II.1 तप:स्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि क्रियायोगः

Sādhana Pāda 

In Chapter One, Patañjali has defined yoga as nirodha (I.2), described why it is needed, explained how it works (I.12), and given an overview of the journey that is yoga. Here he begins again. “Let me now express it this way,” he seems to say. Many have observed that the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali are more a practical handbook than a philosophical treatise, and the re-telling of yoga that Patañjali commences here suggests a mood of friendliness, helpfulness to the practitioner. This text is a guide for those who are doing yoga. (The 72 stanzas of the Sāṅkhya-Kārikā, in contrast, are more systematic, present a complete cosmology. The Yoga Sūtras share much of the language of the Sāṅkhya system, but its purpose is distinct. As Patañjali states in I.49, yoga takes us to a knowledge beyond concept.)

Chapter Two is known as the Sādhana Pāda, the chapter on practice, and many commentators, beginning with Vyāsa, have described it as the chapter for beginners, the method needed to approach what is considered a higher level of practice in the first chapter, a kind of precursor to what has gone before. It does not read to me this way, and I wonder if this interpretation stems from the zeal to systematize what is, essentially, non-systematic.

Nevertheless, the Sādhana Pāda is perhaps the most practical and approachable of the four chapters. The first half opens with a discussion of suffering, delves into human psychology and the nature of nature.  The second half presents the first five of the eight limbs of yoga–the yamas and the niyamas, āsana, prāṇāyāma, pratyāhāra. (Iyengar yoga teachers begin their study of Patañjali there.) The chapter is beautiful and heartful.

tapaḥ-svādhyāyeśvara-praṇidhānāni kriyā-yogaḥ
tapaḥ-svādhyaya-īśvara-praṇidhānāni kriyā-yogaḥ

The actions of yoga are discipline, self-study, and trust in the source of one’s being.”

Patañjali introduces the term kriyā-yoga, which I have translated as “the actions of yoga.” Kriyā derives from kṛ, “to do,” and means doing, performing; it can refer to a sacred act or religious rite, such as a fire ceremony. There is repetitive nature to it; the fire must be lit each day. B.K.S. Iyengar says kriyā yoga is practice.

There are three types of  action in yoga, Patañjali says. Or, put another way, the actions of yoga are threefold. (In the first chapter, Patañjali described a twofold dynamic to yoga: abhyāsa and vairagya; BKS describes them as “the two wings of the bird,” both necessary to flight.) They are tapas, svādhyāya, and īśvara praṇidhāna. Each of these terms resonate with subtlety of meaning and implication. Practice reveals their charge.

There was a time that I related to tapas (from tap, “to be hot”) primarily as discipline, the lighting of the fire, the heat of effort. Today, as I consider the term, I also relate to the aspect of tapas that is pain. Not because I intend to inflict pain on myself when I practice, but because I have come to know over the years the discomfort of changing patterns in myself, the burn of blunders I have made, the rawness of increased understanding and insight.

Sanskrit teacher and yoga practitioner Vyaas Houston understands tapas to be transformation (see his translation in the Sanskrit Atlas). Rohit Mehta takes its essential meaning to be a life of simplicity. B.K.S. Iyengar, in his later book Core of the Yoga Sūtras, says tapas is action.

Svādhyāya (from sva, “self, one’s own” + adhī, “to study”), traditionally understood to be the study of sacred texts and repetition of mantra, is the study of “what is one’s own.” It is the study of the self in the ordinary sense of one’s own behaviors and reactions, and  it is the discover of the self beyond that self, the self at the core of that self. All of yoga is, in a sense, that discovery, the removing of layers to find what is real.

B.K.S. Iyengar was a strong proponent of āsana and prāṇāyāma as svādhyāya. The study of the body in action, he taught,  is a study of ourselves. Āsana and prāṇāyāma awaken the intelligence of the body, and we become more truly who we are, more integrated in intention and effectiveness. The physical practice, he writes in Light on Life, takes us on an inward journey that reveals ourselves to ourselves.

In sūtra I.23, Patañjali declared īśvara praṇidhāna to be a direct means to nirodha, a kind of alternative to all other practices. With its inclusion as one of the three elements of kriyā yoga (and with its additional inclusion–II.45–as a niyama, one of the eight limbs of yoga), Patañjali suggests that it plays a role in all practice, like an underlying rhythm or stream. Patañjali has explored the meaning of īśvara (from īś, to own) in six sūtras in Chapter One (I.23-28). There he describes īśvara as the original teacher, the way to the destination, and the destination itself. Though some may call īśvara God, it is not necessary to do so.

Praṇidhāna is to place before, as one might place an offering at an altar. It can be translated as devotion, surrender, or, as Rohit Mehta does, turning towards. I have expressed it above as trust.

In my experience, practice requires trust. In a way, practice is a great risk. We have to come out of hiding, show up, care. In the daily return, the lighting of the fire once more, we affirm that we go on.


“In this section, Patañjali gives a detailed map of the land of Yoga for those spiritual aspirants who wish to traverse that land. … Yoga requires instruments which are precise and delicate like physical science. But while science deals with matter, a comparatively inert substance, Yoga is concerned with mind, which is intensely dynamic and therefore tremendously elusive. The genius of Patañjali has, however, transformed Yoga into a veritable science where the elusive mind is rendered an effective instrument, utterly precise and extraordinarily delicate.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 105

“The path to realization, or sādhana, is of no use unless one travels it. Action, or kriyā, is required for most of us. … For Patañjali, discipline, or tapas (literally, “heat”) provides the energy; self-study (svādhyāya) serves as the road map; and pure awareness, as exemplified by the divine īśvara, is the destination.” –Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 22

“Action in yoga is tapas. This term stands also for zeal or passion for the subject. Extending and expanding the intellect of the head with the intelligence of the mind in the practice of āsana, prāṇāyāma and dhyāna is svādhyāya. Making the core of the being to come in contact with, intermingle and make his presence felt in the cells of the body is īśvara praṇidhāna.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sūtras, p. 111

“Patañjali gives first place to tapas, which can be translated as austerity, but which truly denotes a life of simplicity. Austerity demands the putting away of all non-essentials. There is a dignity in simple living which one can never find in ostentation. … Along with this simplicity, there must be self-study, which is not so much a matter of reading books as of quiet reflection. For most people, thinking never starts–they live on what other people have thought about. In our educative process, too, we are generally told ‘what’ to think but never ‘how’ to think. In this sūtra, Patañjali asks the spiritual aspirant to begin thinking for himself. This indeed is self-study. With simplicity of living and the development of a reflective frame of mind, one will be able to formulate one’s aspirations. The word used is iśvara-prañidhāna, which means turning towards God. Here the word ‘God’ obviously refers to one’s highest and noblest aspirations. It is not something anthropomorphic but symbolizes something that is noblest to which one can aspire.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 106-7

•If you were to name three elements essential to practice for you, what would they be? What would be your personal translation of the three components of practice that Patañjali has given? That is, how do these terms speak to you?
•Is discipline an active part of your day?  How so? Has this always been true? Has the meaning of discipline changed for you over time?
•What means do you use to understand the self? How do you seek to know ultimate reality?
•What role does surrender play in your practice? Trust?


neuter noun in compound

discipline, fire, pain (from tap, “to be hot, blaze, burn”)


masculine noun in compound

self-study; traditionally, study of sacred books and repetition of mantra (from sva, “self, one’s own” + adhī, “to study, to go fully into”; root verb is i, “to go”)


masculine noun in compound

owner (from īś, “to own,” + vṛ, “to choose”)


neuter noun, final element of compound with 1st case plural ending (plural because compound is a list of three things)

devotion, surrender, contemplation (from pra-, towards + ni-, “under,” + dhā, “to place, support”)


feminine noun in compound

doing, action, performance, purificatory rite, practice (from kṛ, “to do”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

yoga (from yuj, “to yoke, to connect”)

One thought on “II.1 तप:स्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि क्रियायोगः

  1. Dearest Julia,

    I am in appreciative awe of this exploration in how yoga can interface and be applied to some of the most subtle and yet necessary questions on what it means to be human in its full potentiality. There are many internal, responsive dialogues that has arisen and I wish that you were here so we can contemplate it together, eye to I and heart to heart….

    Blessings Julia

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