discussed sankalpa (intention) as being a key tool.

For next week read Yoga  Sutras 2.6 and 2.7 on asmita, raga and dvesa.


Taking the Next Step

by Patricia Walden and Jarvis Chen

As we begin a new fall semester of classes, we encourage you to dedicate yourself and your practice to Taking the Next Step.

The subject of yoga is a vast ocean, and what we are able to practice in one lifetime is as but a drop in this ocean. Along the way, there are times when we may find that our practice becomes mechanical. We may find ourselves comfortable with what we have accomplished, but unable to move forward on the spiritual path. Or perhaps we discover that we no longer make the progress that we did when we first started out on this journey. At those times, we find that we do not experience the fullness of joy that yoga has to offer.

BKS Iyengar writes that it is like climbing a mountain, when you come to a plateau and find that you are no longer climbing upward. At those times, the mind mistakenly thinks, “I cannot proceed any further.” When we are in that kind of plateau, we must continue to practice, to maintain the ground achieved, and not fall back. But we must also search out that spark of inspiration that helps us to break through spiritual complacency, and to take off in a new direction.

Ask yourself, “What kind of practitioner am I? Mrdu (mild), madhya (medium), adhimatra (intense) (Yoga Sutra I.22)? Can I commit to transforming myself into one who is tivra samveganam – supremely intense?” As Patanjali tells us, “The goal is near for those who are supremely vigorous and intense in practice (Yoga Sutra I. 21).” This “supreme intensity” doesn’t mean that we need to be sweating hard and straining every muscle, however. “Supremely intense” refers to the intensity of awareness and the ability to be fully in the present.

Ask yourself these questions: “What am I missing? What am I capable of?” Bring your sensitivity to bear on your own experience, and recognize the signs of obstacles in your practice. Patanjali tells us that obstacles like disease, idleness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, misapprehension, failure to sustain effort, or backsliding (Yoga Sutra I.30) result in certain signs that we can directly experience in our bodies and minds: these are pain (duhkha), discontent (daurmanasya), uneven breathing (svasa-prasvasa), and unsteadiness of the body (angamejayatva) (Yoga Sutra I.31). We may not know how or why an obstacle has come in our path, but we know its presence when the body shakes, or when the breath gets caught, or when the mind is agitated and unhappy, or remains on the outer surface of the body. These are like clues that we must adjust our practice and bring tapas (discipline), svadhyaya (self-study), and Isvara-pranidhana (surrender) to overcome the obstacles. Recognize that inner voice of frustration that tells you when your practice has stagnated, as that is the voice of that inner intelligence (buddhi) that yearns to move toward the Soul. Then, put a plan into action to Take the Next Step:

• Taking the next step may involve making progress in your practice of asana and pranayama. Choose a pose with which you are having difficulty, and commit to practicing it a minimum of three times a week. Break the pose down into parts, and ask yourself, what actions are coming, what actions are not? Is there a prop I can use to teach myself to improve the needed actions? Can I use movement or the breath to break through tamas? Or is more sensitivity and intelligence of action needed, so that I avoid injury and develop refinement?

• Taking the next step may involve delving more deeply into yoga philosophy. Choose one of the Yoga Sutra-s and read it or chant it at the beginning of your practice. Keep it in mind as you go through your day, and observe how it informs your experience of your life. Come early to class and participate in our group discussions of yoga philosophy, or get together with like-minded practitioners and study the Sutras together.

• Taking the next step may involve deepening qualities, such as kindness, compassion, joy, and equanimity, that we develop from our practice. Do you put as much time into cultivating kindness as you do in trying to achieve a perfect pose? We can practice these qualities in how we treat ourselves while practicing asana, but also carry them into our interactions with others in our life. In a way, we know that our practice is truly bearing fruit when we become kinder, gentler, and more generous human beings.

Whatever you choose to take on as the next step, practice with faith, courage, determination, awareness, and absorption – the “yoga vitamins” (Yoga Sutra I.20). As the Bhagavad Gita says, “Yoga is indeed hard for those who lack self-discipline. But if you keep striving earnestly with devotion in the right way, you can reach it.” (Chapter 6, verse 36). The Bhagavad Gita also tells us that, “No effort on the path is ever lost (Chapter 2, verse 40).” Even if the Next Step that we take is a small step, trust that this step has planted a seed that will yield fruit later in this life or the next.

As Pema Chödrön notes, “The spiritual journey involves going beyond hope and fear, stepping into unknown territory, continually moving forward. The most important aspect of being on the spiritual path may be to just keep moving.”

May your practice lead the mind from attachment to the body to the light of the Soul.