III.30 नाभिचक्रे कायव्यूहज्ञानम्

 nābhi-cakre kāya-vyūha-jñānam
“[From saṁyama] on the navel cakra, knowledge of the organization of the body.”

In Core of the Yoga Sūtras, Mr. Iyengar states, “Many think that cakras are the subject of Haṭha Yoga and that Patañjali does not speak of cakras. I would like to bring to your attention that Patañjali does, in fact, deal with the cakras.” Mr. Iyengar correlates the seven major cakras with the following sūtras: muladhāra, III.32; svādhiṣṭāna, III.34; manipūraka, III.30; anāhata, III.35; viśuddhi, III.31; ājña, III.33; sahasrāra, III.37. (See Core of the Yoga Sūtras, pp. 162-3.)

Mr. Iyengar’s yoga practice is founded on and develops profound appreciation and respect for body experience. It is not a practice that endorses denial of body sensations but considers those sensations to be opportunities for learning and growing in awareness and understanding.

It is exciting to me to come to the next group of sūtras in that they are, as Mr. Iyengar points out, explicit examples of Patañjali directing the yoga practitioner’s awareness to the body. Here, in III.30, Patañjali says that from saṁyama on the nābhi cakra, the practitioner gains kāya-vyūha-jñānam, knowledge of the organization of the body. Patañjali here echoes III.28, in which, by focusing on the moon, the practitioner gains knowledge of the organization of the stars. Patañjali tethers the cosmic to the personal.

Nābhi is the Sanskrit word for the navel, or belly button. It is cognate to “navel,” and like the word for navel in many other languages, it has a secondary meaning of center.  It comes from the root nabh, “to burst,” and is related to nābh, which means “aperture.” Through the umbilical, the mother’s body nourishes, cleanses, regulates the growing embryo. That symbiotic connection to mother remains perhaps an aperture, an opening; the navel is a center of our life force.

The nābhi cakra is called, in Haṭha Yoga texts, the manipūraka (“lustrous gem”), and it can be considered as well to be the realm of the solar plexus. The element associated with it is fire, and that fire relates to our sense of identity, to the movement of our energy, and to our experience of power.

In her wonderful book Eastern Body Western Mind, Anodea Judith explicates the Haṭha Yoga and Tantric understandings of the cakras and she frames this traditional knowledge in the context of modern psychology. She cites Jungian approaches, practices of somatic therapy, and child-development theory.

In considering the third cakra,  Judith reflects on what she sees as our milieu’s distorted fascination with power:

Immersed in our own feelings of powerlessness, we are fascinated by the triumphs of others, and glean a perverse satisfaction from following the continual struggles for supremacy and control–over ourselves, other people, other nations, and Nature herself–but always power over something. … Raised into obedience by parents and teachers, trained for cooperation with larger corporate, legal, military, and political power structures, we have become a society of victims and controllers.  –Anodea Judith, Eastern Body Western Mind, p. 168

Judith believes that many of us suffer from injury at the third cakra, and that healing here can be a nexus of transformation for the whole being.

She quotes one of my favorite psychologists, Alice Miller (see II.12), in describing how much of our child rearing and education is authoritarian, seeks to “break the will” of the child through shaming and punishment. It is, in Alice Miller’s words, “poisonous pedagogy.” Shame, Anodea Judith continues, collapses the third cakra, interferes with the child discovering her own natural rhythms, developing confidence in her own impulses and actions. The child develops either deficiency at the third cakra level, identifies with being powerless, a victim of others; or she compensates with excess, learns bullying compensations, seeks control over others.

She asks how we might gain a sense of our own empowerment, a power that would be a power with, and not over, others.

Ego is the Latin pronoun for “I.” Our use of it today is similar to the Sanskrit term ahaṁkāra (from aham, “I,” + kṙ, “to do”). It is the experience of oneself as separate; it is the experience of agency. Anodea Judith says the ego is like a house. To have a sense of power from within is to have a sense of ownership of oneself, autonomy in one’s life and choices. Anodea Judith insists that we must develop this healthy autonomy–our inner authority–in order to be in healthy, interdependent connection with others.

I ask myself about the state of my third cakra. Iyengar practice has taught me much about my own postural tendencies. I tilt my tailbone back and push the sacrum forward. I am well-muscled in the shoulders and back, and I roll the shoulders forward, like armor, and I drop my chest. This presses my front ribs down. When I lift my chest, my low ribs lift too.  I seem to spill out to the front. In some ways, I present as a person with both excess and deficiency at the third cakra. This expresses pretty well my inner struggles–I oscillate between bursts of energy and periods of depression and doubt. I compensate for low vitality with pushing forward.

I have learned how the cakras interrelate in me, how grounding in the first cakra–feet and legs to pelvic floor–supports the flow of life that brings a softening and supports the third cakra, which must be mobile and integrated, kindled as it were, to support the fourth cakra, the heart and breath. I find strong movement–walking, running, and abdominal work–especially important for that kindling. It integrates my energy, discharging disturbances, affirming an experience of “I am,” “I do,” that I am the authority of me.

The third cakra is an area of processing, of feeling experience, of digesting–both literally and figuratively. Is the abdomen hard or tense? What am I feeling there? Lying supine on the floor is always a good baseline beginning to practice for me. What is the state of myself here on the floor? How does my back release down? How is my belly?

I am considering the third cakra anew in recent years because I have become active in politics. Yoga practice teaches me that yoga is about more than the mat. It is about my connection to the world around me. To me, that means politics. I am not necessarily comfortable in the role I am in or doing the tasks I have taken on. In the last election, I knocked on many doors, and at quite a few, the resident who answered, quite politely, told me she did not like politics. I felt, immediately, “I don’t either!” And yet I am persevering with my discomfort, with my doubt, with my uneven bursts of energy and with my own ongoing developing sense of “I am,” because I am here, and politics is more than the games of a chosen few.

People often say, with pride, “I’m not interested in politics.” They might as well say, “I’m not interested in my standard of living, my health, my job, my rights, my freedoms, my future or any future.” … If we mean to keep any control over our world and lives, we must be interested in politics.  –Martha Gellhorn, “White Into Black,” in Granta ()

To come to a sense that politics might be possibility–not power over, as Anodea Judith says, but power with–is a profound thing. To connect with another person about what we need to make the future livable, what our common interest is, gives a critical sense of community. Locating ourselves in ourselves is an important first step. I am here. I do.

—–

“By saṁyama on the navel area or nābhi cakra, also called manipūraka cakra, a yogi can gain perfect knowledge of the constitution of the human body. He knows the activities of his each and every cell and therefore becomes a master of his own body. According to yoga texts, the navel is known as kandasthāna (kanda=egg or bulb; sthāna=region). The root of all the nerves is in the navel. From the navel, 72,000 root nerves (in haṭha yoga terminology, nāḍīs) branch out. Each root nerve is connected with another 72,000 nerves. These 72,000 multiplied by another 72,000 branch off into various directions, supplying energy to the entire system. The navel is considered to be the pivot of the sympathetic, and the brain of the parasympathetic nervous system.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.30

“The navel is the source point from which we develop in the womb. Oriental medicine teaches that on the energetic level, we continue to be recreated from the navel after birth. From this knowledge there evolved a detailed system for the assessment of the health of the organs and systems of the body by visual and palpatory examination of the abdomen.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on III.24

Questions:
• What poses and/or exercises have brought you more awareness of the nābhi cakra? What is the effect on the region of backbends, forward bends, twists, abdominals (for you)? Do you sense this cakra in movement: when walking or running, lifting, climbing? How is it a center of movement for the body?
• Have you experienced tightness or hardness of the abdomen? Laxity or disconnect? How is the area an emotional center (for you)?
• Consider how cakras teach about posture. What have you learned about how you stand, where your energy is, what tends to collapse, what pushes forward, what disconnects? Specifically, how does the nābhi cakra help you locate yourself?
• Do you experience yourself as a victim? Do you act in controlling or bullying ways?
• Has knowledge of your body, working with the body, changed your sense of yourself in the world? Has it helped you be more effective, changed your sense of your role or your responsibilities?

nābhi-

noun in compound

navel, center point (from nabh, “to burst”; related to nābh, “aperture”)

cakre

neuter noun, 7th case plural, “on”

wheel, circle, disk (from car, “to move”)

kāya-

feminine noun in compound

body

vyūha-

masculine noun in compound

organization, ordering, arrangement (from vi-, “away or against,” + ūh, “remove”; “to array”)

jñānam

neuter noun, 1st case plural

knowledge (from jña, “to know”)

 

III.29 ध्रुवे तद्गिज्ञानम्

 

dhruve tad-gati-jñānam
“[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

Questions:
•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?

dhruve

masculine noun, 7th case singular, “on”

the north star, the polestar (from dhṛ, “to hold, support”)

tad-

pronoun in compound, understood 6th case, “of”

their (understood from previous sūtra to refer to stars)

gati-

feminine noun in compound

movement, gait (from gam, “to go”)

jñānam

neuter noun, 1st case singular

knowledge (from jña, “to know”)

 

III.28 चन्द्रे ताराव्यूहज्ञानम

candre tārā-vyūha-jñānam
“[From saṁyama] on the moon, knowledge of the organization of the stars.”

This past Saturday afternoon, I saw the moon rise. It was a waxing moon. How did I know this? Not because I remember the last full moon, not because I consulted a lunar calendar, but because I came across this passage in a novel by Barbara Kingsolver:

Don Enrique says a full moon pulls up the highest tides of month, at midday and midnight. And it pulls them down to their lowest ebb when it is rising or setting….This evening the moon was half, and Leandro said it’s dying away. You can tell because it’s shaped like the letter C, not curved forward like D. He says when the moon is D like Dios, it is growing to fill God’s sky. When dying away it is C, like Cristo on the cross. So no good tides again for many days. —The Lacuna, Barbara Kingsolver, p. 46-7

Saturday’s moon was shaped in the D-curve, a waxing moon. It was ripe and round, barely distinguishable from the lit sky–like an imprint on cloth. Was it the moon or an emissary of the moon sent before the moon’s main event–night!

Once the sun had set, with a festival of color, clouds rosy and blue-tailed, and night had come, the moon was higher and so bright, very strong. The few visible stars showed up like a retinue. The moon is night, and night is the moon, and it is at night we see the stars.

Why did I not know about the curves of the moon that reveal what phase it is in? I grew up in New York City, big city with bright lights, the city where Andy Warhol cleverly exclaimed, “the stars are all on the ground.” The massive ambience of the city’s electric lights block the perception of the night sky, and observation of the moon and her phases is occasional, accidental. The full moon, seen down a city scape, framed by buildings, would surprise me, exciting, magnificent. I had not known to expect it, nor what patterns it affected. And I often missed it. I did not have an intuitive, felt sense of its ongoing rhythms.

Had I lived near water, or if my life had been connected more to the sea, maybe I would have, and perhaps I would have been taught about the moon like the young boy Will in Barbara Kingsolver’s novel. The moon governs gravitational pull and affects the earth’s water and tides. As explained at earthsky.org, tides are higher at the full moon and the new moon. The sun’s gravity aligns with the moon’s at those times and they pull together. Direct experience of changing tides, the feel of different shifting pulls of water, bring a knowledge (jñānam) that is beyond the book knowledge, beyond the cerebral, that is more cellular, more through and through, more integrated, more yogic.

What is the more integrated experience of the moon for women and for female yoga practitioners? The terms menses and menstrual cycle are themselves associated with the English word moon. They share the same Latin root (mensis, “month”). I began the practice of Iyengar yoga at the age of 35. It was the first time, in my experience, that someone in a public setting even mentioned the menstrual cycle. Menstruation had been something to conceal in school and at work, not spoken about.  As those of you familiar with the Iyengar method will know, I was taught in class to not invert when bleeding, and–especially for the first few days of my period–to prioritize reclining poses like supta baddha koṇāsana, supta vīrāsana, and setu bandha, sitting poses like baddha koṇāsana, daṇḍasana, upaviṣṭa koṇāsana and forward bends with support for the head. All these allowed for release, rest, opening, flow. This altered my sense of myself. It drew me into my own physiology. It reset my sense of the hormonal fluctuations from a hidden flaw to an event of significance.

Did I like menstruating? No. Throughout my twenties, I had severe cramping and pain, and the office jobs I worked had 9-5 hours with no allowance for body ebbs and flows. In later years, after having children, I had less cramping. I had a regular yoga practice, a flexible schedule, and I could adapt better to the cycle. I would still be impatient with it. I didn’t like not doing handstands. I didn’t like being at the side of class if backbends were being taught.

All that said, I credit the yoga practice, specifically the yoga practice taught by Geeta Iyengar (whose Gem for Women is a proclamation of the benefits of yoga for women specifically) with bringing me into better rhythm with myself.

Today’s sūtra is best understood in company with the preceding one, III.27, which focuses on the sun, and the next, in which the point of focus is the pole star. As mentioned, commentators have interpreted III.27-29 to refer to actual outward contemplation of astronomical bodies, the macrocosm, and to inner observation, the microcosm. They have considered symbolic and metaphorical meanings, exploring aspects of human psychology and physiology and principles such as mobility/stability, transformation/steadiness, puruṣa/prakṛti, analysis/synthesis, masculine/feminine.

In III.28, Patañjali says, From contemplation of the moon comes tārā-vyūha-jñānam, knowledge of the arrangement (or organization) of the stars. At the simplest and most literal level, contemplating the moon will bring us to knowledge of the night sky, to star gazing, to recognition of the great constellations, the dimensions of space and the wonderment of scale.

Whether or not we can see the night sky from where we live, we are affected by the pull of the moon, and we are a part of the organization of the stars. Sūtras III.27-29 point us–like so much of chapter three–to a practice of presence in our world, presence to our own selves, presence to our circumstances, to the living things around us and the starry cosmic bodies.

—–

“In the last sūtra, the sun, sūrya, refers to the core of one’s being. The moon, candra, refers to the mind and consciousness. The solar plexus is situated in the region of the trunk; the lunar plexus has its seat in the cerebrum.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.28

“As the moon waxes and wanes, so citta waxes and wanes according to variations in thought permutations and combinations. The seat of consciousness is the spiritual heart (seer or soul). Knowledge of consciousness arises through the inner light of the spiritual heart [III.35]. Dhruve is the pole star. It has a fixed place in the sky. If the moon stands for consciousness, the sun stands for the soul. In the same way, dhruve stands for intelligence (buddhi).” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Core of the Yoga Sūtras, p. 68

Questions:
• What are the lessons of the moon, for you? How does the moon compare to the sun? Do you contemplate these qualities in āsana and prāṇāyāma practice?
• If you menstruate, has yoga practice supported your cycle? What are the practices that have been most helpful–related to yoga or not?
• The moon, as Juliet in Romeo and Juliet says, is “inconstant,” or changeable. How do you adapt to your own personal changeability, the fluctuations in your mind, your body?
• What is your experience of the longer nights of winter? What is your experience of the moon?

candre

masculine noun, 7th case plural, “on”

moon (from cand, “to shine”)

tārā-

feminine noun in compound

stars (from tṛ, “to pass beyond, cross over”)

vyūha-

masculine noun in compound

organization, ordering, arrangement (from vi-, “away or against,” + ūh, “remove”; “to array”)

jñānam

neuter noun, 1st case plural

knowledge (from jña, “to know”)

 

III.27 भुवनज्ञानं सूर्ये संयमात्

bhuvana-jñānaṁ sūrye saṁyamāt

“From saṁyama on the sun, knowledge of the world.”

Except at dawn, sunset, or when cloud cover is heavy, we do not look in the direction of the sun. We feel where it is, sense its touch on our head or back, calculate from the spill of its light in the room. Am I in shadow now, in dark?

In the modern age, we may be cut off from the sun, from “natural light,” as we say. We have other lights, or lighting. Offices, health clinics, commercial kitchens may have next to no windows, and vast supermarkets and retail outlets are built with none at all. Workers at a Walmart or Amazon fulfillment center might spend whole days without the touch of sun, without sensations of lightening or darkening–separate from the natural world of plants and animals also responding to that touch.

I write this entry at the beginning of December, where in the northern hemisphere, we move toward the winter solstice. Days get shorter and the night lengthens out. It is dark when I wake up, and in the afternoon, when I sweep the floor, I am accompanied by the glow of the sun low, rays shooting across the dust and detritus. Then the floor and the walls go colorless, grey, and then it is dark.

Solstice literally means the “stopping of the sun” (“from Latin sol, sun, + stit, stop). I have told my son that on the solstice, the earth changes its direction, it reverses its tilt. He says no that’s not so, and takes two objects to represent the sun and the earth so that I can understand better the smooth, uninterrupted orbits. I still feel though, a stopping, a turning on this day, at this time of year, and it feels like sacred time. In the Christian church, it is Advent (the season leading to birth or the “coming”), a time of waiting, watching, especially watching the night sky. Darkness is essential to this season.

Yoga practice has been an important way for me to connect to the natural world, a reminder to come present to where I am and what I am about, to what is around me. The Salute to the Sun (though I do not follow its exact down-dog/up-dog/chaturaṅga sequence), is a fantastic expression for what the hatha yoga practice is–a greeting of the sun, a vibrating of the life within, resonance to the pulse of the day.

Today’s sūtra states that from saṁyama (see III.4) on the sun comes knowledge of bhuvana, which can mean world, or, simply, a living being. Bhuvana derives from the verb bhū, “to be.” So bhuvana are the beings or the abode of beings.  The word suggests an understanding of the universe that sees relationship between the microcosm of the individual body and the macrocosm of creation. In his commentary on III.27, B.K.S. Iyengar references the nāḍi and cakras, channels and centers of energy in the body that the practitioner comes to know, and suggests that through this practice of inner sensing, a knowledge of the greater cosmos comes.

This relationship radiates in various ways. The path of the sun through its annual course teaches seasons and cycles and orbits. I find that it also tethers me back to origins. My awareness over years of practice begins to reach back to the generations before me–to my family, to other peoples too. What is the path that has brought this generation, my generation, to where we are now?

In her ringing and renowned poem “Remember,” U.S. Poet Laureate Joy Harjo writes, “Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the strongest point of time.” What makes the dawn strong? Does it bring us strength to be present to it?

The sun, Harjo says, births itself then. And at sundown, it gives itself away to night. Remembering, witnessing this morning birth, birth that happens each morning–even on that holy day the solstice, when the sun seems to pause, when the earth responsively stops, shifts, pivots–remembering that this life is a life of birthing and death, that we are a part of a fabric of life that has come before us, that has led us to where we are now, and that we are in, not separate from. “Remember the dance language, that life is. Remember.”

Remember the sky you were born under,
know each of the star’s stories.
Remember the moon, know who she is.
Remember the sun’s birth at dawn, that is the
strongest point of time. Remember sundown
and the giving away to night.
Remember your birth, how your mother struggled
to give you form and breath. You are evidence of
her life, and her mother’s, and hers.
Remember your father. He is your life, also.
Remember the earth whose skin you are:
red earth, black earth, yellow earth, white earth
brown earth, we are earth.
Remember the plants, trees, animal life who all have their
tribes, their families, their histories, too. Talk to them,
listen to them. They are alive poems.
Remember the wind. Remember her voice. She knows the
origin of the universe.
Remember you are all people and all people are you.
Remember you are this universe and this
universe is you.
Remember all is in motion, is growing, is you.
Remember language comes from this.
Remember the dance language is, that life is.
Remember.

–Joy Harjo, “Remember”

—–

“As the microcosm represents the macrocosm, man’s body epitomizes the entire structure of the great universe. The fourteen worlds are represented in the various regions of the body from the crown of the head to the soles of the feet…. Within the aerial regions are the seven major cakras. They are mulādhāra (seat of the anus), svādhiṣṭāna (sacral area), maṇipūraka (navel), anāhata (heart), viśuddhi (throat), ājnā (eyebrow centre) and sahasrāra (crown of the head). There are other cakras, such as sūrya (corresponding to the sympathetic nervous system), candra (parasympathetic nervous system) and manas (seat of the mind). All these are interconnected, like the solar system. The light that shines from the seat of the soul is the sun of life.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.27

Questions:
• Do the cakras inform your practice? Do you use individual cakras as a point of focus? How do different cakras affect your movement, your expression?
• Some practitioners locate the sun within at the solar plexus, some at the heart, some in the suṣumna channel, centered along the spine. How do you experience the sun in you?
• Do you honor dawn and sunset when you are able?
• Has there been a time in your life when your daily routine was more tied to the sun and its movements?
• What is the trajectory of sun today where you live – where is the sun? What is the effect in you of asking yourself this?

bhuvana-

neuter noun in compound

a being, living creature, world, earth, place of being (from bhū, “to be”)

jñānaṁ

neuter noun, 1st case singular

knowledge (from jña, “to know”)

sūrye

masculine noun, 7th case singular, “in, on”

sun

saṁyamāt

masculine noun, 5th case singular, “from”

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

 

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

 

Questions:

• 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?

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

 

III.25 बलेषु हस्तिबलादीनि

baleṣu hasti-balādīni
baleṣu hasti-bala-ādīni

“[To focus] on strengths–[learn from] the strength of an elephant, etc.”

Today’s sūtra follows closely on the last and could be paired with it. In III.24, Patañjali extolls the four great virtues. Strengths (balāni), he says, come from practicing friendliness, compassion, joy, presence. In III.25 he elaborates: What strengths? Yes, let’s focus on strength. What is the strength that is needed for what lies ahead? What strength do we need for our lives, for this time?

Patañjali does not enter into abstraction to pursue these questions. Instead, he shifts our attention to the natural world. Look at the strength of elephants (hasti-bala). Look at other parts of the living world. Look at nature to understand yourself.

Traditional commentary has emphasized that the elephant is the physically strongest of animals. This seems off.  The elephant represents much more, in India and elsewhere, than physical strength. The elephant has strong family bonds and lives in a matriarchal, interconnected social structure. Baby elephants live inseparable from their mothers for many years; they nurse exclusively for six months and continue to nurse intermittently after they have begun to eat other foods.

The Sanskrit name for elephant that Patañjali uses here is hastin, which literally means “the one who has a hand.” The trunk, of course, is the elephant’s hand, and it is remarkably adaptive–more so than our hand. Elephants use their trunks to gather food, hold objects, feed themselves, transport water for drinking and washing, reach out to others. They breathe and smell with the trunk, and they have more smell receptors there than any other animal possesses. They can detect food or water from miles away.

Elephants are also sensitive through their feet. They “hear” vibrations through the earth and can communicate over long distances this way. They are emotional, playful, and touchy–with their trunks and bodies.  The “ones with a hand” are a symbol, to me, of mutual support and joy in the group.

Again, we may ask, what is the strength our world needs? Modern society creates hierarchy and glorifies power and domination. It is a sickness. We are in need of healing from it.

In her influential novel Ceremony, Leslie Marmon Silko tells the story of Tayo, a WWII veteran suffering from PTSD. Tayo is threatened with long-term commitment to a psychiatric hospital. He is a Laguna Pueblo Indian not just processing the atrocities he experienced in the war but the circumstances he was born into, the attempted destruction of his own traditional culture, the subjugation and crimes committed against his people. Silko says she wrote the book to find her own way to heal herself, to find her own way to sanity. At one point, a traditional healer tells Tayo, “We all have been waiting for help a long time. But it never has been easy. The people must do it. You must do it.”

Tayo himself knows, as Silko puts it, that

His sickness was only part of something larger, and his cure would be found only in something great and inclusive of everything.

The ceremony that unfolds, that Silko reveals, is part ritual, repetition, and part story-telling. European settler-colonists attacked native peoples by taking away story, by forbidding native languages, and by literally kidnapping native children, enrolling them in boarding schools often thousands of miles from their families.

One story that is told in this beautiful book is the creation of the European colonial mindset. The indigenous peoples themselves, the story goes, set into motion a terrible spell, a story itself that infected the people who became the colonists. The story takes hold of the colonizing people:

Then they grow away from the earth
then they grow away from the sun
then they grow away from the plants and animals.
They see no life
When they look
they see only objects.
The world is a dead thing for them
the trees and rivers are not alive
the mountains and stones are not alive.
The deer and bear are objects
They see no life.
They fear
They fear the world.
They destroy what they fear.
They fear themselves.

–Leslie Marmon Silko, Ceremony, p. 135

This spell describes capitalism pretty well, it seems to me, and it describes the culture I am part of today. We are alienated from the earth and unaware of the sun, separated from the plants and animals we consume. We are destroying our world. The individual healing we need is the healing the larger world needs.

If you would focus on strength, says Patañjali, learn what is the true strength of the elephant, learn what is the strength of the deer and bear. What is the strength of the water and the rocks. What is the strength of life.

I am writing this at the time of the winter solstice. Solstice literally means “the sun stands still.” At this moment of pause, when the nights are long, and the darkness can teach us, it is a wonderful thing, a good opportunity, to search out where our life comes from, to know the rhythms of sun and moon, to feel the cycles of life in us and around us, to recognize that our life, our wholeness, depends on the living world, not on objects that we dominate.

The strength of the elephant is receptivity and interconnection.

—–


“In the preceding aphorism, Patañjali advised positive thought to obtain strength or moral qualities. In this aphorism … he recommends long periods of concentration on a concrete model, such as an animal, that embodies those qualities. For example, the elephant is strong, the snake is supple, and so on. In this way, we become like the model.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 176

“[This verse] traditionally promises the yogi the physical strength of an elephant if he/she meditates fully on the physical strength of an elephant. I choose rather to invoke the figure of the shaman, who in earlier cultures negotiated communication between human and non-human realms–usually by learning the language or dances of animals or plants or weather patterns.” –Matthew Remski, Threads of Yoga, p. 176

Questions:
• What helps you recognize that the world around you is alive? What helps you see living things, not objects? What helps you become receptive?
• What animals inspire you?
• Who and what are models for you?

baleṣu

neuter noun, 7th case plural, “on”

strength

hasti-

masculine noun in compound

elephant (from hasta, “hand,” + –in, suffix denoting possession; the elephant is “one who has a hand”)

bala-

neuter noun in compound

strength

ādīni

neuter noun, 1st case plural

beginning with, etc.

 

III.24 मैत्र्यादिषु बलानि

maitryādiṣu balāni
maitrī-ādiṣu balāni

“[From saṁyama] on friendliness, etc.–strengths.”

Three words long (two if you count the compound maitrī-ādiṣu as one), sūtra III.24 weaves back to the magnificent I.33, which B.K.S. Iyengar credits with teaching him to balance the head and the heart, and which Swami Satchidananda declares to be the one sūtra, if a person were to choose just one, to learn and practice.

Maitri is friendliness, the first of the four great virtues (in Buddhism, known as the “stations of Brahma”) that Patañjali presents in I.33. Ādiṣu means beginning with or etcetera, and thus the phrase maitrī-ādiṣu (“the group beginning with friendliness”) refers to all four of the virtues. We readers are expected to know them. A summary of I.33:

To overcome obstacles and gain clarity and calmness of the consciousness:

  • Bring friendliness (maitrī) to good or happy things.
  • Have compassion (karuṇā) when experiencing or encountering pain.
  • Be joyful (mudita) in the face of virtue.
  • Stay present (upekṣā) to wrongdoing.

Patañjali says in today’s sūtra that by aiming toward the qualities of maitrī-karuṇā-muditā-upekṣā–by practicing saṁyama on these qualities, we will grow in strength (balāni is plural for balam, strength). What an interesting promise! We will not just be clearer, calmer, we will be stronger.

A few weeks ago, a neighbor said to me, “We are all so tired.” We are tired from a year and more of Covid, from isolation, from the growing signs of climate disaster. Speaking for myself, I am tired and alarmed, my nervous system jangled, from the signs of rising fascism, racism, and far-right extremism, and the continued inefficacy of our government to respond to the needs of the day.

I am grateful to today’s sūtra for reminding me that the clear and calmed nervous system brings strength. And, that the way to the rest and restoration I long for is not shutting off or shutting down (well, actually, some of that may be necessary), but in caring–in feeling. Feeling the disappointment, the loss, the joy, the connection, the camaraderie. Feeling it.

The writer Kathleen Norris has reflected on depression–as she has experienced it–and on a related but, she says, distinct affliction that she identifies as “acedia”:

At its Greek root, the word acedia means the absence of care. The person afflicted by acedia refuses to care or is incapable of doing so. When life becomes too challenging and engagement with others too demanding, acedia offers a kind of spiritual morphine: you know the pain is there, yet can’t rouse yourself to give a damn.

I certainly relate to experiencing bouts of “not giving a damn.” I do seek to numb out (at times). It might even be good for me to tune out, not listen to the news, more than I do. Yet ultimately, caring demands that I pay attention. This is not comfortable. Kathleen Norris continues,

That it hurts to care is borne out in etymology, for care derives from an Indo-European word meaning “to cry out,” as in a lament. Caring is not passive, but an assertion that no matter how strained and messy our relationships can be, it is worth something to be present, with others, doing our small part.

To practice good management of myself, I do need to shift, purposefully, my attention. Turn off the news, be in the garden, care for the physical things around me, enjoy, be present to, the many good things of the day. At the house where I now live, we have chickens. I tell myself, Julia, go be with the chickens. Go be friendly to them. Go be with their goodness.

Acedia, says Kathleen Norris, would have us “suppress or deny” the daily routines of care as “meaningless repetition or too much bother.” It is in these very repetitions, she declares, that we begin to care again. (See Kathleen Norris, Acedia & me: A Marriage, Monks, and a Writer’s Life, page 3.)

Karuṇā, compassion, cognate to the English word care, comes  from a common and important Sanskrit root–kṛ, which means “to do.” Karuṇā seems related more to the passive sense of the verb, “to be done to.” In the end, compassion is allowing ourselves to be affected by something. An imprint is made. To feel is to suffer, to some extent. It is also to exult, to delight, to love.

Kathleen Norris writes in her book about a lifetime of handling her own care or “absence of care.” Practice assists her in that. Going through the ritual or the motions of daily care proves to be a lifeline for her. In so many ways, I.33 seems to point toward this. When we experience the slipping away of attention, when we are so tired, when we are so disappointed or so without hope that there is no longer care, then the practice of the ritual of care is key. The twelve-step programs teach an acronym HALT. Ask yourself, Am I hungry, angry, lonely, or tired? If I am hungry, I must feed myself. If I am angry, I must bring loving attention to the event or circumstance that I have reacted to. If I am lonely, I need to reach out to people. If I am tired, I need to rest (perhaps shut down).

A primary teaching in the Bhagavad Gītā is detachment from the fruits of action; the yogi is to work toward developing equanimity–sameness–in the face of hot and cold, good and bad, honor and dishonor. I have often wondered at this. What is is to be the same in relation to all things? But what if the “sameness” to be practiced is care?  Can I bring maitrī-ādiṣu, friendliness and all the rest, to the harsh circumstances of life? Can I care?

samaḥ śatrau ca mitre ca
[whoever is] the same toward an enemy and a friend
tathā mānāpamānayoḥ
as well toward respect and disrespect
śītoṣna-sukhaduḥkheṣu
in cold-heat, pleasure-pain
samaḥ saṇga-vivarjitaḥ
the same, is one who is attachment-freed

Bhagavad Gītā, XII.18

—–

“This sūtra offers a wonderful way to better our own life and the lives of others. By performing saṁyama on a desirable quality, such as friendliness, we can attain its benefits. Spiritual history is filled with stories of sages and saints whose mere presence mysteriously changed the lives of others. Often, without intent or effort, they transmitted these virtuous qualities, just as the sun, without intent, automatically radiates warmth and light.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on III.24

“Character is not storing in one’s behaviour-patterns attribute after attribute of what the mind describes as virtue. It cannot be built up. It arrives when the effort and the maker of the effort ease, so that there comes a vision of the innocent and the incorruptible virtue. The new mind permeated by the influence of this vision is truly virtuous. And so Patañjali says that as one communes with virtue there arises an inner strength which is not the product of the earth but a gift of heaven. This gift is available to all in the discontinuous interval of the timeless moment, in the non-dual experience of communion.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 327

Questions:
• What are ways to practice maitrī-karuṇā-muditā-upekṣā? What are examples from your life when you do that?
• Have you become more sensitive to the needs of your body?
• Have you experienced acedia (absence of care)?
• How do you grieve? Do you make time for grieving?

maitrī-

feminine noun in compound

friendliness, compassion, love, connection, community (from mith, “to unite”)

ādiṣu

neuter noun, 7th case plural, “in, on”

beginning with, et cetera

balāni

neuter noun, 1st case plural

strength, power

III.23 सोपक्रमं निरुपक्रमं च कर्म तत्संयमादपरान्तज्ञानमरिष्टेभ्यो वा

sopakramaṁ nirupakramaṁ ca karma tat-saṁyamād aparānta-jñānam ariṣṭebhyo vā
sopakramaṁ nirupakramaṁ ca karma tad-saṁyamāt apara-anta-jñānam ariṣṭebhyaḥ vā

Karma advances quickly or slowly. From saṁyama on [karma]–and on natural signs–knowledge of death.”

There are two sentences here. The first, sopakramaṁ nirupakramaṁ ca karma, is a statement about karma. Patañjali says that karma can proceed fast or slow, sopakrama, with the krama (from kram, “to step,” meaning here the progression of events), or nirupakrama, against. One meaning of karma (from kṛ, “to do”) is what happens, what we do or what is done to us, and there is a natural progression, a cause-and-effect order to how things unfold. Part of my karma is that I will grow old, my body will age, and I will die. How I live can affect how rapidly or slowly this seems to take place. But it will take place.

Certain times in my life seem to call attention to this natural unfolding more than others. There have been some years that seem so settled, it was as though time had stopped. My children’s early years were like that. Life as it was then seemed like it would always go on as it was doing. I felt I would always live in the house that we lived in then, that the family of grandparents, cousins, aunts and uncles would always feel much as it did then. The past ten years have brought so much change for me it seems that things have speeded up. I live in a new house in a new state. There have been family misunderstandings and schisms. A dear friend died. I have aged.

From saṁyama  on the movement of events, Patañjali says, one gains apara-anta-jñānam, knowledge of the final end. Traditional commentators interpret apara-anta in this context as death, particularly one’s own death. They ask, has the work of my lifetime been fulfilled?

It is essential to most religious and spiritual practice to hold one’s own death before one. In yoga, fear of death (abhiniveśa, see II.9) is considered one of the five afflictions that affect everyone. A goal of practice is to “thin” the afflictions, to lessen our fear not through denial but through presence, understanding, coming into reality.

Pay attention to what happens, says Patañjali here, and watch for ariṣṭa, the signs of death. Derived from rṣ, “to pierce,” ariṣṭa is an omen or portent, generally of a misfortune or death.

What are the ariṣṭa around us now? The 653,000 deaths from Covid in the U.S. alone. The wildfires that have been burning in the American West, not in scattered places for a few days or weeks every few years, but over vast landscapes for months and every year. The Amazon rainforest now no longer absorbs more CO2 than it emits, an astounding benchmark of disaster.

The signs of things ending are all around us. How present are we able to be to this reality? What work might we take up to respond?

Terry Tempest Williams speaks of grief and love as she observes what is unfolding in her powerful essay “An Obituary for the Land,” written in September 2020. “No one is reporting,” she writes, “the smells of burnt feathers or leaves and sap, or the cold hard truth of those who find the missing frozen in their last gestures of escape beneath a blanket of ashes, ashes….”  Williams, a bird watcher since she was a child, is especially attuned to the birds who have gone missing, the hundreds of thousands killed off in the mass fires. It is through her attunement that she can name the ending that we face. We have a terminal disease of solipsism, she says:

I was asked to write an obituary for the land – but I realize I am writing an obituary for us, for the life we have lost and can never return to – and within this burning of western lands, our innocence and denial is in flames. The obituary will be short. The time came and these humans died from the old ways of being. Good riddance. It was time. Their cause of death was the terminal disease of solipsism whereby humans put themselves at the center of the universe. It was only about them. And in so doing we have been dead to the world that is alive.
Williams’ obituary, written in grief and love, is for us. For how we have lived. For our ignorance, innocence, and denial. She sees the land itself, the powerful land, as, in a way, beyond us. Her obituary, she says, is not for the land, “because even as you burn, you are throwing down seeds that will sprout and flower, trees will grow, and forests will rise again as living testaments to how one survives change.”
In the Indian cosmology, time is long. There have been ages before our age, a coming and going of societies and peoples. We Americans, in a general way, do not have this long sense. We see our individual time, our individual life, as exceptional. N.K. Jemisin, in her tremendous novel The Fifth Season, says we talk about the world ending, but we really mean our world is ending. Her narrator declares, “The ending of one story is just the beginning of another.” We say the world has ended, but “the planet is just fine.”
Today’s sūtra is about the life-death cycle. It is about witness and presence. It is about the work we are meant to do, in the life we are given now. Terry Tempest Williams says that “it will be our joy,” from this dying that we must do, to begin the work of restoration. It will be our joy to send our love forward to the generations that come after us, “to clear a path toward cooling a warming planet.” She writes:
Let this be a humble tribute, an exaltation, an homage, and an open-hearted eulogy to all we are losing to fire to floods to hurricanes and tornadoes and the invisible virus that has called us all home and brought us to our knees — We are not the only species that lives and loves and breathes on this miraculous planet called Earth—May we remember this—and raise a fist full of ash to all the lives lost that it holds.  –Terry Tempest Williams, “An Obituary for the Land”

—–

“The effects of action may be immediate or slow in coming: observing one’s actions with perfect discipline, or studying omens, yields insight into death.” — Chip Hartranft, The Yoga Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 52

“Understanding the narration of events gives insight into how things end.” — Matthew Remski, Threads of Yoga, p. 176

“Life and death are two aspects of creative forces. One cannot stand without the other. Hence the process of life cannot be understood without knowing the process of death, and vice versa….At every moment, tissues, cells, body, and senses are passing through life and death processes.” –Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati, The Textbook of Yoga Psychology, commentary on III.23

Questions:
• How well do you recognize endings–of relationships, belief structures, organizations or institutions, stages in life, life itself?
• How have you been witnessing the reality of climate change?
• How might you begin the work of restoration? What are you interested in restoring?
• What practices are supporting you at this time? Is there a practice of observation that you feel called to? Of action?

sopakramaṁ

neuter adjective, 1st case singular

quickly advancing (from so, “so,” + upa, “by the side of,” + kram, “to step”; literally, “with progression”)

nirupakramaṁ

neuter adjective, 1st case singular

slowly advancing  (from nir, “away from”,  + upa, “by the side of,” + kram, “to step”; literally, “against progression”)

ca

conjunction

and

karma

neuter noun, 1st case singular

action, what is done, cause-and-effect (from kṛ, “to do”); often left untranslated

tad-

pronoun in compound, 7th case understood, “on”

that

saṁyamāt

masculine noun, 5th case singular , “from”

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

apara-anta-

masculine noun in compound, 6th-case understood, “of”

death (from apara-, “having nothing beyond, extreme, western,” + antaḥ, “the end”)

jñānam

neuter noun, 1st case singular

knowledge (from jña, “to know”)

ariṣṭebhyaḥ

neuter noun, 5th case plural

portentous phenomenom, sign of approaching death (from a + ṛṣ, “to pierce”)

indeclinable

or

III.22 एतेन शब्दाद्यन्तर्धानमुक्तम

etena śabdādyantar-dhānam uktam
etena śabda-adi-antar-dhānam uktam

“By this, the placement within of sound and the other senses is explained [as well].”

This sūtra is omitted in some translations of Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, since sight is often used as a stand-in for all the senses. I like Mr. Iyengar’s inclusion: III.22  emphasizes not just the importance of all the senses, but states resoundingly that our inner awareness is accessed by means of all the senses: sight, hearing, taste, smell, touch. Sound draws us to the vibration within. The touch of the breath to the inner surfaces, the feedback of pressures in the joints, the direction of flow of the skin, help us feel at the level of the tissues, the cells. Focal points that engage the different senses (see III.1) increase our sensitivity. They bring self-knowledge and heal broken, disassociated states. Practice that uses the senses brings modern, alienated people–like myself–into the felt, lived body, into an experience of self that is more whole.

Antar-dhānam, inner awareness, is key to what yoga is. Mr. Iyengar, in Light on Life, refers to yoga as the Inner Journey, and over a long life of teaching, he creatively used language and image to convey inner sensing, to make it palpable.

Rohit Mehta, in his commentary, speaks of the restoration of going in, a respite from the crowd. I would add to this, from my own experience, that inner practice anchors me better in a sense of self not defined by others. Recently, I came upon this beautiful caution in ch. 9 of the Tao Te Ching:

Chase after money and security
and your heart will never unclench.
Care about people’s approval
and you will be their prisoner.

“The power of the gaze of others”– grāhya-śakti–mentioned in the last sūtra, is no small thing. And, as I mentioned in my last entry, there is particular menace from that gaze for women and people of color. As a woman, I have been raised to care for others’ opinions. I have experienced my safety as dependent on a pleasant manner, a gentle demeanor. I have been a people-pleaser in school and on the job. The danger for me in this is losing track of myself. In performing for others I am capable of doing harm to myself–this has taken the form of crushing self-doubt, high anxiety, fearfulness of a fall from grace.

Healing from the gaze of others, in my experience, can feel like a letting-go of past identities I have held, like the emptying of self described in I.43. It can be a willingness to act, to be, without label or “definition.”

What would it be to not define myself? What would it be to access myself through my present senses, to hear the vibration within?

She who stands on tiptoe
doesn’t stand firm.
She who rushes ahead
doesn’t go far.
She who defines herself
can’t know who she really is.
She who has power over others
can’t empower herself.
She who clings to her work
will create nothing that endures.
If you want to accord with the Tao,
just do your job, then let go.
–ch. 24, Tao Te Ching, translations by Stephen Mitchell

—–

“A person may be in the midst of a crowd, and yet may be so withdrawn within that his presence there is just physical, the psychological counterpart having moved on elsewhere. By this meditation a person may retire into complete solitude even when physically in a crowd. The invisibility here is not physical but psychospiritual…. Patañjali speaks of communion with the Formless and the Soundless…. He suggests that there must happen constantly the phenomenon of withdrawal and return. He alone who constantly withdraws, can return refreshed and therefore undertake the task of effective communication.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 322-23

Questions:
• What senses do you rely on in your practice? Are there ways you might use all of them?
• Is solitude refreshing for you? What is solitude in a crowd like?
• How do you define yourself? What would it be like to let go of defining yourself?
• Do you see yourself through the eyes of others? What are the happy examples of that? Painful?

etena

pronoun, 3rd case singular

by this

śabda-

masculine noun in compound

sound, word

ādi-

masculine noun in compound

beginning (śabda-ādi is a compound that indicates “a list of things beginning with” śabda)

antar-dhānam

neuter noun, 1st case singular

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

uktam

neuter past perfect participle, 1st case singular

said, uttered (from vac, “to speak”); “it is explained”

 

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

Questions:
• 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?

kāya-

masculine noun in compound

body

rūpa-

neuter noun in compound

form, essence, identity, appearance

saṁyamāt

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

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

tad-

pronoun in compound

its, that

grāhya-

adjective in compound

to be grasped (from grah, “to grasp”)

śakti-

feminine noun in compound

power (from śak, “to be able)

stambhe

masculine noun, 7th case singular, “upon”

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

cakṣuḥ-

 in compound

eye (from cakṣ, “to appear”)

prakāśa-

masculine noun in compound

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

asamprayoge

masculine noun, 7th case singular, “upon”

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

antar-dhānam

neuter noun, 1st case singular

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