III.17 शब्दार्थप्रत्ययानामितरेतराध्यासात् सङ्करस्तत्प्रविभागसंयमात् सर्वभूतरुतज्ञानम्

śabdārtha-pratyayānām itaretarādhyāsāt saṁkaras tat-pravibhāga-saṁyamāt
śabda-artha-pratyayānām itara-itara-adhyāsāt saṁkaraḥ tad-pravibhāga-saṁyamāt

“Word, object, and thought–piled one upon the other–get confused. From saṁyama on the distinctness of these, knowledge of the sound of all beings.”

Language shapes thought. This is why I study Sanskrit. The different words used, their distinct implications and connections, open up meanings not in English. To study another language is to see in a different way.

In today’s sūtra, Patañjali reflects on language, a recurring theme in the Yoga Sūtras (see I.9, I.42, and I.49). This is not accident. To penetrate inward, to come to know self better, is to come to see how language works. Ultimately, in practicing direct observation, one comes to see the limit of what one has seen–how mingled, confused (expressed here by saṁkara, which literally means “mixed together”) most observation is. Patañjali puts it this way: śabda (word), artha (object), and pratyaya (thought) overlap, one on the other (itara-itara) and so intermingle. Despite this, he continues, these three are distinct. Observe that.

Naming things helps us to know them. But it is not the end of knowing. There is more observation to be done after the word is said. Indeed, Patañjali suggests here, observation may be a kind of listening. Look feel listen to the vibrations, to the object, to the world.

Sound and vibration are mystical entities in Indian tradition. Creation, it is said, began with the word atha, and the sacred syllable OM is considered to contain all the sounds of the universe. Thus, when Patañjali says that saṁyama on word, object, and thought bring knowledge of the sound of all beings, he alludes to deep mystical knowledge, an understanding of the nature of things, the hum of life.

It is beautiful to consider that in conversation with our friends, we might listen past their words to their hum. That we might attempt to “hear” an animal. Do I speak dog? Not really. Yet my dog and I understand each other. It is possible, really, that he is the more attentive one.

In hatha yoga, the element of space is related to sound. Through āsana practice, we come to experience space in and around us in a physical and tactile way. This can help us become more sensitive to vibration. To the touch of sound.

Today’s sūtra is an important one. It demands that the yoga practitioner question assumptions and the status quo. I have been writing in recent months about the crises we face on a political and global level. Examination of assumptions in a society-wide way is critical–I do not exaggerate–for our survival. I was excited to hear, this past week, an interview with Gina McCarthy, recently appointed by President Biden to be the first United States National Climate Advisor. She is the former head of the Environmental Protection Agency and has worked as a health advocate and protector of environmental well-being her entire career. In this interview, McCarthy assesses what the word “government” means to us today. What does the word conjure up? On right-wing talk radio, it is a pejorative term. Yet government is what we as citizens make. Government is how we govern ourselves. The way we come together for the common good. Gina McCarthy explains:

“Since the Reagan administration there has been a concerted effort to say that government is dysfunctional, it can’t work, and as a result a lot of government right now is dysfunctional and isn’t working. There are so many ways we can have the kind of future we all want as long as we are willing to make government work for us.”

Gina McCarthy emphasizes that individual solutions will not solve the environmental nor social justice crises we face: she says we must work in community, whether that is local, state, or federal government. We must demand that government become active in encouraging, through regulation and enticement, the solutions we already have. What prevents us from unleashing these solutions? McCarthy suggests that our sense that “there is nothing to be done” has been created in us:

“People with money seem to be able to mess up our perception of reality–not just science but our reality. I don’t see any way that gets us out of this without people becoming more active, much more vocal, us demanding that we be served, not just the wealthy. … The young people get it. They know it. They’re demanding it.” *

The solutions, says McCarthy, are not painful. They are fun and good. They will make a better world. Listen to the hum of that world.

*From the podcast How to Save the World, hosted by Dr. Ayana Elizabeth Johnson and Alex Blumberg,  Jan. 14 episode: “Meet Your New Climate Czar.”


Śabda, when manifest as the audible aspect of a word, is, in and of itself, simply an arrangement of sounds or phonemes, which contains meaning of some object, artha, that produces an impression on the mind of the listener…. Therefore, the word is one thing, the meaning of the object itself something else, and the idea or knowledge of the object something else again.” –Edwin Bryant, The Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.17

“Concentrate separately on the word, the meaning and the object, which are mixed up in common usage; understand the speech of every creature. When we utter the word ‘elephant’, we find that the word, the meaning and the object are mixed up; the word lives in air, the meaning lives in mind, the elephant lives by itself.”

“Very often there is a gap between the words we use and what these words really mean, because our inner and outer experiences color them. Something that sounds like a compliment might really be expressing jealousy that the speaker seeks to hide even from him or herself. The first stage, then, is prolonged observation of the possible gap between our own words and what we are really saying, given our situations, our experiences, and our emotional and mental states. It is a matter of knowing what we say, why we say it, and in what circumstances we say it.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.17

“Speech is the most powerful means of communication. And yet much misunderstanding is created by the spoken word resulting in unhappy relationship. If one could go behind the verbal meaning and cease projecting one’s own meanings on words that are spoken by the other then life would be much simpler causing no strain in relationship. But how is this to be done? Only by an act of communion, which means noting the movement of one’s own mind when one listens to the words uttered by others.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 316

• Has yoga helped you become a better communicator? Can you understand someone who speaks another language? How well do you listen to animals? To yourself? How tuned into your environment are you?
• This sūtra asserts that there is a distinction between words and the objects they describe. What is an example of an incident when words prevented understanding?
• What are the sounds of a healthy world?
• Do you have access to the sounds of nature where you live?


masculine noun in compound

sound, word


masculine noun in compound

meaning, purpose


masculine noun, 6th case plural, “of”

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


pronoun in compound

one upon the other


masculine noun, 5th case singular, “from”

superimposition (from adhi-, “over,” + as, “to cast”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

confusion, mixing together (from sam-, “with,” + kṛ, “to do”)


pronoun in compound

of these


masculine noun in compound

separation, distinctness (from pra- + vi- + bhaj, “to divide”)


masculine noun, 5th case singular, “from”

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


adjective in compound



neuter noun in compound

that which exists, any living being, element (from bhū, “to be”)


neuter noun in compound

sound, the cry of animals, the song of birds, hum of bees (from ru, “to make a sound, cry, roar, sing”)


neuter noun, 1st case singular

knowledge (from jña, “to know”)

III.16 परिणामत्रयसंयमादतीतानागतज्ञानम्

pariṇāma-traya-saṁyamād atītānāgata-jñānam
pariṇāma-traya-saṁyamād atīta-anāgata-jñānam

“From saṁyama on change and its three aspects, knowledge of the past and future.”

“All is pain,” says Patañjali in Chapter Two. The discerning know this. The pain is not accidental or incidental–it is the pain inherent to transformation (pariṇāma). Change brings pain. (See II.15.)

The yogic path brings us to greater awareness of change and enlists us to be in dynamic relation to it. In yoga practice, we work to transform citta, our own minds, to strive for a neuroplasticity, if you will, an awakening of the senses, a freshening of our perceptions. We aim for greater participation and presence in our lives. We seek to be fully embodied. This is a way of partnering with change. We will not stop change, not any more than we will stop aging, but we might enter into co-creation with it.

In today’s sūtra, Patañjali shifts from his consideration of change and moves into an expansive description of the powers (vibhūti) of yoga practice. Some commentators, as I have mentioned, are concerned that practitioners do not mistake the attainments of yoga to be the end goal; some grapple uneasily with the mystical, over-the-top quality of the claims. My own experience of the chapter, to sum it up, is delight. Patañjali here draws us into the natural world, helps us consider the marvels of this life, helps us know our own possibilities more profoundly.

At the beginning of Chapter Three, Patañjali defines saṁyama to be a threefold process: dhāraṇā, binding the awareness to a place, dhyāna, extending and returning attention to that place, samādhi, the emptying out of self as a fuller, truer perception dawns–it is as though the object alone “shines out.” This is saṁyama. The best translation for it is probably “meditation.” (See III.1-4.)

The pattern of the rest of Chapter Three goes like this: From saṁyama on a given deśa (place to hold the awareness), comes an attainment or understanding. In sūtra III.16, Patañjali says, “From saṁyama on change and its three aspects, comes knowledge of the past and future.” (The three aspects–or axes–of change, to review, are form, circumstance, time. You can think of them as the vertical, horizontal, and sagittal dimensions of change. See III.13.)

The more I contemplate–the more I return to consider–the roots of myself, the circumstances of the society around me, and the workings of time, the more of the past, and the potential for the future, I understand. Hearing the information of others, opening to perspectives beyond mine, are crucial.

The Covid epidemic has revealed inequity in this country in stark and terrible ways. Corporations receive bailouts, the rich the best medical care, while the poor, including “essential workers,” many of whom are people of color, must fend for themselves.  All this has heightened my desire to know and understand the unfoldings around me. But the first big break from what I knew and what I thought I knew, came in 2016, when we elected an ignorant, racist, misogynist, con-artist of a man to be President of the United States. It was a nightmare, and it felt like a break with reality. At that time, I heard an interview with Ta-Nehesi Coates. He was asked, Do you find the election depressing? He said he was not depressed, because he was not surprised, and he suggested that those who were depressed–that would be me–need to ask themselves: What story about this country have you been telling yourself?

I have become intent on learning the full story, the true story, of what this country is. I have turned to black, indigenous, and women writers, filmmakers, podcasters, to get the story I didn’t get from my formal, white education. I described, in my last entry, Adrienne Rich’s search for the origins of herself. She writes here about the loss of one’s idea of country:

What if I told you your home
is this continent of the homeless
of children sold    taken by force
driven from their mothers’ land
killed by their mothers to save from capture
–this continent of changed names and mixed-up blood
of languages tabooed
diasporas unrecorded
undocumented refugees
underground railroads    trails of tears
What if I tell you your home
is this planet of warworn children
women and children standing in line or milling
endlessly calling each others’ names
What if I tell you, you are not different
it’s the family albums that lie
–will any of this comfort you
and how should this comfort you

–Adrienne Rich, In the Wake of Home

Once we have laid aside nostalgia about our nation, about “home,” the ideas of what it was supposed to mean or be, where do we go? Standing in reality is its own comfort, a good starting place for partnering with existence.*

The late anthropologist and social visionary David Graeber (he coined the term “the 99 percent” during the Occupy Wall Street protests), urged us to intervene in our own future, to build a society that prioritizes care and creativity, not whatever activity produces a profit. Interviewed for the volume Everything Must Change!: The World after COVID-19, he declared,

“There has been a 30- to 40-year war against human political imagination. In the 1930s through to the 1960s, it was just assumed that we were living in a somewhat terrifying, but nonetheless exhilarating, new age where almost anything was possible. Creations such as the United Nations or the space program were epical feats of statesmanship. This is inconceivable now. We are given this line that there are economic machines beyond our control that are propelling us toward a better future and we just have to trust in them; we certainly can’t intervene in history…. If there was ever a stupid time to give up on trying to imagine a better future, this is it…. Care and freedom, instead of production and consumption, should be the bases of our economy.”–https://lithub.com/do-global-financial-crises-inevitably-reinforce-capitalism/

As the world adapts to and recovers from Covid-19, we are poised to undertake great change. Governments around the world will be forced to make substantial investments to rebuild their economies? What will we invest in? How will we build our future?

Perhaps, to understand the actions we must take, we must come to know how homeless we truly are, how knit together our fates.


“The seeming stability of experience is an illusion, as are the enduring qualities of objects. In fact, the universe is unfolding, expanding, advancing through time–not just as stars, planets, and gas clouds hurtling outward from their explosive beginnings, but also in our molecules, fibers, bodies, families, communities, and species. The universe’s unfolding can even be sensed in our consciousness, whose flux is displayed before awareness moment by moment.” –Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 50

“As we have already seen, the culminating point of the threefold transformation is an awareness of silence in the midst of noise. This is the awareness of the Transcendent in the Immanent, or of the timeless in the sequence of time…. The timeless moment is the Infinite Rest even as the flow of time is Infinite Motion. Motion becomes meaningful only in the context of rest. It is the timeless moment which gives significance to time. The new mind born in the moment of communion knows the secret of the time process because it comprehends the mystery of the timeless moment.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, pp. 308

Saṁyama is a way of obtaining knowledge through experience: direct perception of the highest order. There are no intermediary words, biases, blind spots, faults of logic, no history, no agendas–just the mind confronting an object head-on, penetrating it to its core.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, commentary on III.16

• Can direct perception cut through bias or preconception? What is an example of that in your own experience? What did the process demand of you?
•What is your relationship to change?
• Have the events of the past year overthrown any previously held ideas for you?
• Are you active in your political imagination? Can you envision a society with different priorities?


masculine noun in compound

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


adjective in compound

three (from tri, “three”)


masculine noun, 5th case singular

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


neuter noun in compound

gone by, the past (from ati-, “beyond,” + i, “to go”)


neuter noun in compound

not yet come, the future (from an-, “not,” + ā-, prefix that suggests reverse action, + gam, “to go”; āgam = “to come”)


neuter noun, 1st case singular

knowledge (from jña, “to know”)


*Much thanks to adrienne marie brown for ongoing lessons on shaping change. See her book Emergent Strategies.


III.15 क्रमान्यत्वं परिणामान्यत्वे हेतुः

kramānyatvam pariṇāmānyatve hetuḥ
krama-anyatvam pariṇāma-anyatve hetuḥ

“The unique path is the cause of the uniqueness of the transformation.”

The last sūtra offered us a chance to explore the scope of change, to consider our limits and our potential. Today’s reading challenges us with how.  What are the steps to change? How does it happen? How do we invite change in and partner with it? What methods and practices do we embrace?

Krama (from kram, “to walk, go, step”) refers to the steps we have taken, the path we have walked. In the context of yoga practice, it is taken to refer to the sequence of instruction, the method of learning.

Anyatva  is distinctness, otherness, the particulars of a thing. To understand a transformation (pariṇāma), says Patañjali, look at the particulars of what has come before. Notice the details. How have events unfolded? The uniqueness of the steps explains the uniqueness of what unfolds.

B.K.S. Iyengar, in his commentary on III.15, examines the importance of proper sequence for “harmonious and organic growth.” Bernard Bouanchaud, similarly, discusses method and results. Different individuals, he states, will benefit from different approaches.

I have translated krama not as sequence, but as path, to emphasize the more general implications here. The distinctive events of our lives, and how we have met them, stepped through them, affects how we develop. The steps that have been taken before we are born set the circumstances that we are born to. They live in us.

Adrienne Rich, in her remarkable poem Sources, searches out the foundations of herself. She proclaims that she does not look to another person or thing to heal or fix her. She looks to herself.

I refuse to become a seeker for cures.
Everything that has ever
helped me has come through what already
lay stored in me. Old things, diffuse, unnamed, lie strong
across my heart.

The old things, the things stored in her, include places, parentage, and upbringing. She contemplates the powerful influence of her father on her, her Jewish heritage he never acknowledged, his gift of drive and purpose, his fear and concealment, his domination. She sees his formidable effect on her, her own revolt against his “power and arrogance.” She grapples with how he has shaped her identity, and she looks past him, to the sources that shaped him, to the choices that are her own.

With whom do you believe your lot is cast?
From where does your strength come?

I think somehow, somewhere
every poem of mine must repeat those questions

which are not the same. There is a whom, a where
that is not chosen that is given and sometimes falsely given

in the beginning we grasp whatever we can
to survive

–Adrienne Rich, “Sources”

Like Adrienne Rich, we might consider what we have grasped at “to survive.” Are there teachings we have been given, perhaps when we were very young, that we may need to cast off? Are there stories about our origins, or who our people were, that we now question?

Krama refers to the steps that have brought me to where I am today, the steps of my parents and their parents, my steps. Krama also casts forward. What steps will I take? How will I live? What are the methods I choose, personally and as a participant in society? I must know where my strength comes from. Change requires strength.


“Different methods produce different changes. … To acquire a certain level in a foreign language, for example, one might take classes, individual lessons, or a correspondence course, or one might stay in the country where the language is spoken. The rate of learning differs according to the method used. The method must also suit a student’s aptitudes and temperament. For example, a gregarious person who is not so fond of books and solitude would learn more with a maximum of human contact and, therefore, might prefer to spend time with native speakers of the language.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.15

“There is a logic to the involutionary spiritual journey, just as there is in the growth of a plant from seed, to stem, to bud, to flower, to fruit. The original, pure consciousness which we trace through Patañjali’s method is the seed of transformation in oneself. Our own self is the maker of our own spiritual destiny.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.15

“When time-succession is seen without the comprehension of the timeless moment then the former makes no sense whatever. It appears to be a frustrating process moving in a seeming aimlessness. Rabindranath Tagore states this beautifully in his book Sadhana: ‘If we do not see the Infinite Rest, and only see Infinite Motion, then existence appears to us a monstrous evil, impetuously rushing towards an unending aimlessness.’ … It is only when the manifest drops away that the Unmanifest can be seen in all its glory. And the dropping away of the manifest is the cessation of the thinker and the thought. In this utter silence of consciousness the timeless moment conveys the secret of time; it is in this timeless moment that the meaning of the Time-sequence is comprehended.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, commentary on III.15

• Do you tend to repeat or vary the sequence of practice? What are the benefits of repetition? Variation? Can you trace your own development as a yoga practitioner? What was the start like? How has the change gone?
• Do you recognize that a method that you value might not be right for another person? What is an example of that?
• With whom do you believe your lot is cast? (Who have you been walking with? Who do you choose to walk with going forward?)
• From where does your strength come?


masculine noun in compound

going, proceeding, sequence, method (from kram, “to walk, go, step”)


neuter noun, 1st case singular

otherness, distinctiveness, singularity (from anya, “other,” + –tva, “-ness”)


masculine noun in compound

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


neuter noun, 7th case singular

otherness, distinctiveness, singularity (from anya, “other,” + –tva, “-ness”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

cause (from hi, “to incite”)

III.14 शान्तोदिताव्यपदेश्यधर्मानुपाती धर्मी

śāntoditāvyapadeśya-dharmānupātī dharmī
śānta-udita-avyapadeśya-dharma-anupātī dharmī

“The holder of the forms (dharmī) is present in all the forms (dharma)–past, present, future.”

Throughout Patañjali’s sūtras on transformation (pariṇāma), there is a theme of threes. He describes pariṇāma in three ways (sūtras III.9-12). He delineates three axes of change: form, time, and circumstance (III.13). And in today’s sūtra,  he points out that form (dharma) has a threefold aspect: śānta (dormant, or past), udita (manifest, or present), avyapadeśya (indistinct, or future). The form of the child that I once was is my past, the woman I am now my visible present, the old one I might be yet to come.

The number three suggests change. According to yoga philosophy, the three essential forces of nature–tamas, rajas, sattva (see sūtras II.15 and II.17)–do not rest. They combine and recombine, tumble forward. The nature of nature is change.

Underlying this world of changing forms, says Patañjali here, is a substratum, the dharmī. Let us look at the two words dharma, dharmī.

The most familiar meaning of dharma is duty, purpose, goodness. One’s function in the world, the part one plays or is meant to play, is one’s dharma. It can be understood to be what supports the functioning of the world. I might ask myself, How do I help “hold” the world? In the context of today’s sūtra, dharma is the essential characteristic of a thing, its form (also related to function). Dharmī  derives from dharma plus the suffix –in.  It means that which possesses the forms (as a yogī possesses yoga). It is the holder of the forms.

Rohit Mehta says the ultimate holder of the forms is the Unmanifest, the ground of all that is manifest. Yet we can also interpret dharmī to be the template that determines forms, a blueprint of what is possible–like DNA. Bernard Bouanchaud emphasizes this meaning, and he argues that the dharmī establishes the limits of change we might expect.

Both these meanings are useful and interesting. In the sense that we are all made of the same stuff, there is untold possibility. Insofar as there is a template of forms–shaped over generations,  we are constrained.

Somatic therapist Resmaa Menakem describes how our bodies carry imprints from generations that have come before us. Epigenetics research indicates that experience affects how DNA is expressed in the cells. In this and in other ways, Menakem explains, racial trauma is passed down from mother to child. Our bodies carry in them events our ancestors endured. (See My Grandmother’s Hands, by Resmaa Menakem, pp. 39-40.)

Menakem believes that there is a settling, a healing, that is possible for white bodies as well as black bodies, and he believes that it is through this healing, this transformation of our bodies’ nervous-system patterns, that we can move toward greater truth and justice. The impression of trauma, in other words, is not unchangeable. There is a holder of forms deeper than the trauma, a template for a settled, wholesome, healthy being.

I am a white body, and I am coming to see that it is vital for me (and other white bodies) to come to a better understanding of my white past, the role that my ancestors played in enslaving fellow human beings, and my part in the perpetuation of the racially based caste system we live in today. I must know my white body–its anxieties, its shame, its constraints.

In a 1963 interview with Dr. Kenneth Clark, James Baldwin said the following:

“What white people have to do is try and find out in their own hearts why it was necessary to have a nigger in the first place, because I’m not a nigger. I’m a man, but if you think I’m a nigger, it means you need it. … If I’m not a nigger and you invented him–you, the white people, invented him–then you’ve got to find out why. And the future of the country depends on that, whether or not it’s able to ask that question.” –James Baldwin, public television, GBH Archives

To understand my people, to be truthful about my society, I must know my own body. I must ask Baldwin’s question.

We live in a moment of great potential change. And that potential change is charged by the Black Lives Matter movement, by climate justice activists, by young people around the world who are facing the devastation of our times with a readiness for a new way.

Dr. Kenneth Clark asks James Baldwin in that 1963 interview whether he is pessimistic or optimistic. Baldwin answers: “I can’t be a pessimist, because I am alive.”

We do not know what is possible from the substratum that shapes us. We do not know what is the limit of possibility. But we are alive. And we can choose to move toward life. A more equitable, sustainable life.


“This aphorism sets out the limits of change. Every element takes on numerous forms, for example, water can be a solid (ice), liquid, or gas (steam), depending on temperature. At a given moment, a single form manifests, ice for example, when it is cold. In the same way, each of us carries a multitude of gifts within–qualities that may or may not show themselves, depending on the situation. Our capacities may be categorized in three ways: those that have been shown–the past; those that are showing–the present; and those still hidden away–the future. Our changes are limited by a basic substratum, characteristic of our inner nature, that resists all outside influence. Our personalities rest on this substratum and our influence on another stops here.” — Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, commentary on III.14

“The word dharmī used here denotes the Ground or the substratum of all manifestation. Dharmī also means something that holds, or something which constitutes a dependable base. Now this Ground is obviously the Unmanifest, for, the entire manifestation rests upon it. It is the Unmanifest that permeates the whole manifestation.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, commentary on III.14

“All forms share the same basic particles through time. … Patañjali’s general notion of ‘substrate’ (dharmī) remains thrillingly current, especially if we emphasize the notion of forms ‘sharing’ particles through fields and field-activities–which contemporary physics points to through the recent Higgs boson discovery. The Higgs boson points to the existence of a hypothetical unified field at the heart of our matter-energy complex–a kind of syrupy substrate by which elementary particles acquire mass.” — Matthew Remski, Threads of Yoga, p. 174

• Does your practice help you settle? To heal?
• Does practice help you be less reactive, especially to those from different racial and ethnic backgrounds, or to those who have difficult truths to tell you?
• Are you able to listen and learn about the history of violence and injustice in this country?
• Are you preparing to live into a future that looks different from today?


masculine adjective in compound

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


masculine adjective in compound

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


masculine adjective in compound

indistinguishable, indistinct (from a, “not,” + vi, “apart,” + apa, “away,” + diś, “to point out”)


masculine noun in compound

nature, character, essential quality (from dhṛ, “to hold”); also expresses what is one’s particular virtue,  responsibility, or purpose


masculine adjective, 1st case singular

following, as a consequence or result (from anu-, “after” + pat, “to fall”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

substratum, ground of being (from dhṛ, “to hold”)


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.