1.5 The movements of the consciousness are fivefold. They may be cognizable or non-cognizable, painful or non-painful.
[from BKS Iyengar]
Those gross and subtle thought patterns fall into five varieties, of which some are colored and others are uncolored
The vibrations in the mento-emotional energy are five-fold being agonizing or none-troublesome.
By ‘movements of the consciousness’ or ‘vibrations in the mento-emotional energy’, it means our experiences, thoughts and memories. This sutra is saying that there are five ways in which our mind can be disturbed by such things (an explanation of the five ways follows in 1.6).
This website gives some alternative interpretations for the coloured / uncoloured dichotomy:
- klishta — aklishta
- painful — not painful
- not useful — useful
- afflicted — not afflicted
- impure — pure
- troubled — not troubled
- negative — positive
- vice — virtue
- away from enlightenment — towards enlightenment
- resulting in bondage — resulting in freedom
The practice of yoga can help to eradicate these pains or troubles. In our daily lives we can be aware of things which cloud our minds, through practicing mindfulness, as a way to get back to seeing things as they really are without judgement or interpretation. There is a good article here on Zen Buddhism and its fascination with the mundane activities of everyday life. In the West, we are very much preoccupied with the extraordinary things which might happen. But Zen values the mundane, everyday activities, such as washing the dishes. To be truly mindful, when you wash the dishes, wash the dishes – with no detachment or thinking of what you are having for dinner, that argument with your partner or how much washing you have to get done. Just wash the dishes, feel the temperature of the water on your hands, the squidginess of the sponge, the hardness of the plate, etc. If thoughts about other things come into your mind, just notice them, and let them pass. Don’t force them away, but gently guide your mind back to the task in hand. This is a good way to be more present and to be aware of the distractions in our minds moment-to-moment.
1.4 At other times, the seer identifies with the fluctuating consciousness
[from BKS Iyengar]
At other times, when one is not in Self-realization, the Seer appears to take on the form of the modifications of the mind field, taking on the identity of those thought patterns.
At other times, there is conformity with the mento-emotional energy.
The ‘other times’ referred to here are the times when we are not practising yoga, or are not seeing things as they really are (because of the kleshas or afflictions, such as jealousy, anger, fear, etc). When we are not aware of the true nature of things, we are caught up in sensory experience, the thoughtstream, and even identify ourselves with those thoughts and experiences, not seeing ourselves as distant from them.
As an example, let us imagine that we notice a thought in our heads which states that we are not good at such and such an activity. We may start to believe this as a fact, rather than just notice it as a construct of our minds. Then, when we next do such and such an activity, this thought may actually influence our ability to perform the task. Both yogic and Buddhist philosophy argue for the need to detach ourselves from our thoughts, that we are not those thoughts, we just have the thoughts. The thoughts are not us, just in our heads. Of course, it is not always easy to gain this distance from our thoughtstream / memories / sensory experience, but the path to doing so is that of the eight limbs – asana, pranayama, meditation, the yamas and niyamas (coming soon!).
1.3 Then, the seer dwells in his own true splendour
[from BKS Iyengar’s Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali]
Then the Seer abides in Itself, resting in its own True Nature, which is called Self-realization.
Then the perceiver is situated in his own form
This relates closely to 1.2, so that by practising yoga, one can see the true nature of the self. Iyengar says that when the consciousness (or mind) is stilled, it is no longer distorted, and its true nature can be seen. This is very similar to Buddhist philosophy, where the process of meditation (obviously without asana) removes the obstacles from the mind and allows us to see our true nature. These obstacles / afflictions or ‘kleshas‘ in Buddhism include strong emotions (anger, fear, jealousy) which cloud our ability to see the nature of reality.
The difference in language between the yoga sutras and Buddhist philosophy is interesting. The yogic view stresses restraint and regulation of the mind, whereas (to my understanding) the Buddhist view is to simply be aware of the affliction as it arises, and that awareness removes its cloud over our ability to see things as they really are. There are obvious parallels with psychotherapy here, too. The therapy process, particularly Gestalt therapy and also psychoanalytic therapy, emphasises being aware of how our minds interpret the world around us, which is not necessarily how the world really is.
So to my mind, this sutra is emphasising that this eight-limbed path can lead to clearer thinking and the ability to see things as they are, without being clouded by thought or false interpretation.
1.2 Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness
[Other interpretations:Yoga is the control of the modifications (gross and subtle thought patterns) of the mind field
The skill of yoga is demonstrated by the conscious non-operation of the vibrational modes of the mentoemotional energy.]
So this sutra is attempting to define the practice of yoga. Note that by ‘yoga’, this does not just mean ‘asana’ or postures (what we in the West think of as yoga), but the whole package of yogic practices. By practising the yamas and niyamas (more on that story later), by controlling the breath through pranayama, connecting the body and mind through asana practice, and through withdrawing the senses and meditating, then we can control the mind. By ‘control’, it means quietening, stilling, and regulation, rather than suppression or repression.
I think I prefer Iyengar’s interpretation here (the first one), as it is the most succinct. It does not attempt to state why quietening the mind is desirable, just that it is the goal of yogic practices. A noisy mind is definitely an issue for me, it’s a real conscious effort to slow things down and turn the volume down up there (and I’m not always successful). Once that happens, then it is easier to see and experience things as they really are, not our interpretation of them (which is often inaccurate).
What I struggle most with is time management. I get to the end of each day feeling like I’ve achieved little and wondering where the time went. A couple of years ago I went down to working two and a half days a week, thinking it would improve my work-life balance. It has, to a point. I am no longer so tired on my days off that I don’t have the energy to do anything, but am still left feeling scattered.
I think I am guilty of trying to do too much, and achieving too little. I’m always trying new things, new hobbies, but feel I don’t stick at things. Am I looking for sense gratification? Probably. I take too much on, too many commitments. But maybe this is my obsession with ‘achieving’. Maybe it’s ok to try things, just for the experience of trying them, without a need to ‘achieve’ anything.
I struggle to maintain a regular asana / pranayama / meditation practice. Partly because having a 7yr old who doesn’t play on her own much in the house does not always make for ideal conditions, interruptions, etc. The other part is because I live in a small two-bedroom flat – if I want to do yoga, I have to do it in the lounge due to lack of space, and if everyone else wants to eat their breakfast then that’s not ideal either. In a few weeks we are moving to a much larger house, I could even have a whole room dedicated to yoga. I look forward to that. But then I shall have no excuses.
When I d have time, another issue is that of eating. If I have the luxury of practising asanas in the morning (which I prefer), then I can have a strong coffee and get going. If I practice later in the day, the issue of how long since the last meal becomes an issue. If it’s a work day, then I’m always famished when I come in, and it’s hard to find the right-sized snack. Ah, but I procrastinate…
1.1 With prayers for divine blessings, now begins an exposition of the sacred art of yoga.
So I’m going to blog a new verse of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali every few days, and some thoughts about it. The version I’m reading is BKS Iyengar’s ‘Light on the Yoga Sutras…’ which has a commentary from the man himself. The Yoga Sutras were written over 2000 years ago and outline how yoga (not just asana, but the whole system) can help to develop the mind, emotions and physical body for spiritual end. I should say that Iyengar’s translation is not the only one available, and there is some debate about whether this is the most accurate translation, so I shall refer to these as I go along. The Yoga Sutras are divided into four padas or quarters, the first dealing with samadhi or where the consciousness becomes one with the subject of meditation. This feels like starting at the end, as this is the final limb in Patanjali’s system, but perhaps this will become apparent as I read through it.
This verse is translated here as:
Now, after having done prior preparation through life and other practices, the study and practice of Yoga begins.
And here as:
Now I give the explanation of yoga and its practice.
These are quite different from Iyengar’s version, there are no references to the divine or blessings, they are more pragmatic in nature. Iyengar states that Patanjali also wrote sutras on grammar and ayurvedic medicine before he wrote the yoga sutras, so perhaps these are the ‘other practices’ referred to here.
As a non-believer in any sort of ‘god’, I struggled with Iyengar’s version when I saw it. In my world there is little place for ‘blessings’ (of what? by whom?), and referring to yoga as a ‘sacred’ art is difficult. I can interpret ‘sacred’ as ‘spiritual’ and take meaning from it that way, that this yogic path is a practical one for spiritual ends.
So I’m trying to live by the yamas and niyamas, and practice asana, pranayama and meditation. This blog is a light-hearted look at the challenges of doing this in the modern world, not always that easy. Whilst in the fifties we were promised the “leisure society”, a world of technology and labour-saving devices. But where did it go? People are tied to their jobs even more by Blackberries, meaning they are never off duty.
A couple of years ago I chose to drop my hours at work and do only two and a half days a week. Work was taking over, and I needed a better work-life balance. But even now, I often wonder where the time goes each week. Each moment is precious, but it’s often hard to make the most of it, hence this blog and the “spiritual boot camp” I’m on. Lack of time feels like the single biggest challenge to this lifestyle change. Yes, in an ideal world I could do 90mins of ashtanga primary series, another hour of meditation and pranayama. But with a 7yr old, a job, family life in general means it’s not always that easy. Opportunities for meditation are often interrupted. I guess it’s about making it a priority in your day, but at the moment this feels like a struggle.