III.13 एतेन भूतेन्द्रियेषु धर्मलक्षणावस्थापरिणामा व्याख्याताः

etena bhūtendriyeṣu dharma-lakṣaṇāvasthā-pariṇāmā vyākhyātāḥ
etena bhūta-indriyeṣu dharma-lakṣaṇa-avasthā-pariṇāmāḥ vyākhyātāḥ

“By this, the transformations of the body and the senses are explained. These transformations are significant in relation to one’s role in life, one’s age, and the circumstances one endures.”

In her prophetic science fiction novel Parable of the Sower, Octavia Butler speaks of “shaping change.” Apparent stability will disintegrate, she says, and a living world will demand more of us–more attention, more patience, more adaptability.

How does yoga practice prepare us to adapt? In sūtras III.9-12, Patañjali has described the transformation of citta (consciousness/mind). He has said that the practice brings a peaceful flow to awareness (III.10), that discernment of value rises (III.11), and that equanimity and acceptance become more established (III.12).  In today’s sūtra, he emphasizes how thorough these changes are and how far they extend through the whole being.

Citta is in and of the body. Yoga as a method begins with a focus on the body. The practitioner comes to know mind through the body. Indeed, body is citta, and citta is body. By what has just been described (etena), says Patañjali, you can understand (vyākhyātāḥ) transformation of the body (bhūta, specifically, the material elements of the body) and its nervous system (indriya, the sense organs, the apparatus of our sensing, thinking, feeling).

Much traditional commentary on this sūtra reflects on the nature of change in a large, philosophical sense. The terms dharma-lakṣaṇa-avasthā are taken to refer to the three axes of change: form, time, and circumstance. In my translation, I have focused on the change in the human being, and so have translated the terms as one’s role (dharma), one’s age (lakṣaṇa), and one’s circumstance (avasthā). None of us control these three aspects of our lives. To some extent, we must submit to them. Yet yoga can support us in moving with them and through them. Yoga can help us come unstuck.

Isabel Wilkerson, in the recently published Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, has written a masterful examination of our racially constructed society. The framework of the country’s founding affects us all today. We assume hierarchical roles–based on race–and may have little awareness of how artificial this construct is. We accept inequity, injustice and cruelty because it is baked into our system.

Day after day, the curtain rises on a stage of epic proportions, one that has been running for centuries. The actors wear the costumes of their predecessors and inhabit the roles assigned to them. The people in these roles are not the characters they play, but they have played the roles long enough to incorporate the roles into their very being, to merge the assignment with their inner selves and how they are seen in the world. … We are all players on a stage that was built long before our ancestors arrived in this land. We are the latest cast in a long-running drama that premiered on this soil in the early seventeenth century. … It was in the making of the New World that Europeans became white, Africans black, and everyone else yellow, red, or brown. It was in the making of the New World that humans were set apart on the basis of what they looked like, identified solely in contrast to one another, and ranked to form a caste system based on a new concept called race. It was in the process of ranking that we were all cast into assigned roles to meet the needs of the larger production. None of us are ourselves.  –Isabel Wilkerson, Caste: The Origins of Our Discontents, pp. 40-53

The roles we have been assigned are not immutable. If we are willing to see them for what they are, we have a better shot at imagining new possibility.

Are we working, in our practices, toward flexibility and adaptability? Does the peaceful flow of practice extend out through our nervous systems to our society? Does a deep knowledge of our connectedness inform our actions? Does our yoga practice prepare us to adapt?


“The range of influence exercised by this transformation is expressed in the above sūtra by bhūta and indriya. Now bhūta represents the basic structure of things, for the five elements are the very foundation of the material world. Similarly indriya or the senses represent the functional base of all activities. …. The impact of the new mind is such that the entire being of [a person] in the whole gamut of [his/her] expressional range undergoes a fundamental change.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, commentary on III.13

“With appearances, everything changes. The paper I am reading was once a tree and one day will be recycled or burned. My gold ring was once ore in the soil. What will it become in the hands of my great grandchildren? It is the same with our physical forms and psyches, which change constantly within the fields of our potentials. Three successive specific states have been presented [in sūtras III.9-12]: the transformations toward stability, contemplation, and one-pointedness…. Such changes appear in one’s body and in one’s relationship with the surroundings. In this way, health and physical form and possibilities evolve along with the way one perceives the world, acts, thinks, and behaves.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.13

• Have your body, your attitudes, or your relationships changed [since beginning yoga]?
• What roles have you assumed in your lifetime? What roles have you left behind?
• How are you aging? What aspects of your aging might you pay more attention to, be more respectful of? What aspects might you shape?
• How do you respond to adversity?


masculine or neuter pronoun, 3rd case singular, “by”

by this


neuter noun in compound
element, that which exists (from bhū, “to be”)


neuter noun, 7th case plural,”in”
organ of sense (from Indra, name of lord of the atmosphere,  + –ya, suffix that designates belonging)

masculine noun in compound

nature, character, essential quality (from dhṛ, “to hold”); also expresses what is one’s particular virtue,  responsibility, or purpose
neuter noun in compound
attribute, quality, potential change (from lakṣ, “to observe, define, or mark”)

feminine noun in compound

condition, circumstance (from ava-, “apart” + sthā, “to stand”)


masculine noun, 1st case plural

transformation, change (from pari-, “around,” + nam, “to bend”)


masculine past passive participle, 1st case plural

explained (from vi-, “distinct,” + ā, “fully,” + khyā, “to name”)


III.12 ततः पुनः शान्तोदितौ तुल्यप्रत्ययौ चित्तस्यैकाग्रतापरिणामः


tataḥ punaḥ śantoditau tulya-pratyayau cittasyaikāgratā-pariṇāmaḥ
tataḥ punaḥ śanta-uditau tulya-pratyayau cittasya-ekāgratā-pariṇāmaḥ

“Again then, the pacified thought and the rising thought become equal. That is ekāgratā transformation of citta.

Patañjali describes a third way that citta (consciousness) transforms with yoga practice. As in sūtras III.9 and III.11, he uses the dual case to describe the movements of consciousness. Those two sūtras conjured a sense of a wave pattern, and they set up what seemed to be a kind of opposition between rising and settling thoughts (III.9), and between the wide, “all-purposed,” view and the focused one (III.11).

Here, Patañjali again uses the dual case to expresses thoughts, or pratyaya (from prati-, “towards,” + i, “to go,” the Sanskrit word suggests the always-moving nature of citta). Yet, marvelously, there is no opposition. Patañjali says that the pacified thought (śanta pratyaya) and the rising thought (udita pratyaya) are equal in the consciousness. They are tulya–equal in worth, in weight or value.

Some commentators interpret tulya to mean that the successive thoughts are literally the same–like images of an object succeeding each other in the frames of a film. These writers emphasize the continuous flow of attention as an ultimate yogic ability.

However, ekāgrata does mean more than single-pointed focus. As B.K.S. Iyengar has written, it also means “one without a second.” It is the ultimate value. The ekāgrata transformation of consciousness happens as the ultimate is experienced–in oneself, in another–the waves of old and new patterns, of many purposes versus one goal–no longer seem contradictory.

Old patterns in the consciousness are never entirely removed. The samskaras are deep within. They continue to shape citta. They make themselves felt, in various ways. We may find this baffling and frustrating: “I thought I had changed that pattern!” An old injury, an old hurt, once again seems paramount, as though we had not recovered from it at all. Bernard Bouanchaud, in his commentary on this sūtra, says that the transformation described here is equanimity: we no longer “pass judgment” on our old patterns. Matthew Remski, likewise, describes developing equanimity about the changes of life, the ongoing movement that we continue to be part of. We develop acceptance of, as it were, our own lack of transcendence.

Similarly, this “equality of thought” leads us to see that others’ perspectives are critical to the whole, even that are own various interests, some perhaps petty and symbolic only to us, are worthy of care. This, says Rohit Mehta, is discovering “silence in the midst of noise.” We can hold a sense of purpose and a wide view as well.

The Bhagavad Gītā describes a transformation in which one comes to “see the self in all beings” and “all beings in the self.” There is something that stands in us, charges us with life and strength, and we are all soaked through with it. We live in it:

sarvabhūtastham ātmānām

sarvabhūtāni cātmani 

īkṣate yogayuktātmā

sarvatra samadarśanaḥ

The self connected in yoga sees the self standing in all beings and sees that all beings exist in the self–everywhere, she sees this equality.

Bhagavad Gītā, VI.29

The self (ātman) can be understood to be the agra–the ultimate value. It is the web of life. It is what holds that web. Once one sees this, Krishna says, one sees it everywhere. We are all connected.


“The above sūtra speaks of śāntoditau tulya-pratyaya. It means that the pratyaya or the content of the mind remains tulya or unchanged whether there is the subsiding of distractions or emergence of distractions. A mind that is undistracted experiences silence in the noise itself. The silence that comes from the cessation of noise is superficial; it is only the silence that is discovered in the midst of noise that has depth; in fact, such silence has enormous depth…. Communication from the base of silence never fails.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 301, 303

“As integration deepens, the stresses of consciousness–maintaining a self-sufficient story along with an identity to tell it–resolve into equanimity, so that the changes of life, things rising and dissipating, are not only tolerated, but expected, and perhaps even quietly enjoyed. Like watching waves on the sea.” –Matthew Remski, Threads of Yoga, p. 165

“Following contemplation is transformation to one-pointedness, in which one experiences with equanimity both mental peace and the return to a less coherent former state…. This aphorism describes a state in which we no longer pass judgment, but fully accept our own reality, whatever it may be. At this point, success, or the lack of it, no longer directly influences the direction we choose. That does not mean it is an immobile state free of questioning, but a state that perpetually evolves toward a stable course.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.12

• Have you experienced silence in the midst of noise? What resulted from that?
• What does it mean to you to communicate from the best part of yourself?
• How do you respond to success and failure? What disturbs your equanimity more?
• Is your practice bringing you to more acceptance? of old patterns in yourself? of other people?



from that, then





masculine adjective in compound

quieted, peaceful (from śam, “to be calm”)


masculine adjective in compound

arisen (from ut, “up,” + i, “to go”)


masculine adjective in compound

same, equal (from tul, “to weigh, to compare”)


masculine noun, 1st case dual

arising thought, thought wave, movement towards something (prati-, “towards,” + i, “to go”)


neuter noun, 6th case singular

mind, consciousness, life field (from cit, “to perceive, to observe, to know”)


feminine noun in compound

one-pointedness, ability to choose a focus and hold it, the understanding of what is the primary thing (from eka, “one,” + agra, “first, foremost, goal, point” + -ta, “-ness”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

transformation, change (from pari-, “around,” + nam, “to bend”)

III.11 सर्वार्थतैकाग्रतयोः क्षयोदयौ चित्तस्य समाधिपरिणामः

sarvārthataikāgratayoḥ kṣayodayau cittasya samādhi-pariṇāmaḥ
sarva-arthatā-ekāgratayoḥ kṣaya-udayau cittasya samādhi-pariṇāmaḥ

“The diminishment of the tendency to consider all purposes and the rising of the ability to choose one focus is the samādhi transformation of citta.”

Citta, consciousness, is like water. It can spread wide and it can narrow to one point of focus. The interplay between these two cpacities is what Patañjali explores here. Sarvārthatā  (from sarva, “all,” + artha, “purpose”) is the abiity or tendency to consider many purposes or interests–my own, others. One of the advantages of getting outside, taking a walk, perhaps, is to open up one’s view. To see other living things–people, birds, squirrels, trees, plants–brings a relaxation of focus that is rejuvenating.

Likewise, in yoga practice, when we choose a point of focus and release habitual and fixed concerns (if only briefly), we are refreshed. We go deep into our subject like water penetrating the soil. It is as thought there is only the point of focus–we are emptied, and the goal alone shines forth. This is the definition of samādhi (see III.3), which is often translated as absorption.

The ability to choose and go to a point of focus, to one place, is called ekāgratā. As samādhi is experienced, Patañjali says here, that ability grows. With the ability of increased ekāgratā comes increased powers–accomplishments, understanding, readiness to learn.

For me, the ability to do one thing, to keep my task simple–for that matter, the ability to live one day at a time–is an invaluable life skill (see III.1), at the heart of the yoga process. Yet I do not especially like the translation “one-pointedness.” The term ekāgratā has a bigger meaning, which Patañjali will develop in III.12. Eka is the number one, and agra means first, foremost, preeminent. Agra is the summit of a mountain; it is the best of any kind of thing. Like the word artha, it can also mean goal. Ekāgra carries with it, then, a sense of value.

What is important? What point do I choose for my focus? What is my goal? We make these choices all day long, every day. We may be especially aware of the need to make them during times of disruption, when our patterns and schedules are overthrown. The corona-virus pandemic has brought such disruption; it has tossed upside down many norms, activities, businesses. Many have lost their means of support. As a society, we have not provided the relief to allow vulnerable people to stay safely in their homes. The fires on the West Coast, the floods in the South, likewise, have displaced thousands in a short time. We have a looming crisis of homelessness.

I recently heard an interview with one of our outstanding progressive journalists, John Nichols. He spoke movingly about “necessary change.” Perhaps we all are resistant to change. We would like things to be as they were or how we thought they were. Yet, with an exhalation, we must shift our attention to how things are. We must choose our focus, consider anew, what is important?

“There is a transformation … in this country. … There is something happening out there. Instead of simply focusing on frustrations at the national level, I would always encourage people to keep an eye on the grassroots around the country. There is an awful lot of evidence that the battlers for necessary change are prevailing, in a lot of places. And one final thing I will say about that: I always use the word ‘necessary change’. … Right now there is no alternative, that works, to Medicare for All. There is no alternative to a Green New Deal. There is no alternative to fundamental criminal justice reform. These are the things that need to happen. … We are in a moment, with the corona virus pandemic, with mass unemployment, with this rising cry for racial justice, where big things are possible. We don’t want to miss this moment.” –John Nichols, interviewed August 18, 2020, on  The Nomiki Konst Show, 36:40-38:20

In the United States, we have an election coming up. I will vote early. I will encourage everyone I know to vote, and I will reach out to those I don’t know. Every action matters. We don’t want to miss this moment.


Citta takes the form of any object seen, observed or thought of. It can spread itself as much as it desires. When it spreads, it is multi-faceted; when it remains steadily focused, it is one-pointed. When it is scattered, distraction and restlessness set in.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.11

“In practice, the arising of ekāgrata saṁskara and the overpowering of sarvārthatā saṁskara can be inferred with the release of exhalation, when citta can flow as with the breath into its selected location.” –Vyaas Houston, Yoga Sūtras, the Practice, p. 57

Samādhi brings significant changes in the mental environment. It’s almost like renovating a house, adding a new floor, more rooms, windows, and closets. We see fresh vistas through new openings and suddenly find storage places for everything. Our newly refurbished house impacts our lives on many practical and emotional levels. Similarly, the mind undergoing the transforming process of samādhi begins to operate in a state of heightened receptivity that opens it to subtle influences, knowledge, and experiences.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on III.11

• What object of attention do you consider foremost for your practice? For example, as you practice āsana, you may choose a succession of points of focus. What are important points? What is the foremost point?
• What thoughts interrupt your focus the most? How do you respond to interruptions? Do you ever become too focused on a point? Are you aware of any tendency in yourself to be obsessive or hypervigilant?
• How do you find balance in yourself? Do you hold an ultimate priority that helps you?
• Have global events of climate change, covid, political upheaval shifted your priorities? What is uppermost in value for you today? Was it different yesterday?


feminine noun in compound

tendency to consider all purposes or objects (from sarva, “all,” + artha, “purpose,” + -ta, “-ness”)


feminine noun, 6th case dual (both elements in compound are in the 6th case), “of”

one-pointedness, ability to choose a focus and hold it, the understanding of what is the primary thing (from eka, “one,” + agra, “first, foremost, goal, point” + -ta, “-ness”)


masculine noun in compound

diminishment, destruction (from kṣi, “to destroy”)


masculine noun, 1st case dual (both elements in compound are in 1st case)

uprising (from ut, “up,” + i, “to go”)


neuter noun, 6th case singular

mind, consciousness, life field (from cit, “to perceive, to observe, to know”)


masculine noun in compound

absorption, union (from sam-, “with,” + ā, “towards,” + dhā, “to place, to hold”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular
transformation, change (from pari-, “around,” + nam, “to bend”)

III.10 तस्य प्रशान्तवाहिता संस्कारात्

tasya praśānta-vāhitā saṁskārāt
“From the saṁskāra of [nirodha] — a calm flow.”

In the context of yoga, a saṁskāra is an impression in the mind of past experience and past thought (see I.50). Our experiences mark us. They form us. To some extent, they determine our next behavior.

The saṁskāra of nirodha, uniquely, undoes previous patterning. It is an ongoing practice of letting go and attending, a patternless pattern that attunes us better to the world around us, to the state of ourselves within ourselves. It is most closely associated with exhalation, and though the experience of it can feel timeless, or outside time, it exists in time, and in many ways is the catalyst that allow us to flow through time.

In today’s sūtra, Patanjali describes nirodha further. From the saṁskāra of nirodha, he says, comes praśānta-vāhitā, a “calm flow.” Vāhitā, derived from vah, “to carry along,” is a beautiful word, a feminine noun, often used to describe the flow of a river, which “carries along its water.” And so Patañjali highlights this beautiful, liberating aspect of nirodha. It is a power that moves the accretions that choke flow, that stiffen us, that stultify.

The flow is praśānta, which means calmed or peaceful (with the same root as śantiḥ, “peace”). It is a way of peace. Bernard Bouanchaud says that nirodha brings stability to the consciousness. Vyaas Houston, likewise,  emphasizes that the calm and peace of nirodha come from the release of ideas of “I am this” or “I am that.” In Rohit Mehta’s words: “While the old mind was dull due to the burden of its own past, the new mind, having no burden, is able to grow.” It flows through what is happening now.

The world is calling us to engage. Climate fires, the coronavirus pandemic, political turbulence, demand fortitude. And more–they demand resilience. Resilience means flexibility and adaptation. Our tendencies to build hierarchy and inequity, to scapegoat and treat our fellow humans as dangerous “others,” to dismiss and devalue the lives of people not in our sphere, are all overt patterns that wreak havoc on each other and on the environment. Personal habits of gossip, avoidance, defensiveness, resentment, are also part of the picture of how we are stuck, how we are disempowered to make change and find solutions. Patañjali’s teaching is crucial here. We need a transformation of consciousness.

Movement activist adrienne marie brown, in her important book Emergent Strategies, speaks to this–how personal practice is needed to create social justice. She challenges herself, for example, to imagine a world with no enemies:

What we put our attention on grows.

We have been growing otherness, borders, separateness. And in all that division we have created layer upon layer of trauma and vengefulness, conditions for permanent war, practices that move us into a battle with the very planet we rely on for life. The scale of division, conflict, racism, xenophobia, and hierarchical supremacy on our planet is overwhelming.

Finding the places of healing and transformation, moving towards a world beyond enemies, is work that has to be done for our survival. –adrienne marie brown, Emergent Strategies,  p. 133

I have been moved since I read these lines to consider how I might live with no enemies. I am pretty sure it requires increased sensitivity and commitment, active curiosity about what others around me have experienced and endure. I believe I must search out the way of peace, the way of flow, the way of change.


“One of the characteristics of the new mind is its sensitivity. While the old mind was dull due to the burden of its own past, the new mind, having no burden, is able to grow.” — Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 297

“The threads cannot be separated. We are riding waves of interdependence, making small and influenced choices within a range of possibility framed by others and the world. We are definitely acting, but not with anything that approaches the fiction of ‘free will.’ If we have freedom, it is not the freedom to do things, but the freedom to work with others and the world.” –Matthew Remski, Threads of Yoga, p. 169

• How do you experience flow within yourself? Have you developed habits that help clear flow, that remove snags or snarls? How do you address your own disturbance?
• Do you cultivate tranquility other than in practice? How? What form does nirodha take in life?
• What does peacefulness in relationship look like? When in conflict, how do you work toward peacefulness?
• How well do you listen–without attempting to fix another person, solve a problem, or teach?


pronoun, 6th case, singular

of that


adjective in compound

calm, tranquil, peaceful (from pra-, prefix that suggests auspiciousness, + śam, “be quiet, calm, satisfied”)


feminine, 1st case singular

flow (from vah, “to carry along,” + -tā, which forms a  feminine abstract noun)



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

impression on consciousness of past experience, conditioning (from sam-, “with,” + kṛ, “to do”)


III.9 व्युत्थाननिरोधसंस्कारयोरभिभवप्रादुर्भावौ निरोधक्षणचित्तान्वयो निरोधपरिणामः

vyutthāna-nirodha-saṁskarayor abhibhava-prādurbhāvau nirodha-kṣaṇa-cittānvayo nirodha-pariṇāmaḥ
vyutthāna-nirodha-saṁskarayoḥ abhibhava-prādurbhāvau nirodha-kṣaṇa-citta-anvayaḥ nirodha-pariṇāmaḥ

“The nirodha transformation is the saṁskara [pattern] of nirodha manifesting as the saṁskara of awakening lessens.  The moment when nirodha [is experienced] shapes citta.”

In sūtras III.9-16, Patañjali explores pariṇāma, or transformation. The word derives from pari-, “around,” and nam, “to bend”–one can imagine the universe bending things round, changing shapes. Nothing in nature is static. All changes, and we ourselves are part of that change. We will change and be changed. The question is, what part will we take in that change.

Many of us come to yoga welcoming change. We hope, perhaps, to feel calmer or more integrated, to move with more grace and less pain, to regain health. The physical experience, attention to breath, practice of awareness that is yoga does powerfully work on us–on the body, yes, and on the mind and consciousness expressed in the body, that is, on citta (consciousness, mind, “the field,” see II.4). It is transformation of citta that Patañjali describes here.

As I return to these sūtras, I am struck by how indomitable they seem, how intimidating. The commentaries are difficult, and–for me–obfuscating. I choose to stay with the Sanskrit, with Patañjali’s words. When I do that, I find a graceful and lyrical quality. He makes repeated use of the dual case and of parallel construction. This creates a rhythm of juxtaposition, coming/going, rising/falling, waking/settling, filling/emptying. The imagery stays with me.

In sūtra III.9, Patañjali uses the word nirodha three times. This is an aspect of Sanskrit that is always delightful–the same word repeated with different emphasis, with contrary meaning, even. It serves to open up meaning in a remarkable way. The first kind of transformation, Patañjali says, is governed by nirodha.

Yoga is nirodha (I.2).  Vyaas Houston describes nirodha as a power, not a power we wield, exactly, but a power that moves in us, that is us and is not us, like grace. Genny Kapuler has said it is “a melody that we like.” I love both of these, because they prompt us to look at our experience, to recognize there what we may already know nirodha to be.

In sūtra I.2, I have translated nirodha as “removal,” but I might have equally said that it is a freeing up (of possibility), an opening (of perspective); it is the new thing.

Rohit Mehta describes the process of nirodha (the process of yoga, of dhārana, dhyāna, samādhi) as a death and a birth. Yoga demands of us that we surrender our drive to certainty, our assertion of continuity (no change!). It is only in the moment of discontinuity, he says, that the new mind can be born. In his view, it is only a new mind that can experience a new thing. How does yoga bring this transformation?

Nirodha, continues Mehta, is not a forcible ending of thought process, not an exercise of will, nor does it happen by taking drugs or inducing a hypnotized state. The mind may be rendered blank by these means, he says. But this is like putting the thinker of the thoughts in a prison house. And the thinker will wait, restlessly, until released. On release, the thinker will reassert the old pattern of thoughts. The silence of nirodha, in contrast, comes from the ongoing process of saṁyama (that is, dhārana, dhyāna, and samādhi), itself wavelike. It comes from an attention and care to the mind’s story. Nirodha is a letting go, an emptying; it brings an increase of awareness, as when one feels that one has been heard. One can settle, and can attend, see something new.

The dual cases in this sūtra describe the patterns of thought of the mind. The pattern (saṁskara) of awakening (vyutthana) impressions and responses subsides (abhibhava), and the pattern of nirodha manifests (prādurbhava). A rising and settling, like a wave. An activated old pattern lessens, dissipates; and a new pattern becomes more established. The new pattern, strangely, is a patternless pattern, a pattern that allows the release of habit, concept, fixed idea, insistence on continuity. We practice letting go. The wave lifts.

It seems, then, a contradiction when Patañjali adds, nirodha-kṣaṇa-citta-anvayaḥ–the change follows the “moment” (kṣaṇa) of nirodha. This description of nirodha as a moment, a point in time, is significant. Nirodha is not a state that stays; it is an experience and then is gone. Mehta describes it as the moment of discontinuity. And because of this, it is an experience of timelessness itself. Yet it passes. Kṣaṇa is an instant, with no duration. The double imagery of nirodha as a point and as a wave is like quantum physic’s description of light as both a wave and a particle.

Painter and sculptor Anne Truitt began a journal, in mid-life, with the purpose of investigating her own artist’s sensibility, to meet herself, as it were. She writes beautifully of awareness:

Consciousness seems to me increasingly inconceivable. I know more and more that I know nothing of its nature, range, and force except what I experience through the slot of this physical body….When we love one another the most delicate truth of that love is held in the spirit, but my body is the record of those I have loved. I feel their bones as my bones, almost literally. … The love is fixed, instantly accessible to memory, somehow stained into my body as color into cloth.  –Anne Truitt, Daybook, pp. 12-13

In her description of the moments in between things, when “nothing” is happening, she presents a remarkable and everyday example of yogic process. As Patañjali has described nirodha happening in moments, so  Truitt writes that the meaning of  experience “is held in the infinitely short intervals between our sensory perception.” She describes a mother’s attention:

It is clearly to be observed in babies and young children. The mother listens to her baby. She tunes her neural receivers to the baby’s and then is able psychologically to hold her child, to prevent the child’s feeling distress. This is the bliss of motherhood, this heavenly capacity to make another human being happy. This same attunement enables the mother to catch her baby’s frustrations before they become too painful for the baby to accept. The art of motherhood is to maintain this nimble adjustment to the child’s course of experience, catching the intervals in such a way that the child can learn to explore independently without coming to harm. –Daybook, p.15

Nirodha happens in intervals, a particle. And yet that particle is part of a wave pattern, and the wave pattern shapes us, transforms our inner landscape.


“It is apparent that practices such as meditation, prayer, study and self-analysis develop nirodha. But nirodha really gains momentum when we create the inner environment in which nirodha thrives in practical terms…. By adopting sacred standards as our guidelines for living, we create an inner universe where fears, anxieties, and restlessness are diminished by faith, compassion, and clear steady focus.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on III.9

“The old mind wedded to continuity is averse to coming anywhere near the experience of silence. It cannot change itself into a new mind by conscious effort as the birth of a new mind is not a process of continuity. The new is born when the old dies. It is in the moment of communion that the new mind comes into existence.”–Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 297

• How do you experience nirodha? What words or images would you use to describe it?
• Has your practice brought you awareness of an interval, between movements or breaths, between articulated thoughts? Would you describe that as silence? What is the significance of the moment of interval, for you? What does the moment feel like in the body?
• What does the imagery of waves reveal to you?
• Do you suffer from insomnia? How do you experience your energy, your thoughts at that time? What helps you with sleeplessness?


neuter noun in compound

rising up, awakening (vi-, “away” + ut-, “up,” + sthā, “to stand”)


masculine noun in compound

ending, removal (from ni, “in” or “down,” + rudh, “stop” or “check”)


masculine noun, 6th case dual, “of”

impression on consciousness of past experience, conditioning (from sam-, “with,” + kṛ, “to do”)


masculine noun in compound

defeat, submergence, undoing (from abhi-, “against,” + bhū, “to be”)


masculine noun, dual 1st case

becoming manifest, emergence (from pradur, “outdoors,” + bhū, “to be”)


masculine noun in compound

ending, removal (from ni, “in” or “down,” + rudh, “stop” or “check”)


masculine noun in compound

moment, point of time (from kṣan, “to break”)


neuter noun in compound

mind, consciousness, life field (from cit, “to perceive, to observe, to know”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

connection, connectedness, succession (anu-, “alongside, near to,” + i, “to go”; anvi is “to go alongside or be guided by”)


masculine noun in compound

ending, removal (from ni, “in” or “down,” + rudh, “stop” or “check”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

transformation, change (from pari-, “around,” + nam, “to bend”)

III.8 तदपि बहिरङ्गं निर्बीजस्य

tad api bahir-aṅgam nirbījasya
tat api bahir-aṅgam nirbījasya

“But it is an outer limb compared to the seedless.”

A seed is a blueprint. It carries the DNA that will bring forth new life according to a form. Here, Patañjali says there is a state, a place, a mechanism, where the blueprint is gone–it is lost, destroyed, altered. Maybe we do not recognize this place. In mystical language, it is sometimes described as a cloud, as dark, though perhaps it might be equally said to be full of light, shining. The seedless state is confounding, a kind of death; it is also a place of rebirth.

The threefold practice of saṁyama, compared to this, is exterior–part of the world of familiar things, repeatable. Many commentators speak of the seedless state as an accomplishment, a conquest, a climax of the practice. I wonder if, instead, it is a calamity, one that most of us must encounter at some time or other in the course of life. It is the place of tremendous loss, of bafflement.

The poet and philosopher Bayo Akomolafe has declared that we are in a time of urgency, and in this urgent time, he says, it is important to slow down. He does not mean by this that we must reduce our speed, per se, nor that we do more yoga or become more inward (though he does not slight these pursuits). He means that we must become more relational. To explain, he uses the Yoruba idea of the Crossroads. In Yoruba tradition, the Crossroads is the marketplace–it is where we meet other beings, all kinds of embodied being, spirits, ancestors, monsters. There we encounter an undoing of ourselves:

We participate in a world that exceeds us. When we move our hands, we are moving with ancestors, we are moving with microbial worlds, we are moving with bacterial forms. To do anything, is to do with. …We don’t just witness the world, we withness the world. To see is to see with. Seeing is a political enterprise. Every gesture is haunted by that which is invisible. Which is why I think of the Covid-19 phenomenon as an insurgency of the invisible, an eruption of those things that resist articulation and intelligibility.

During Covid-19 and facing the worldwide climate crisis, we are experiencing a crumbling of norms; the expectations and assumptions of modern society are overthrown. We are come to the Crossroads. Akomolafe might say this is our opportunity. This is our chance to meet the things that defeat us. At the Crossroads, he says, we gain identity and we lose identity. We lose shape, so that we can gain new shapes.

To enter into the state of seedlessness, as Patañjali here describes it, is to let go of old forms. As we confront the predicament of our society, and of our society’s effect on the world, we might look at our idea of how we make change.

Our notion of power, says Akomolafe, is impoverished; it has been defined by modern life. There are ways of being that are another kind of power, a power based in relationship. The loss of identity, the loss of old forms, is a defeat that allows the new, allows us to shift to a less anthropocentric, less dominating and controlling relation to our world. We need, Bayo says, to ask new questions. We need “a practice of failure…but not the failure that modernity has taught us, the failure that makes everything possible.”*

We might ask ourselves, what forms are we shedding? what forms are we gaining?

…when I lean over the chasm of myself—
it seems
my God is dark
and like a web: a hundred roots
silently drinking.

This is the ferment I grow out of.

More I don’t know, because my branches
rest in deep silence, stirred only by the wind.

–Rainer Maria Rilke, The Book of Hours, I.3, translated by Anita Barrows and Joanna Macy


Dhāraṇā-dhyāna-samādhi, when expressed and defined, are outer compared to that which is seedless or unmanifest. But they are inner compared to the five outer instruments of Yoga. The experience of communion is not what is expressed in words. We have to remember that the description is not the described. The word samādhi is not the experience of samādhi. A name or a word is something outer compared to the actual experience. It is only like a finger pointing the way. The finger is not to be mistaken for the way…. The word is not the thing.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 289-91

“When we can play with the elements within our own bodies, with their renewal and disproportion and rebalancing, then we are aware of nature at a level that is not apprehendable in a normal way. It is supranatural, as normal consciousness is blind to it. We are discovering evolution through a journey of involution, like a salmon swimming back up the torrent from which he was born to spawn again….” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, pp. 206, 211

• Does practice help you experience beyond what you have words for? Are you more aware of the play of elements in you?
• How does your practice support you now?
• Are there ways that the crisis we are in is leading you to become more “relational”–to consider perspectives and experience not your own?
• How are you encountering the loss of this time? How are you engaging with change?








functions like an adjective in compound



neuter noun, 1st case singular

limb (from aṅg, “to walk, move about”)


masculine adjective, 6th case singular, “of”

seedless (nir-, “without,” + bījaḥ, “seed”)

*From Bayo Akomolafe, Yoruba Tradition and Post-Activism for Our Times and Gathering Around the Fire with Bayo Akomolafe. Also, see his website.

III.7 त्रयमन्तरङ्‌गं पूर्वेभ्यः

trayam antar-aṅgam pūrvebhyaḥ
“The group of three is an inner limb compared to the previous ones.”

B.K.S. Iyengar expressed in various ways that yoga is a process of moving in and of moving out. He  talked of the evolution and involution of practice, and he spoke movingly about connecting out to our bodies as a way of coming to know who we are inwardly.

Here, Patañjali marks a difference between the last three limbs of yoga and the first five. The group of three, he says, are an inner part, or limb, of the practice. Some commentators describe pratyāhāra to be a bridge between the first four and the last three, and Chip Hartranft describes the limbs as progressively moving inward, that the limbs are a process of “interiorization.”

It is tempting to see external to inner as a hierarchical movement from crude to subtle, surface to depth, but this does not seem to be Patañjali’s intent. He does not describe the limbs as levels of achievement. And the universality, the ubiquitousness, of the yamas and niyamas suggest that these are equal in greatness to the more inner aspects.

The limbs, as Hartranft says, are interdependent and simultaneous. From our first mountain pose, we engage the consciousness in a way that is the last three limbs, that is saṁyama. We place our attention. We continue. We listen. We return. We empty. We experience ourselves in a different way. We may not have learned any more poses. We stood. We entered our bodies. Our two feet on the ground.

The conservationist and activist Terry Tempest Williams describes our society’s alienation from the natural world. She argues that, since 1964–when the Wilderness Act was passed and signed into law–we have begun to experience the landscape of our lives differently:

Our connection to the world is virtual, not real. An apple is not just a fruit but a computer. A mouse is not simply a rodent but a controlling mechanism for a cursor. We have moved ourselves from the outdoors to the indoors. Nature is no longer a force but a source of images for our screensavers. We sit. We stare …

Williams makes a case for our need of nature, and describes how experience of outdoors connects us in, brings us “home to our bodies”:

We remember what it means to be challenged physically and stretched emotionally. We watch the weather and wonder if danger is near. It thunders. Lightning strikes. It rains. We are cold. We keep going in the midst of adverse conditions. The rain stops. We dry as the land dries. A rainbow arches over the horizon. In wilderness, time is not measured in money but in miles, in the hours spent walking on a trail. The wealth of a day in wildness is measured in increments of awe.

The big, wide open spaces that Williams loves (she is from Utah) teach us, she says, our own nature; they free our own big inner spaces and the spirit that moves in those spaces. The living world around us calls out to us, helps us to know our place, as poet Mary Oliver says, “in the family of things.” Williams continues:

Wilderness is a place where we experience the quiet and sometimes violent unfolding of nature, where the natural processes of life are sustained and supported. It is where we feel the rightness of relationships, where we sense our true place, a part of , not apart from, the forces of life.

Today, dramatic outer action is needed to protect the natural world, to slow climate change and bring climate justice to those most afflicted by rising floods, flash droughts, hurricanes, ocean acidification (it is a long list, important to hold in our awareness). How does the “interiorization” that Chip Hartranft describes help us learn to be better actors? The interiority of yoga is meant to lead back, and be implicit in, the yamas and niyamas–how we activate in the world. Let us do our part.

If we destroy what is outside us, we will destroy what is inside us.  –Terry Tempest Williams, Erosion, Essays of Undoing, pp. 39-41


“Patañjali is describing a process of interiorization that begins with one’s relation to externals, then to self, body, breath, orientation of attention, focus, absorption…. Even though all eight limbs are interdependent and simultaneous, the thresholds to which they apply grow increasingly interiorized….When interiorization deepens, consciousness begins to reflect the fact that awareness is not actually regarding an object per se but rather conscious processes representing the object.” –Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 41

“When you start yoga, you probably are living in your mind and emotions, a never-ending Internet chat room. You read books and articles on what best to eat and how to exercise, reading material that any wild animal would scorn. But you do not know how to live. … Instinct is dulled. With āsana and prāṇāyāma practice, first we move outward from mind and cleanse the body, senses, and organs. Instinct is revitalized. The newly awoken intelligence of the body moves in and tells you automatically what food is good for you when and how much to eat, when and how to exercise, and when to rest or sleep. People forget that in our quest for the soul, we first reclaim the joys of the animal kingdom, health and instinct, vibrant and alive.” B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 163

• Has practice helped you know your own appetite better, become more instinctive in terms of what your physical needs are?
• Do you experience āsana as a process of going out or going in? What parts of your yoga do you consider internal, which external?
• In what ways has practice changed you as an observer? Participant?
• How much do you engage with the political, environmental, justice issues of our time?


neuter noun, !st case singular

group of three, triad (from tri, “three”)


functions like an adjective in compound



neuter noun, 1st case singular

limb (from aṅg, “to walk, move about”)


masculine adjective, 5th case plural, “distinct from”

the previous [limbs]


III.6 तस्य भूमिषु विनियोगः

tasya bhūmiṣu viniyogaḥ
“Its [practice] takes us to the ground of our being.”

Patañjali further describes the last three limbs of yoga. Though it might be tempting to conceive of these three as the most ethereal, the most abstract or purely mental of the eight limbs, the sūtra indicates otherwise. This practice and its application (viniyogaḥ) is “in the earth” (bhūmiṣu).

Bhūmiḥ (from bhū, “to be”) means earth, ground, soil, and bhūmiṣu is a 7th-case form, which indicates location. This is the where of the practice. The plural of bhūmiḥ can be understood to mean spheres or levels of existence, and many commentators interpret its use here to refer to the stages of practice. Vyāsa and others emphasize that yoga happens gradually, unfolds in its own time, and that it is only by practice that the progression reveals itself.

A more basic sense of bhūmiḥ speaks to me. The practice of saṁyama (the threefold dhārana, dhyāna, and samādhi) is for the purpose of grounding. It is meant to bring our attention to the soil of ourselves. The emptying of psychological defenses and preoccupations (see III.3) happens as we bring presence and interest and awareness (III.2). It happens as we become more embodied, hear ourselves and know ourselves better. This is why many choose to translate saṁyama as integration. Saṁyama takes us through the layers of ourselves. It moves energy and it clears old patterns. This process takes place in the body. It is of the body.

Iyengar Yoga teacher Genny Kapuler said she goes to her practice to “land in herself.” To return to the soil, to the ground, is an emptying and a landing. We are restored by finding this ground. This is where love is.

Patañjali often weaves back to the idea of groundedness: in I.14, he considers how practice becomes “well-grounded” (dṛḍha-bhūmiḥ); in II.27, he says prajñā (wisdom) reaches the “innermost ground” (pranta-bhūmiḥ).

In English, at least in modern usage, we generally separate mind from body. We speak of making a connection from mind to body. Sanskrit does not make this separation, and this is perhaps why B.K.S. Iyengar often taught about the mind in the body, the body in the mind. The Iyengar practice is one in which one discovers the mind through the body.

And so, we may ask, what is the state of the soil of ourselves? Is it parched, thirsting for rain? Is it depleted, overused? Does it need some time of laying fallow? Should the old crop be plowed under, the earth tilled? From a body that is depleted, an attitude of scarcity will grow. From a foundation of fear will come defensiveness, anxiety, perhaps violence.

This is important to consider on a societal level as well. At this moment, an awareness is rising of this country’s history of racial oppression, and our skewed set of priorities toward militarization. The call to “defund the police” is, essentially, a challenge to invest in people rather than in violence, to value bodies and nurture life. To create a more caring society–to even envision such a place–we must know the ground that our current society is built on. As one activist puts it, “In a society built out of dominance, peace will look like violence.”

The Zapatista Movement in Mexico (described in Rebecca Solnit’s Hope in the Dark) rose up in 1994 in response to the Nafta trade agreement, which harmed much local farming. The Movement now governs a large part of the southern state of Chiapas. This indigenous-based group intentionally organizes from the ground up–its power structure is horizontal and decentralized. It is founded on principles of gender equality and on local control of land and resources. It emphasizes communal interest and wide participation.

Because it intends to be a leaderless movement, one of the Zapatistas’ main spokespeople used an assumed name, Subcommandante Marcos. He writes here of the deep uprooting of assumptions that shaped them:

History written by Power taught us that we had lost . . . We did not believe what Power taught us. We skipped class when they taught conformity and idiocy. We failed modernity. We are united by the imagination, by creativity, by tomorrow. In the past we not only met defeat but also found a desire for justice and the dream of being better. We left skepticism hanging from the hook of big capital and discovered that we could believe, that it was worth believing, that we should believe—in ourselves. Health to you, and don’t forget that flowers, like hope, are harvested.” –Subcommandante Marcos, quoted in Hope in the Dark, p. 109

A commitment to care, to love, to health, to ourselves, brings a harvest of hope.


“Contemporary neuroscience suggests that we now know that to introduce new tools of self-regulation during the controlled invocation of habitual stress patterns can deactivate hard-wired reactive responses, and forge new non-reactive pathways. … As we transition … to the direct observation of neuroplasticity in our consideration of memory and trauma recovery, I believe that we will carry a more nuanced view of how memory resolves and heals into our yoga practice. … We’ll understand that we are altering old patterns and creating new ones. There is no storehouse but ‘flesh’–just as endless, but more palpable, than what we once separated out as ‘the mind’.” –Matthew Remski, Threads of Yoga, pp. 166-67

“The aim of Yoga is to lead the aspirant to the discovery of right action. And since life is not static, the basis of right action has to be discovered from moment to moment. This requires a state of consciousness which comes constantly to the awareness of the timeless moment, the moment of discontinuity. … Love is pure action–all else are mere reactions.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 281-2

“By gaining experiential knowledge through yoga, the [practitioner] must use this wisdom in daily life, in day-to-day activities, as well as in sharing it with [his/her] fellow beings.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, The Core of the Yoga Sūtras,  p. 180, commentary on III.6

•In what way do form and routine help you develop adaptability, flexibility?
•How do you keep your practice grounded? What does it mean to you to “land” in yourself?
•What does the soil of yourself reveal to you about yourself? What is an example of that?
•How does your practice affect the rest of your life? How does it support or perhaps change the roles you take in public life?


pronoun, 1st case singular, “of”

its (here, referring back to saṁyama)


feminine noun, 7th case plural

earth, soil, ground (from bhū, “to be”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

application,  operation (from vi-, prefix that here gives a sense of intensification + ni, “in,” + yuj, “to connect”)

III.5 तज्जयात् प्रज्ञालोकः

taj-jayāt prajñālokaḥ
tad-jayāt prajñā-ālokaḥ

“From the realization [of saṁyama], the light of wisdom.”

Jaya is an important Sanskrit word–used in many mantras and songs as a shout of praise and joy (an example would be the ancient Sri Rama Jaya Rama Jaya Jaya Rama). Derived from ji, “to win,” it could be translated as “victory” or “triumph,” carries with it a sense of liberation. In the context of today’s sūtra, most commentators translate it as “mastery.” Tad (which sandhi rules make taj) is a pronoun that refers back to saṁyama of sūtra III.4. Thus taj-jayāt is translated “from the mastery of saṁyama.”

I have chosen “realization” rather than “mastery,” which to me suggests a top-down control that I actually work against in myself. If it did not sound strange in English, I might prefer “victory” as a translation for jaya. It conveys a lightness, an excitement. Indeed, it conveys breakthrough.

I do not know if there are those who have a kind of complete control of saṁyama, but there is much to be known, gained, and marveled at in, simply, its practice. I may not always have a breakthrough in that practice, realization might not come, but the experiences within it are important, not to be belittled or dismissed.

The victory of saṁyama is related to the work of saṁyama, the three-fold process (see III.1-4), which is a work on ourselves. In that work, we become willing to remove the blocks, the interpretations that are a screen affecting what we see. We all have such blocks. We all have a screen: our experience forms it. In saṁyama, we observe these patterns in ourselves, we listen, with love, to our own story. Insofar as we can bring a quality of kindness and attentiveness to our selves, that is how much we will be able to integrate within, will “empty,” and our understanding and insight will grow.

The sūtra says that from saṁyama will come prajñālokaḥ. This term might most deftly be translated as “revelation.” Prajñā is wisdom, which Patañjali has described in ch. 1 as a complete knowing, a knowing of the heart, by the heart (see I.48-49). Ālokaḥ–from ā, a prefix that adds intensity, and lok, “to perceive”–is vision, but carries a sense of illumination about it. Georg Feuerstein translates it as a “flashing-forth” of insight.

Jaganath Carrera says prajñālokaḥ is “a bursting-forth of the light–the reality or essential nature–of the object of meditation.” Seeing directly, seeing through to the essence, in particular–the underlying connectedness of things, the subtle layer, is an ongoing theme of Patañjali’s (see I.44-45). The flash of bursting-forth of prajñālokaḥ uncovers the history of things, comprises the complexity and interweaving of beings. It is a kind of insight expressed by works of art, perhaps not expressible in words–irreducible. The meaning of the song is the song. The meaning of the poem is the poem.

We are living in a time of tremendous social change and political consequence. It is invaluable today to be willing and ready to free our minds and our imaginations. In many ways, we need a bigger view of what is going on around us. Rebecca Solnit, in her inspirational and helpful book Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, suggests that many of us get mired in struggling with our sense of personal virtue, whether we have done right or wrong, what guilt we bear. She urges us to look at the larger picture. For example, in considering climate policy:

Many people believe that personal virtue is what matters in this crisis. It’s a good thing, but it’s not the key thing. It’s great to bicycle rather than drive, eat plants instead of animals, put solar panels on your roof, but it can give you a false sense you’re not part of the problem. You are not just what you personally do or do not consume but part of a greater problem if you are a citizen of a country that is a major carbon emitter, as is nearly everyone in the English-speaking nations and the global north. You are part of the system, and you need, we all need, to change that system. Nothing less than systemic change will save us. –Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, p. 135

There is a form of personal depression, Solnit argues, that is reflected in the larger society. We are caught in a misery that things cannot be changed. We think society must be what we have known it to be. But, to use adrienne marie brown’s beautiful phrase, “We are in an imagination battle.” (See Emergent Strategy, p. 18.) That is why we must liberate our minds. Jaya!

…the most foundational change of all, the one from which all else issues, is hardest to track. It means that politics arises out of the spread of ideas and the shaping of imaginations. It means that symbolic and cultural acts have real political power. And it means that the changes that count take place not merely onstage as action but in the minds of those who are again and again pictured only as audience or bystanders. The revolution that counts is the one that takes place in the imagination; many kinds of change issue forth thereafter, some gradual and subtle, some dramatic and conflict-ridden—which is to say that revolution doesn’t necessarily look like revolution. — Rebecca Solnit, Hope in the Dark: Untold Histories, Wild Possibilities, p. 26


“The knowledge gained by saṁyama is direct and intuitive. It is a bursting-forth of the light–the reality or essential nature–of the object of meditation. The inception, evolution, and dissolution of any object are fully revealed.” — The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras, commentary on III.5

“The highest form of integration, in my view, would be saturated with feelings of love. This is most easily felt on an interpersonal level, and then with practice might be generalized to relationship with the world at large. …I imagine my experience of integration will advance to the intensity that Patañjali points towards when I am able to feel such interactive communion with a tree or river. I have in small pieces so far, which encourages me to wait with patience and openness. I’m sure that my path back to coherence with the living world begins with other people.” –Matthew Remski, Threads of Yoga, p. 170

“Right action is effortless and is born in the ground of communion or right perception. … It arises in the soil of Wisdom. … Wisdom is not something to be acquired. It dawns upon the consciousness silently in the timeless moments of samādhi. … It comes only as a flash–one moment it is here, the next moment it is gone.” — Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 286

• What flashes of insight has practice brought you?
• In what ways does practice affect your creative life? Have you begun any new artistic pursuits? Enlarged your imagination in any ways?
• Are you open to imagining different possibilities? Personally? Politically?
• How well do you listen to difficult facts?


pronoun in compound



masculine noun, 5th case singular. “owing to”

victory, triumph (from ji, “to win”)


feminine noun in compound

wisdom, knowledge (from pra- , “forth,” can suggest completion, fullness, perfection + jñā, “to know”; the verb prajñā means to discern, especially in reference to required action)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

light, illumination, vision (from ā-, prefix suggesting intensity, + lok, “to perceive, to shine”)

III.4 त्रयमेकत्र संयमः

trayam ekatra saṁyamaḥ
“The three [dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi] are one thing: saṁyama.”

Patañjali introduces one word to describe the three-fold process of dhāraṇā-dhyāna-samādhi. The three are one, he says. And he calls the one thing saṁyama.

Saṁyama repeats as a refrain through Chapter Three, as Patañjali goes on to describe the abilities and understanding that come from contemplation of the world around us.  Saṁyama brings integration within and more accurate perception without. It mends the different parts of ourselves and opens up for us insight into the experience–the being–of others. Yoga is a “science of purification of perception,” says Vimala Thakar (Glimpses of Raja Yoga, p. 95). We must base our actions in the world on truth.

Saṁyama derives from sam-, which here has a sense of “all” or “complete,” and yama, “rule” or “discipline” (same word as yama, the first limb of yoga). It is used in many contexts to refer to spiritual discipline or religious vow. Here, Patañjali has defined it in a more precise way–it is dhāraṇā-dhyāna-samādhi. Mehta translates saṁyamaas Patañjali uses it, as “meditation.” And this seems the best translation to me–in that it corresponds to the way so many of us today use the term “meditation.” Other commentators translate saṁyama as “perfect mastery,” “perfect discipline,” “integration.” Yet those translations seem incomplete. The discipline of saṁyama is specifically a discipline of perception. The mastery is a mastery of observation, of sensing. Saṁyama is integration–and healing–of consciousness.

Patañjali has emphasized the three-fold aspect of meditation, and in so doing, he has highlighted the cyclical, rolling, ongoing aspect of practice. The practice Patañjali describes allows for movement–and for the natural cultivation of our abilities. Samādhi–complete absorption, union, deep insight into the nature of things, or as Rohit Mehta says, a vision of the Formless–occurs as a moment in time. Just as the eye shifts its gaze, so does citta move again. To demand that the eye stay fixed is to harm it. In the practice of saṁyama, we return to dhāraṇā (choosing a focal point), to dhyāna (observing the distractions of our mind), to samādhi again.

The threefold aspect contrasts in an interesting way with the either/or, dual nature of our conceptual process. We tend to conceptualize in terms of good/bad, hot/cold, pleasure/pain (see sūtra II.48). The yogic practice, however, is an ongoing emptying of such conclusion. It is an effort to see without labels.

In some sense, our tendency to good/bad thinking is an attempt to exert control over circumstances. To freeze reality in certainty. To not know, however, is an essential yogic intention–to be curious and to be ready to learn. This is what we practice.

Last week, I attended a Black Lives Matter demonstration. I was moved by a tall white woman who held up a sign that read #whitewomanlistening. As a white woman, there is much for me to listen to and learn from at this time. Our nation is overdue a reckoning with its history of racial violence and injustice. We need this reckoning to move forward.

The great science-fiction writer Octavia E. Butler has, in her important novel Parable of the Sower, called us all to see ourselves as agents of change. “All that you touch you change; all that you change changes you,” declares Lauren Oya Olamina, the heroine of that book.

As much as we may desire to fix things, to keep them as they are, to stay with what we have known, to assume we already know–the nature of our world and of ourselves is change. Patañjali’s saṁyama can help us come un-fixed in ourselves, free us, perhaps, from our too-narrow ideas of God.

Create no images of God.
Accept the images
that God has provided.
They are everywhere,
in everything.
God is Change–
Seed to tree,
tree to forest;
Rain to river,
river to sea;
Grubs to bees,
bees to swarm.
From one, many;
from many, one;
Forever uniting, growing, dissolving–
forever Changing.
The universe
is God’s self-portrait.

–Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower


“Meditation [saṁyama] comprises this threefold process of awareness, attention and communion [dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi]. The three together constitute the wholeness of spiritual experience. They are a whole. It is only for the clarity of mental understanding that one may examine the three separately…. Samādhi or Communion is indeed the experience of the Formless. But such an experience comes only in a flash, in the Timeless Moment. It is in the vision of the Formless that one sees the quality of things, the intrinsic significance underlying all manifestation. There comes a perception of what is. This is right perception and this alone is the starting point of right action or right communication.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 281-2

•What is your experience with meditation? How do you define it?
•What do stillness/movement feel like to you in practice?
•What does integration mean to you?
•How do you respond to change? Do you see yourself as an agent of change?


neuter noun, !st case singular

group of three, triad (from tri, “three”)



in one place; together as one (from eka, “one”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

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