III.26 प्रवृत्त्यालोकन्यासात् सूक्ष्मव्यवहितविप्रकृष्टज्ञानम

pravṛttyāloka-nyāsāt sūkṣma-vyavahita-viprakṛṣṭa-jñānam

pravṛtti-āloka-nyāsāt sūkṣma-vyavahita-viprakṛṣṭa-jñānam

“By directing the brilliancy of [the finest aspects of] perception, knowledge of subtle, concealed, distant things.”

In practicing yoga, we learn the patterns of our own mind (I.2). We become aware of events that have shaped us, of stories that are buried yet powerful, of forces bigger than us that determine our world view. In doing so, we can become acutely aware of limit, in specific, the limit of our own imagination. This is not a bad thing–it is humbling to recognize limits, it helps us be right-sized. But it can  also be discouraging–old vṛttis (thoughts) rise up and reassert themselves at surprising times.

One of the delights of Ch. III of the Yoga Sūtras is Patañjali’s delineation of possibility. The citta (consciousness, mind) has tremendous potential, is capable of remarkable variety and scope, and practice can help lift the constraints that fix and narrow it, can liberate its essential adaptability and creativity.

Today’s sūtra is the first of ten that focus on the cosmos and on the subtle body. As B.K.S. Iyengar says, the microcosm represents the macrocosm (see his commentary on III.27, Light on the Yoga Sūtras), and the sūtras interweave with each other and thread back as well to I.40, which states that citta can expand “to the smallest particle and the infinitely great.”

Here, Patañjali states: From the brilliance (āloka) of direct thought (pravṛtti) comes knowledge of subtle, concealed, and distant things. There is no suitable one word translation for pravṛtti. It is an auspicious movement of the mind–direct, sustained. It is one of the methods given in Ch. I to remove inner obstacles (see I.35). Through true, direct observation and study, the citta can penetrate beyond ordinary perception, can reach to the farthest star or most deep, inner process.

It can, indeed, imagine possibility that is not immediately before us. This is of vital importance to the present moment. There is an unraveling of the systems of support–social, political, and ecological. Though we are facing the collapse of our climate, we are slow to address the catastrophe (I recommend the movie Don’t Look Up to consider our dysfunction.) Though income inequality is at an all-time high and millions are food-insecure and/or houseless, we have yet to take action. We seem stuck in the way we do things now.

Recently, I have been cheered–and my mind has been opened up–by the magnificent, recently published study The Dawn of Everything, A New History of Humanity, by David Graeber and David Wengrow. The authors explain that we have been taught a history in which our society’s development is considered inevitable. It has been widely asserted that with the advent of agriculture, then technology, civilization had to develop as it has. As a result, we conclude that civilization must be based on dominance rather than mutual care.

Graeber and Wengrow, with meticulous archaeological and anthropological evidence, demonstrate that humankind has often made different choices. Our trajectory has not been one way. They explain the cost of that one-way-trajectory view:

Choosing to describe history…as a series of abrupt technological revolutions, each followed by long periods when we were prisoners of our own creations, has consequences. Ultimately it is a way of representing our species as decidedly less thoughtful, less creative, less free than we actually turn out to have been. –p. 501

We imagine society to be a fixed entity, and we imagine that we have no choice but to live as we are doing now. But nothing is permanent, as the Yoga Sūtras teach us, and in the dynamic change that is life, we do have a choice. How might we shape change to live in to the future before us?

Slavery was most likely abolished multiple times in history in multiple places; and… very possibly the same is true of war. … Perhaps if our species does endure, and we one day look backwards from this as yet unknowable future, aspects of the remote past that now seem like anomalies–say, bureaucracies that work on a community scale; cities governed by neighborhood councils; systems of government where women hold a preponderance of formal positions, or forms of land management based on care-taking rather than ownership and extraction–will seem like the really significant breakthroughs, and great stone pyramids or statues more like historical curiosities. What if we were to take that approach now and look at, say, Minoan Crete or Hopewell not as random bumps on a rod that leads inexorable to states and empires, but as alternative possibilities: roads not taken? –David Graeber and David Wengrow, The Dawn of Everything, A New History of Humanity, p. 523-24

Today’s sūtra is a hopeful one. Our future is concealed from us, but we are capable of imagining forward. We have done it before.


“By integration of the inner light, that is, the insight of the soul, a yogi develops super-sensitive powers of perception. Such insight brings the power of seeing things which are subtle and fine, concealed or at a distance..” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.26

“The mind enables us to understand tangible, visible, and accessible realities…. To attain realities out of its grasp, the mind must submerge itself in the intelligence of the heart. According to the Hindu tradition, the heart is where God dwells in human beings. And this aphorism signifies that a divine vision enlightens the mind.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.26



• Mr. Iyengar says the poses that create jālandhara bhanda (like sarvāṅgāsana, setubandha, viparīta karaṇi) rebalance the heart center and the intellectual center. What are other practices that help you do this? How do you support your heart?

• Do you make the effort to be present to other people in a heartful way? How well do you listen? Do you bring compassion to your self? Do you extend your compassion to others?

• Has yoga practice helped you become more flexible in your mind?  What is the body sensation of that? What is an example of a time when your understanding has been opened, extended? How willing are you to let go of a past understanding and open to new ideas?

• Has living through Covid and climate crisis affected your world view? Have movements for social and environmental justice changed your understanding? Are there ways that you look deeper or longer, question more, seek greater guidance?

feminine noun in compound
cognition, direct perception, flow (from pra, “forward,” + vṛt, “to move”)
masculine noun in compound
light, illumination, vision (from ā-, prefix suggesting intensity, + lok, “to perceive, to shine”)
masculine noun, 5th case singular, “from”
directing, turning, placing, fixing (from ni- + as, “to throw”) 
adjective in compound
past passive participle in compound
concealed (from vi-, “away” + ava-, “down” + dhā, “to put”; “placed away and under”)
adjective in compound
distant (from vi-, “away” + pra-, “forward,” + kṛṣ, “to drag”; “dragged or drawn apart”)
neuter noun, 1st case singular knowledge (from jña, “to know”)


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