“[From saṁyama] on the polestar, knowledge of their [the stars’] motion.”
If the moon is changeable, rising and setting at different times each day over a 28.5-day cycle, appearing big or small based on where it is on the horizon, dhruva, the polestar or north star, is constant. Focus on this fixed point, says Patañjali, and you will understand motion.
B.K.S. Iyengar often taught to hold a fixed point in āsana, and he would use the pole star as an image. In trikonāsana, for example, he taught to make the top hand the polestar and to find the integration of the pose, the back foot, front foot, side body, back, shoulder blades, all the other parts in space, from there.
The name for the pole star, dhruva, derives from dhṛ, to hold, to carry, to support. This is the same root as dhāraṇā (fixing the attention to a place), the sixth limb of yoga and first part of samyama, (see III.1), and dharma, what we each do to support the world. The adjective dhruva means firm, often used about the earth or a mountain or a pillar. Dhruva in music is the introductory verse of a song. It is also generally used, as the English north star is, to express aim or purpose. This still, constant star, then, is a support, a kind of pillar of the sky.
The word for motion here is gati (from gam, to go). The stars move, they “go,” and their movements can be tracked over the course of the year. The universe is in motion.
The interplay between stability and movement, the realization of transformation and change, threads in and out of the Yoga Sūtras. In chapter one, the definition of abhyāsa (practice) is tatra sthitau yatnaḥ, the effort to be steady there (I.13). Abhyas̄a works inseparably from vairagya (non-attachment), steadiness and stability intertwining with letting go, with acceptance, with satisfaction.
There is a recognizable process here. We can be in so much motion or turbulence in our own minds that we do not understand motion. We are disassociated and alienated from natural cycles. Our cultural norms teach us to fix things that cannot or should not be fixed. We find steadiness in crop production by mass applications of pesticides, security of place in massive steel and concrete structures, assurance of daily food and shelter in pursuit of wealth. These norms are Capitalist. We believe we must have more to be ok. We are hyper-vigilant to maintain what we have.
The planet bears the price of our anxiety. In the grave words of UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres, “With our bottomless appetite for unchecked and unequal economic growth, humanity has become a weapon of mass extinction.” —Al Jazeera, Dec. 7, 2022
How do we, raised in a culture of more, come to accept loss, change, having less? How do we come to experience enough?
In III.27-29, Patañjali has directed us to the cosmos. Rhythm, repetition, rising, setting, ebb and flow, are there to be seen.
In the following beautiful verse, Krishna teaches that the one who practices saṁyama comes to experience night and day differently from others:
yā niśā sarva-bhūtānām
In that which is night of all beings,
tasyām jāgarti saṁyamī
in that, the one who practices saṁyama is awake.
yasyām jāgrati bhūtāni
That in which beings are awake,
sā niśā paśyato mūneḥ
that is the night of the seeing sage.
—Bhagavad Gītā, II.69
Night and day are metaphors here, certainly, but we might also consider how–literally–by setting our attention on the sun, the moon, the north star, we find a more settled way of being, an inner stability. Enough.
“Observing the sun affords global knowledge of a system, and the moon, understanding of a system’s internal organization. Observing the polestar allows us to grasp the movements that animate the different elements within a system. The polestar of the Little Bear constellation (Ursa Minor) is the fixed point that allows for observation of the heavenly bodies. It is also a guide for the observer’s movement, for example, navigating at sea. This aphorism leads to the search in society of a fixed point, remarkable for its stability: a wise person, a counselor, or some such person, who by his or her unwavering vision, permits observation of movement as a whole.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.29
•What is a stable point of reference in your yoga practice? In your life?
•What are practices that give you stability? What do you do to keep mobile, adaptable? How do you experience the interplay of mobility and stability in creating resilience?
•Observe the sun, the moon, and the north star over the course of a month. What is your experience?
•Are there ways that the practice of saṁyama has shifted your perspective or values so that you feel out of the social norm? What does night is day mean for you?
masculine noun, 7th case singular, “on”
the north star, the polestar (from dhṛ, “to hold, support”)
|pronoun in compound, understood 6th case, “of”
their (understood from previous sūtra to refer to stars)
feminine noun in compound
movement, gait (from gam, “to go”)
neuter noun, 1st case singular
knowledge (from jña, “to know”)