II.28 योगाङ्गानुष्ठानादशुद्धिक्षये ज्ञानदीप्तिराविवेकख्यातेः

yogāṅgānuṣṭhānād aśuddhi-kṣaye jñāna-dīptir ā viveka-khyāteḥ
yoga-aṅga-anuṣṭhānāt aśuddhi-kṣaye jñāna-dīptiḥ ā viveka-khyāteḥ

“From the devoted practice of the limbs of yoga, upon the destruction of impurities, a light of knowledge shines. That brings the realization of discernment.”

Chapter Two of Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras is called “On Practice.” Thus far, Patañjali has focused on why we practice yoga, and on the most profound level, what is happening when we practice. Here, he turns to the presentation of the how of practice — the limbs of yoga.

The practice of the eight limbs of yoga might be called yoga discipline. It is the practical description of principles and techniques that address our relationships, our daily habits, our embodied self, our senses and awareness. This discipline, Patañjali says, removes impurities (aśuddhi-kṣaye), and this removal reveals the light.

So what are the impurities? It is a term we don’t use frequently in modern settings, and comes down to us with strong associations with ascetic and often misogynist traditions.

Geeta Iyengar, in her important and groundbreaking book Yoga: a Gem for Women, describes yoga not as a way of separating from the world but rather as a balancing of spiritual knowledge and material knowledge. It is intriguing to think of this balance as the discernment (viveka) that Patañjali describes. Geeta Iyengar references verses 9-11 from the Iśā Upaniṣad:

In darkness enter those who follow after material knowledge alone;
In greater darkness enter those who devote themselves to spiritual knowledge alone. But those who combine spiritual and material knowledge pass beyond death to   immortality.

Matthew Remski also reflects on the ascetic tradition in his personal and poetic translation of Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras. He writes forcefully of the need in our modern world of embracing our physical life:

I offer this text and commentary as an alternative speculation on what Patañjali’s attention and incision might offer us today, within a far different social-philosophical context than his own. A context in which renunciate withdrawal will not heal our interpersonal pain nor speak to our social diseases. A context in which we desperately need to be reminded of our embodiment, and grounded in ecological awareness. A context in which the magic of bodily pleasure that got us practicing in the first place becomes the basis for reaching out with love into the world that made us, has always held us, and which we never wish to leave. –Matthew Remski, Threads of Yoga, p. 19

Matthew Remski translates aśuddhi as “alienation.” This resonates for me. I would say yoga practice brings me out of alienation. It connects: me to myself,  to my surroundings, to the source of myself, to–as Rohit Mehta says–the “natural flow of life.” The process of purification, understood in this way, is a restoration, a renewal.

The body itself, if given movement, good nutrition, rest, will effect its own cleaning and ordering process. Do we recognize that the body does this? Do we support it? Do we love it?

Geeta Iyengar taught respect for the body.  She insisted that by bringing our awareness to the body, to the “opening of the palms and the bottom of the feet,” by finding our courage to “move, stretch, twist, bend or balance and go topsy-turvy,” we “come close” to the body. Geeta Iyengar claimed yoga practice as a practice for women, a practice that strengthens, supports, renews, and realizes the body’s potential. Yoga makes us bigger, Geeta said. Yoga reveals who we are.

I have heard Geeta Iyengar talk about the importance of the word anuṣṭhāna. It is not just the repetition the word abhyāsa implies, but it carries a sense of devotion, commitment. The dictionary defines it as performance, undertaking, especially practice of religious rites. It derives from anu-, “alongside of,” + sthā, “to stand.” The image I get from this is a practice that we “stand by” but also that “stands by” us in and throughout life. The light is always there. Our job is to remove the covers.


“Notice the sequence of events: The practices of the limbs of Yoga remove impurities. Yoga practices do not bring anything new; they remove what is unwanted or unnecessary. As the impurities dwindle, wisdom emerges, indicating that wisdom is already within.” —The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on II.28

“The problem of discipline seems to be closely related to all questions pertaining to spiritual life, and yet there is no subject on which such confusion prevails as on this subject of discipline. It is commonly supposed that the purpose of discipline is to mortify oneself, i.e. to deny to oneself the normal expressions of living. … To accept suffering is one thing, but to crave for it for the purposes of spiritual recognition appears completely foreign to real spiritual living. Much of the so-called discipline on the path is associated with this abnormal factor of suffering. It is this which has imported into spiritual life such tendencies as mortification, austerities–almost spartan in nature–and a denial of all that appertains to joy and beauty. Needless to say, such notions of discipline do not harmonise with true spiritual life, for spirituality must have a quality of naturalness and spontaneity.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, pp. 139-40

• What is the interplay in your yoga practice between constraint, correction, and freedom?
• Does your practice have naturalness and spontaneity? Joy? beauty?
• What is a personally meaningful way that you would translate aśuddhi? What covers the light of your awareness?
• Does yoga bring you balance between the material and spiritual? What does that mean to you?


masculine noun in compound

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


noun in compound

limb (from aṅg, “to walk, move about”)


neuter noun, 5th case singular, “from”

doing, undertaking, practice–of religious rites, especially (from anu-, “alongside,” + sthā, “to stand”)


feminine noun in compound

impurity (from a-, negation, + śudh, “to purify, make clear”)


masculine noun, 7th case singular, “on”

destruction (from kṣi, “to destroy”)


neuter noun in compound

knowledge (from jñā, “to know”)


feminine noun, 1st case singular

light, brilliance (from dīp, to shine, to be alight)


preposition, takes 5th case

up to, as far as


masculine noun in compound

discernment, awareness (from vi-, “distinct” + vic, “to examine”)


feminine noun, 5th case singular

naming, recognition, realization (from khyā, “to name”)

Leave a Reply