III.21 कायरूपसंयमात् तद्ग्राह्यशक्तिस्तम्भे चक्षुःप्रकाशासम्प्रयोगेऽन्तर्धानम्

kāya-rūpa-saṁyamāt tad-grāhya-śakti-stambhe cakṣuḥ-prakāśāsamprayoge ‘ntardhānam
kāya-rūpa-saṁyamāt tad-grāhya-śakti-stambhe cakṣuḥ-prakāśa-asamprayoge antar-dhānam

“From saṁyama on the form of the body, [one learns] placement [of the awareness] within. [As this happens], one is freed from the power of others’ perceptions. [One feels within], disconnecting the light from the eye.”

Kāya is body and rūpa is form, though what “form” means here includes a sense of identity, characteristic, essence. To study the “form” of one’s own body is to come into its truth, its reality. To practice body awareness, central to yoga, is to come to know one’s own self. At the start of Ch. 1, Patañjali describes the purpose of yoga being “to stand in one’s true self” (I.3, tadā draṣṭuḥ svarūpe ‘vasthānam).

Today’s sūtra describes the power of antar-dhānam, the placement of the awareness within. This has been interpreted traditionally to mean invisibility, meaning the practitioner actually can stop others from seeing her. It has an important less-literal meaning. The power to place awareness within is the power to not be ruled by others’ perceptions of us. Feeling myself from within, I am freed from others’ view of me. The word Patañjali uses for perception, grāhya, derives from grah, “to grasp.” To be seen is thus “to be grasped.” In our modern world, where outer appearances are given so much weight, especially for women, it can be a powerful struggle to break from being treated as object, indeed, treating oneself as object (interestingly, III.20 speaks of citta as non-object-like).

Power relations within society do ultimately happen on a physical level; they are established through bodies. To understand the world, and the violence of this world, through our bodies, with our bodies, is critical.

Ta-Nehisi Coates has taught me this lesson in his searing book Between the World and Me, a letter to his teenage son. We have so many abstractions to describe how our society works. They are not sufficient.

All our phrasing–race relations, racial chasm, racial justice, racial profiling, white privilege, even white supremacy–serves to obscure that racism is a visceral experience, that it dislodges brains, blocks airways, rips muscle, extracts organs, cracks bones, breaks teeth. You must never look away from this. You must always remember that the sociology, the history, the economies, the graphs, the charts, the regressions all land, with great violence, upon the body.

It is through the body that we must strive to understand events like the murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis and Breanna Taylor in Louisville, Kentucky, or the traffic stop of Lieutenant Caron Nazario in Virginia, during which he was held at gunpoint, pepper sprayed and threatened with electric shock. Coates contrasts the real violence on bodies to the convictions of “those who believe themselves to be white” and the story of American progress we hold dear.

When the killers of Michael Brown go unpunished, Coates is not surprised; he had not expected them to be. But his son had stayed up late waiting for an indictment. He was crushed when there was none. Coates writes,

I did not tell you that it would be okay, because I have never believed it would be okay. What I told you is what your grandparents tried to tell me: that this is your country, that this is your world, that this is your body, and you must find some way to live within the all of it.          –Ta-Nehisi Coates, Between the World and Me, pp. 10-12

We must inhabit our bodies better, and feel our way to other bodies, extend our imaginations to other experiences. These are our bodies. This is our world.


“It is possible to attract more or less attention. One can disappear, like a chameleon, by imitating the dress, behavior, and personality of others, or stand out by being different. Unless there is interest in the thing seen, there is no perception. Interaction between the eye and the object registers the view, but the mind has to send out its intention to perceive the image. A person can attract another’s eye to a greater or lesser extent by playing on the spectator’s interest.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.21

• What have you learned about your history and your life from focusing on the body?
• How do you perceive others differently if you sense them through the body?
• Has yoga affected your experience of your body in the world?
• How important is it to you how others’ see you? Has this shifted?


masculine noun in compound



neuter noun in compound

form, essence, identity, appearance


masculine noun, 5th case singular, “due to”

meditation, integration of the senses, regulation of citta, direct observation (from sam + yam, “to check, restrain, regulate”)


pronoun in compound

its, that


adjective in compound

to be grasped (from grah, “to grasp”)


feminine noun in compound

power (from śak, “to be able)


masculine noun, 7th case singular, “upon”

stopping (from stambh, “to stop, fix, prop, uphold”)


 in compound

eye (from cakṣ, “to appear”)


masculine noun in compound

light, brightness, illumination (from pra-, “forth,” + kaś, “to shine”)


masculine noun, 7th case singular, “upon”

disconnecting, separating (from a-, “not,” + sam-, “with,” + pra-, “toward” + yuj, “to connect”; samprayuj, “to join together”)


neuter noun, 1st case singular

placement within, invisibility (from antar, “within,” + dhā, “to put”; same root as dhārana)

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