“[From direct perception] of a thought, knowledge of the citta of another.”
In sūtra III.18, Patañjali describes direct observation of long-established patterns that shape our thoughts. From that observation, he says, one learns one’s past. In today’s sūtra, he shifts attention to the rising thought itself–and to other people. From observation of the movement of thought, he says, one comes to understand another’s mind.
There is no good English translation for pratyaya. We make do with “thought,” but the word is literally a “movement toward” (from prati-, “towards,” + i, “to go”). It could also be considered a perception, idea, notion, feeling. As discussed in I.10, yoga philosophy considers citta (mind, consciousness) to be fluid, and the pratyaya is a movement within that fluid, a rising of intention toward an object. Earlier in this chapter, Patañjali describes citta in a wavelike way, with thoughts rising and subsiding naturally (see III.12).
How do we observe the thoughts of others? There are words, of course, what they say. There is also, always, how they say it. And as Patañjali points out in III.17, words and objects are often at variance. We get a tremendous amount of information from sound, look, feel. We sense through the body other bodies. This is a key way we understand people. We sense the movement in the thought, and the thought in the movement.
How roused we are ourselves on any given occasion, how tense or relaxed, poised to fight or flee or calm and receptive, will alter our perceptions of the other; mutual misunderstanding can happen in already pitched conditions. Body awareness, knowledge of one’s own pratyaya, in this sense, is key to better communication.
Physical therapist and dance innovator Irmgaard Bartenieff believed movement patterns are an essential way we “feel” each other. Here, she beautifully sketches our interactions with each other and our world:
We stamp in anger, curve in love, retreat in fear and advance in confidence. We make jerky angular progress toward our goal or progress with smooth, rounded symmetrical or asymmetrical phrases and rhythms. We drive ourselves without respite, blind to all but our goal, or we prepare, initiate and move in a particular sequence so that transitions along the way are economical and changes keep us refreshed without waste or losing sight of the goal.
Bartenieff describes, much as Patañjali might, the inherent quality of movement and change in nature and our experience:
We see light etched by shadows, feel joy emerging from sorrow; the present hovers between the past and the future. Between all these opposites, there is a sense of movement that renews the clarity of each experience. Even in apparent stillness, movement variables are active. –Irmgaard Bartenieff and Dori Lewis, Body Movement: Coping with the Environment
During this time of Covid, we have lost much of our physical connection with others. We see each other virtually, in small frames on a screen. There is a concept in Japan called “forest-bathing”: it is a practice of spending time among trees. It is seen as a way to refresh the senses and spirit. Similarly, yoga class is an opportunity to bathe in each other’s presence. It is a kind of group pratyaya, a harmonic body-to-body experience.
So what happens during a Zoom yoga class? Or, perhaps more significant, what is the effect of school, volunteer work, business, family meetings all moved online?
Jeremy N. Bailenson, director of Stanford University’s Virtual Human Interaction Lab, has been exploring a phenomenon that he calls “Zoom fatigue.” He says Zoom is different from in-person interaction in four ways: (1) we tend to maintain eye gaze at close distances, in a manner usually reserved for intimate relationships, (2) movement cues are reduced and more awkward, (3) we see a mirror of ourselves throughout the interaction, and (4) we adjust our movement to the camera, restricting ourselves to the area of the “frustrum,” the cone-like space framed by the computer screen.
Bailenson’s observations emphasize the importance of our body-to-body connections–in ourselves, in our surroundings:
In face-to-face interaction, nonverbal communication flows naturally, to the point where we are rarely consciously attending to our own gestures and other nonverbal cues. One of the remarkable aspects of early work on nonverbal synchrony is how nonverbal behavior is simultaneously effortless and incredibly complex. …
During face-to-face meetings people move. They pace, stand up, and stretch, doodle on a notepad, get up to use a chalkboard, even walk over to the water cooler to refill their glass. There are a number of studies showing that locomotion and other movements cause better performance in meetings. — Jeremy N. Bailenson, “Nonverbal Overload: A Theoretical Argument for the Causes of Zoom Fatigue,” in Technology, Mind, and Behavior
Bailenson makes makes some suggestions to reduce Zoom fatigue: turn off the self-view (I began to do this yesterday, and I did feel more relaxed), use an external camera to give yourself more movement flexibility, and–perhaps this is surprising–consider talking on the phone instead, as he puts it, “to free your body from the frustrum.”
“An expressed thought has to function under the limitations of words. But howsoever limited the language may be, if one communes with these verbalizations then one can understand how the mind of the other person works. …This is the way of putting oneself in rapport with the mind of another.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 320
“Before we examine another person’s mind, we must become conscious of the factors that condition us. We must first know and accept ourselves, so that we are sufficiently calm. Then, the image of the other can be reflected on the calm surface of our mind. When we are calm and listening, and accustomed to seeing the influence of fear on our own attitudes, breathing patterns, and facial expressions, we will be able to feel another’s fear. If we have not gotten over our own fears, we are likely to see only our own fear in another. This is the same for all human feelings.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.19
“That principle by which objects are known is called pratyaya. By samyama on the process of the psychic mechanism, modus operandi of mindstuff, there arises knowledge about others’ minds. The process of the psychic mechanism consists of the laws of the mind, how the mind operates. These mental laws are not corporeal. They are incorporeal, but they move the entire body, which is corporeal, in a particular way. Every inner feeling will move the body in its own way. … Everyone can read others’ minds to some extent. We see that mothers, teachers, and psychologists can imagine something about the minds of their children, pupils, and patients respectively.” –Sri Brahmananda Sarasvati, The Textbook of Yoga Psychology, commentary on III.19
- Has increased body awareness given you greater insight into others? Greater understanding of situation?
- Have you come to understand your own thinking better–where your thoughts arise from, how they connect to your feelings? How they move in your body?
- What happens to you physically when you are reactive? When you think you are in danger, where do you feel it in your body?
- What person-to-person experience do you miss?
masculine noun, 6th case singular, “of”
thought wave, movement of citta towards something (from prati-, “towards,” + i, “to go”)
|noun in compound||
neuter noun in compound
mind, consciousness, life field (from cit, “to perceive, to observe, to know”)
neuter noun, 1st case singular
knowledge (from jña, “to know”)