II.9 स्वरसवाही विदुषोऽपि तथारूढोऽभिनिवेशः

sva-rasa-vāhī viduṣo ‘pi tathā rūḍho ‘bhiniveśaḥ
sva-rasa-vāhī viduṣaḥ api tathā rūḍhaḥ abhiniveśaḥ

“By its very nature, abhiniveśa [the resolve to live] flows on; indeed, it is therefore rooted in the wise.”

The fifth affliction, abhiniveśa, has been translated as clinging to life, the will to live, fear of death. The word–in contexts other than the Yoga Sūtras–means commitment, resolve, determination. Its literal meaning could be understood to be “toward continuing to enter, or dwell.” It is thus a determination to continue to live. It is a commitment to life—a positive and beautiful trait, so powerful that, Patañjali tells us here, it is viduṣaḥ api tathā rūḍhaḥ, “indeed, therefore rooted in the wise.” The wise are not reckless of life. They value their own.

In myself, I know that abhiniveśa can take a morbid turn. My desire for continuity transmutes into an attempt to keep things as they are, create safety and security through control. This is a hopeless task, as writer Seth Godin describes here in a pretty amusing way:

Perhaps your job in life, your purpose, is to get all the frogs in a bowl and keep them there. As soon as we get a few frogs in the bowl, they jump out, and we have to start all over again. Wouldn’t it be great, we wonder, if we could just find stability, if everything would work out just the way we hope, if finally, finally all the frogs were in the bowl? And then what would happen? If you’ve signed up for the job of frog trainer, it’s worth understanding that the only way to actually end up with an entire bowl of stable frogs (every single frog) is to euthanize the frogs. And where is the joy in a bowl of dead frogs? —from Fail Fail Again Fail Better, by Pema Chodron

Life is dynamic. We cannot fix it. Nail it down. And we can’t make it stay the same. Children grow up. Parents grow old. The most orderly life, the most serene schedule, will be shaken to its foundations at some point. Life moves on.

Patañjali expresses the drive to continue in the phrase sva-rasa-vāhī (sva, “self,” + rasa, “taste, inclination,” + vāhī, “a thing that flows”). Abhiniveśa, like life, is a thing that flows; it is its nature to do so.

The conundrum that I experience, as frustrated frog trainer, is that my idea of continuation is different from nature’s. The continuation of nature is the rolling of the seasons, the shift of the tides, the rising and setting of days, nights, eras, epochs. I, in contrast, suffer from the attempt to create what Rohit Mehta calls “psychological continuity”: a projection of my own idea of myself, and of the surroundings that are familiar to me, forward in time.

Jaganath Carrera writes that yogis must be like snakes, ready to shed their skins and be reborn. It is the very sense of continuity, says B.K.S. Iyengar, that allows yogis to be adaptable to change— even to death—as the life force, “active while he is alive, merges with the universe when it leaves his body.”

As I consider abhiniveśa, I am drawn to also look at depression, a common affliction among people I know, and one that I experience. Depression, as I know it, is a kind of failure of the will to live, a faltering of the life force. It is often accompanied by, perhaps triggered by, feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. In this last year and a half, I have experienced the events happening in United States politics to be monumentally discouraging: the rollback of environmental regulations, destruction of programs for the poor, attacks on public schools, persecution of immigrants, give-away of public lands, the promotion of fossil fuels and increase in tax cuts and protections for the rich.

These are bad times. In this whirlwind of catastrophe, it is a challenge to recover my ground, to gain footing, indeed, to take one step.

My yoga practice has been a reliable help to me—not because it distracts me from political news, but because it helps me recover myself so that I can engage. I enter into my body to step back into the great continuity. In the buffeting winds of this time, it is important to live.

Le vent se lève… ! Il faut tenter de vivre!
—Paul Valéry


“It is one of the strangest things of life that man seeks security and continuity for that which is forever in flux.…Life can be experienced, it cannot be held. Abhiniveśa is an attempt to hold life in the framework which the sense of I-ness has created. In other words, it is an attempt to catch life in the network of the mind. It needs to be realized that what is caught and held is something dead—it has no quality of livingness in it.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, The Art of Integration, p. 115

“Love of life is sustained by life’s own force. This urge for self-perpetuation is so strong that it does not spare even the wise, and is an affliction for them and the ignorant alike….While practicing āsana, prāṇāyāma or dhyāna, the sādhaka penetrates deep within himself. He experiences unity in the flow of intelligence, and the current of self-energy. In this state, he perceives that there is no difference between life and death, that they are simply two sides of the same coin. He understands that the current of self, the life-force, active while he is alive, merges with the universe when it leaves his body at death. Through this understanding, he loses his attachment to life and conquers the fear of death.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.9.

“Change, even if it is beneficial, can be stressful. Yogis need to be prepared to let go of any conceptions of who they are and what life is about. They need to be primed for the transformation that results from the yogic life. They are like snakes constantly shedding their skins, being reborn as new and better beings.” –Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras, p. 114

•  Consider the pose śavāsana. What is the experience of it for you? What is it like after standing poses? Backbends? Forward bends?
• How do you react to change? What are the physical, mental responses? Do you seek to control the uncontrollable? What is an example of that?
• How does yoga practice affect your experience of the life force in you? What is the shift of intelligence or perspective that it brings?
• Has yoga practice influenced your views of death?


noun in compound (understood 5th case, “due to”)

by its own nature, due to its own momentum (from sva, “its own,” + ras, “to taste”; literally, “due to its own taste”


masculine noun, 1st case singular

that which flows (from vah, “to flow”)


masculine noun, 6th case singular

of the knowing person, the wise one (from vid, “to know”)



indeed, so, true!



thus, in this way


past passive participle, 1st case singular

rooted (from ruh, “to grow”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular
resolve to live, determination (abhi- , “towards,”+ ni, “continuance,” + viś, “to enter”; the verb abhiniviś means “to dwell or occupy”)

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