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.

This spring, students in Patricia’s Friday evening Level III/IV/Aspiring Teachers have been studying the second pada of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. As part of our discussions on the relationship between purusha and prakrti, I created a table showing the 25 tattvas of prakrti (adapted from Table 9 in BKS Iyengar’s Light on the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali). Here is a copy of it.

From contentment and benevolence of consciousness comes supreme happiness.
— Sutra II.42, BKS Iyengar: Light on the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali

In times of uncertainty and insecurity, how can we achieve lasting happiness? How do we find contentment in our discontent? It is interesting to note that Patanjali lists santosha (contentment) as one of the five niyamas, implying that it is not just a state of mind, but something to be practiced and cultivated.

Reflect on those times in your day when you’ve been content. How long does your contentment last? What are the circumstances in which it arose? Are the circumstances in which contentment arises always the same?

As we ask ourselves these questions, we can see that there are different kinds of happiness that can arise in our lives. One form of happiness is that which arises when the senses experience something pleasurable (Sutra II. 7). This kind of happiness is transient and fleeting. Pleasure of the senses ignites desire, craving, and attachment, and so inevitably brings sorrow.

Another kind of happiness can come from success. When we accomplish something, the ego is gratified. This kind of happiness is also fleeting. The ego that is attached to “gain and fame” becomes fearful of losing these things and angry when presented with inevitable disappointments.

A third kind of happiness comes from serving others. The happiness that comes from doing work that benefits others is more sattvic than sensory pleasure or gratification of the ego. When done with a devoted heart and the absence of ego, it gives us a glimpse of what true contentment can be.

True contentment is achieved when the mind is free of rajas and tamas (Sutra II. 41). The sattvic mind is a mind that is firmly seated in Self, and able to discriminate between temporary happiness and abiding joy. With worldly sources of happiness, there is always the threat of it going away, but true contentment cannot be diminished. When our practice of asana and pranayama finds just the right balance of effort and non-attachment, it helps us to make the mind steady and benevolent. Perhaps you’ve experienced this after a good practice and a deep savasana. Instead of hankering after things you don’t have, or wanting things to be different than they are, you are able to surrender and accept things as they are. You are able to see from the deepest part of yourself, which remains unshaken and undisturbed by external changes.

When we cultivate acceptance, the mind remains equal and calm in all situations. This means accepting whatever comes as a gift from God, not comparing ourselves to others, and wanting nothing that we don’t already have. As Nisargadatta Maharaj observed, “You always want what you don’t have, and don’t want what you have.” True contentment comes from accepting everything that comes unsought, and not seeking anything that does not come unsought.

Join Patricia Walden for a special workshop on April 18, 2009 with asana, pranayama, and discussion.

April 18, 2009, 10:30 am – 6:00 pm
Cambridge Masonic Hall, 1950 Massachusetts Avenue, Porter Square, Cambridge
Students must have a minimum of two years of experience with the Iyengar method to attend this workshop.
For more information, contact Phyllis at 781.648.3455 or email info@yoganow.net.

Below follows the information from Patricia’s discussion in Tuesday night class, 10 February 2009.  Patricia invites you to comment on your experiences, should you wish.

1.3 Tada  drastah svarupe avasthanam;  then the seer abides  in her/his own true splendour

Chant OM at the beginning of each practice. Read sutras 1.27 and 1.28

Choose one of the following families of asanas to focus on over this 3 week period ( February 10th – March 3rd)

Families of Asanas

  • Standing asanas
  • Forward bending (standing and seated)
  • Twists (standing and seated)
  • Backbends
  • Inversions; headstand, shoulder stand, plow
  • Supine ( baddha konasana, supta virasana, supta swaztikasana, supported setu bandha sarvangasana)
  • Seated asanasa ( baddha konasana, virasana, dandasana, upavista konasana).

Incorporate some of the asanas from the family that you chose each day, or in each practice session.

Twice a week, do all the asanas from the family you have chosen. For example:  do all the standing forward bends and seated forward bends that you have learned.


Include inversions in each practice.

  • Always do sirsasana before salamba sarvangasana. 
  • Always do passive, cooling asanas after sarvangasana and halasana.
  •  End each practice with savasana ( at least 10 minutes)


Do a restorative practice once a week. If you are going through a stressful time, do a restorative practice more than once a week.

Begin a pranayama practice. Start by doing 10 minutes


Cultivate Understanding

  • Observe one external thing that is sabotaging your evolutionand or practice
  • Observe one internal thing that is sabotaging your evolution or practice.
  • One external  thing that is contributing to your evolution.
  • One internal thing.
  • Write your observations down.
  • Observe one external thing that inspires you.
  • Observe one internal thing that inspires you
  • Write your observations down.


Yama and Niyama

  • Commit to one for the 3 week period
  • Is there a quality that you would like to cultivate


Other suggestions:

  • Have an overall Intention ( sankalpa)  for this 3 week period.
  • Read a sutra or a sloka form the Bhagavad Gita before your practice, or before you sleep
  • If you miss a practice or practices,   begin again with a positive mind.
  • It’s  never too late to brake the chain.


Regular practices brings  joy, contentment and self knowledge.