tasya bhūmiṣu viniyogaḥ
“Its [practice] takes us to the ground of our being.”
Patañjali further describes the last three limbs of yoga. Though it might be tempting to conceive of these three as the most ethereal, the most abstract or purely mental of the eight limbs, the sūtra indicates otherwise. This practice and its application (viniyogaḥ) is “in the earth” (bhūmiṣu).
Bhūmiḥ (from bhū, “to be”) means earth, ground, soil, and bhūmiṣu is a 7th-case form, which indicates location. This is the where of the practice. The plural of bhūmiḥ can be understood to mean spheres or levels of existence, and many commentators interpret its use here to refer to the stages of practice. Vyāsa and others emphasize that yoga happens gradually, unfolds in its own time, and that it is only by practice that the progression reveals itself.
A more basic sense of bhūmiḥ speaks to me. The practice of saṁyama (the threefold dhārana, dhyāna, and samādhi) is for the purpose of grounding. It is meant to bring our attention to the soil of ourselves. The emptying of psychological defenses and preoccupations (see III.3) happens as we bring presence and interest and awareness (III.2). It happens as we become more embodied, hear ourselves and know ourselves better. This is why many choose to translate saṁyama as integration. Saṁyama takes us through the layers of ourselves. It moves energy and it clears old patterns. This process takes place in the body. It is of the body.
Iyengar Yoga teacher Genny Kapuler said she goes to her practice to “land in herself.” To return to the soil, to the ground, is an emptying and a landing. We are restored by finding this ground. This is where love is.
Patañjali often weaves back to the idea of groundedness: in I.14, he considers how practice becomes “well-grounded” (dṛḍha-bhūmiḥ); in II.27, he says prajñā (wisdom) reaches the “innermost ground” (pranta-bhūmiḥ).
In English, at least in modern usage, we generally separate mind from body. We speak of making a connection from mind to body. Sanskrit does not make this separation, and this is perhaps why B.K.S. Iyengar often taught about the mind in the body, the body in the mind. The Iyengar practice is one in which one discovers the mind through the body.
And so, we may ask, what is the state of the soil of ourselves? Is it parched, thirsting for rain? Is it depleted, overused? Does it need some time of laying fallow? Should the old crop be plowed under, the earth tilled? From a body that is depleted, an attitude of scarcity will grow. From a foundation of fear will come defensiveness, anxiety, perhaps violence.
This is important to consider on a societal level as well. At this moment, an awareness is rising of this country’s history of racial oppression, and our skewed set of priorities toward militarization. The call to “defund the police” is, essentially, a challenge to invest in people rather than in violence, to value bodies and nurture life. To create a more caring society–to even envision such a place–we must know the ground that our current society is built on. As one activist puts it, “In a society built out of dominance, peace will look like violence.”
The Zapatista Movement in Mexico (described in Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark) rose up in 1994 in response to the Nafta trade agreement, which harmed much local farming. The Movement now governs a large part of the southern state of Chiapas. This indigenous-based group intentionally organizes from the ground up–its power structure is horizontal and decentralized. It is founded on principles of gender equality and on local control of land and resources. It emphasizes communal interest and wide participation.
Because it intends to be a leaderless movement, one of the Zapatistas’ main spokespeople used an assumed name, Subcommandante Marcos. He writes here of the deep uprooting of assumptions that shaped them:
History written by Power taught us that we had lost . . . We did not believe what Power taught us. We skipped class when they taught conformity and idiocy. We failed modernity. We are united by the imagination, by creativity, by tomorrow. In the past we not only met defeat but also found a desire for justice and the dream of being better. We left skepticism hanging from the hook of big capital and discovered that we could believe, that it was worth believing, that we should believe—in ourselves. Health to you, and don’t forget that flowers, like hope, are harvested.” –Subcommandante Marcos, quoted in Hope in the Dark, p. 109
A commitment to care, to love, to health, to ourselves, brings a harvest of hope.
“Contemporary neuroscience suggests that we now know that to introduce new tools of self-regulation during the controlled invocation of habitual stress patterns can deactivate hard-wired reactive responses, and forge new non-reactive pathways. … As we transition … to the direct observation of neuroplasticity in our consideration of memory and trauma recovery, I believe that we will carry a more nuanced view of how memory resolves and heals into our yoga practice. … We’ll understand that we are altering old patterns and creating new ones. There is no storehouse but ‘flesh’–just as endless, but more palpable, than what we once separated out as ‘the mind’.” –Matthew Remski, Threads of Yoga, pp. 166-67
“The aim of Yoga is to lead the aspirant to the discovery of right action. And since life is not static, the basis of right action has to be discovered from moment to moment. This requires a state of consciousness which comes constantly to the awareness of the timeless moment, the moment of discontinuity. … Love is pure action–all else are mere reactions.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 281-2
“By gaining experiential knowledge through yoga, the [practitioner] must use this wisdom in daily life, in day-to-day activities, as well as in sharing it with [his/her] fellow beings.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, The Core of the Yoga Sūtras, p. 180, commentary on III.6
•In what way do form and routine help you develop adaptability, flexibility?
•How do you keep your practice grounded? What does it mean to you to “land” in yourself?
•What does the soil of yourself reveal to you about yourself? What is an example of that?
•How does your practice affect the rest of your life? How does it support or perhaps change the roles you take in public life?
pronoun, 1st case singular, “of”
its (here, referring back to saṁyama)
feminine noun, 7th case plural
earth, soil, ground (from bhū, “to be”)
masculine noun, 1st case singular
application, operation (from vi-, prefix that here gives a sense of intensification + ni, “in,” + yuj, “to connect”)