II.41 सत्त्वशुद्धिसौमनस्यैकाग्र्येन्द्रियजयात्मदर्शनयोग्यत्वानि च

sattva-śuddhi-saumanasyaikāgryendriya-jayātma-darśana-yogyatvāni ca
sattva-śuddhi-saumanasya-ekāgrya-indriya-jaya-ātma-darśana-yogyatvāni ca

“[From this,] clarity about the essence of things, cheerfulness, focus, refreshment of the senses, receptivity.”

There are a few sūtras in Patañjali’s work that stand out as almost complete statements on the aim of yoga (I.3, I.32, I.33, II.28 are examples). This sūtra is one. Describing five qualities of consciousness that come from the practice of śauca (cleanliness), Patañjali gives us an opportunity to consider what the yogic idea of purity is, what it is for, and what a concept of purity might mean for us as individuals.

Sattva-śuddhi (clarity about the essence of things), saumanasya (cheerfulness), ekāgrya (focus), indriya-jaya (refreshment of the senses), ātma-darśana-yogyatva (receptivity) all describe benefits for the consciousness that come from yogic practice. The subject of yoga is consciousness (citta), the apparatus that we perceive with, and through practice–whether this practice is āsana, prāṇāyāma, chanting, or some other form–we soften and release patterns of thinking and processing that obscure our view and our understanding.

Thus, the first word of this sūtra is sattva. Though in sankhya philosophy, the primary sense of sattva is the elemental force (guṇa) of brightness, it here has a broader sense of “what is.”  Sattva (from as, “to be”) is truth, essence, what is at the heart. It can also mean goodness. Śuddhi (from śudh, “to purify, make clear”) is purity or clarity, and so sattva-śuddhi is a phrase that suggests a clearing that reveals truth–it may intimate as well a readiness to see good and do good.

Saumanasya is a sweet-sounding word that suggests its own meaning: cheerfulness. From su-, “good,” + manas, “mind,” it stands in contrast to that affliction of mind that is daurmanasya (from dus, “bad, + manas, “mind,”), which might be translated as depression. If depression is a heavy thing, a state of mind that weighs a person down with past loss, frustration, fear–cheerfulness is the state that is light, free, like Emily Dickinson’s description of hope: “the thing with feathers.” Cheerfulness is perhaps a more generous state of being than depression. A college professor of mine once proclaimed, “It is a duty to be cheerful!” and he cited a rabbi whose name I have never been able to find. The phrase has stayed with me, though, often when I myself have struggled with depression. What can it mean to consider cheer a duty? The phrase has, at the least, helped me to be less satisfied with gloom, which has its own magnetism.

For Patañjali, cheerfulness is related to ekāgrya (one-pointedness, the ability to focus). As we will come to see in chapter three, focus–making the choice to place our attention somewhere and keep it there–is at the center of what yoga is. The choice of where we place our attention is key, though Patañjali has already suggested that any point that attracts the mind is suitable (I.39). In āsana practice, we direct our minds to the points of the body, to shapes in space, to the actions of the pose. In prāṇāyāma, we bring awareness to our breath. In the study of Sanskrit, the practitioner might take attention to the resonance of the word, the vibrations of its sound, to its derivation, its allusions and implications.

The fourth quality Patañjali describes is indriya-jaya, which means victory over or mastery of the senses. This mastery is often described as a restraint of the senses, but I would argue that it is equally a refreshment, a renewal of the senses. Many of us, especially in modern society, are cut off from our sense perceptions. We are de-sensitized. We may indeed be disassociated. Indeed, the conceptual mind often interferes with the direct perception of things. Yoga is a practice of letting go of concept, of conclusions (perhaps formed from trauma), to return to direct perception. The senses are key to this process.

Finally, yoga is considered to remove the obstacles from knowing ourselves, in the profoundest sense that the word “self” might mean. Ātma-darśana-yogyatva is “readiness for the vision of the ātman.” Ātman is self, spirit, soul, the ultimate reality. It is important to not let the concept of God, soul, or spirit interfere with the possibility of what this might be. The readiness for the vision (darśana) is perhaps, ultimately, a not-knowing–an openness, a receptivity of all the senses. “Don’t rush to finish your poem,” writes Rumi. See, feel, hear.

…how happy is the one
whose heart’s ear
hears that special voice
as it begins to arrive

clear your ears my friend
from all impurity
a polluted ear
can never hear the sound
as it begins to arrive

if your eyes are marred
with petty visions
wash them with tears
your teardrops are healers
as they begin to arrive

keep silence
don’t rush to finish your poem
the finisher of the poem
the creator of the word
will begin to arrive

–Rumi, translated by Nader Khalili in Rumi: Fountain of Fire


“The practice of āsanas is done, in general, for a sense of physical well-being. But along with this, one needs to develop the art of penetration, the art of insight and the art of looking at the mind through the body….If the first journey is from the body to the mind, the second journey is from the mind to the body. This kind of exchange between the body and mind corrects the process of breathing and opens the channel for prāṇa to move freely within. The prāṇa floats and swims in the body, reaching nooks and corners of the body along with the main stream or the main path where it finds its extension, expansion, breadth and width. This leads the inner body to bathe in prāṇa. The body is vitalised with prāṇika energy. It is an internal bath.” –Geeta Iyengar, introduction to Yoga in Action: Intermediate Course I

A psychological retreat does not necessarily imply moving away to a place not peopled by human beings. Such physical conditions of quiet may help, but are not absolutely necessary. What is important is to move away from the association of one’s own thoughts. The asamsarga must be with one’s own memory-associates. For it is these which bring in the other … causing distractions. The distracted mind is obviously tired, for it cannot rest even when the place is physically quiet. But he who can have moments of undistracted quiet, his mind is purified showing cheerfulness, one-pointedness, sense-control and a clarity of perception.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga: the Art of Integration, p. 176

• How does practice help you see your mind through your body?
• Does your practice support you emotionally? Does your practice help you access cheerfulness, clarity, balance, the ability to calmly focus? Do you become more receptive, more attentive with  practice?
• Do you bring cheerfulness to your interactions with others? How do you listen?
• What role does silence play in your life? In your practice? How does silence relate to leaving space, allowing for the unknown?


neuter noun in compound

true essence, goodness; of three guṇas, the quality of brightness (from as, “to be,” +-tva, “ness”‘; literally, “beingness”)


feminine noun in compound

purity (from śudh, “to purify, make clear”)


neuter noun in compound

cheerfulness, gladness (from su-, “good, sweet,” + manas, “mind,” + -ya, suffix that makes an abstract noun)


neuter noun in compound

one-pointedness, focused attention (from eka, “one,” + agrya, “pointed, foremost”)


neuter noun in compound

organ of sense (from Indra, name of lord of the atmosphere,  + –ya, suffix that designates belonging)


masculine noun in compound

mastery (from ji, “to win”)


masculine noun in compound

the self, the true self, inner being, spirit, soul


neuter noun in compound

vision (from dṛś, “to see”)


neuter noun, 1st case plural

readiness, fitness (from yuj, “to yoke” + -tva, “-ness”; literally, fit for yoga)




II.40 शौचात् स्वाङ्गजुगुप्सा परैरसंसर्गः

śaucāt svāṅga-jugupsā parair asaṁsargaḥ
śaucāt sva-aṅga-jugupsā paraiḥ asaṁsargaḥ

“From cleanliness, protection of one’s own body and non-contact with what is adverse.”

The yamas are principles of relationship. The niyamas (literally, “inner rules,” from ni-, “in,” + yama, “rule, discipline”) are actions of self-care. This sūtra begins with the fifth-case form of śauca: śaucāt, which means “from cleanliness.” Each sūtra on a niyama is constructed in a similar way: (from santosha, etc.). Each niyama is ongoing practice, an act that does not get done for all time, but is repeated. Cleaning is perhaps the perfect expression of such repetition. When I clean the house, for example, I wash the dishes, sweep the floor, make things to shine. Then, after the next meal (in the case of the dishes) or in a few days (in the case of the floor), I wash the dishes and sweep the floor.

In my life, I have been surprised, appalled, and, perhaps, finally, pleased by the repetitive nature of cleaning. When I had my own first home, an apartment in Washington Heights in New York City, I would wonder at the state of the bathtub or toilet when not scrubbed, test how many dishes might accumulate in the sink before seeming insurmountable. How gritty might the living-room floor become if not swept? What does it look like then, feel like? These various experiments intrigued me but cumulatively left me with an appreciation for cleaning and the cleaned, radiant space, the space that someone has tended to, has cared about.

The repetition of the niyamas speaks to the Buddhist aphorism: Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. Yoga practice aims to bring us present to our own lives. The repetitive tasks of self-care are vital to our well-being (we need wood for the fire, water for our body, to survive). They are also, in themselves, the way to be in our lives, the way to appreciate the fullness of things, the enough-ness of our own selves.

In Light on Life (p. 25), B.K.S. Iyengar writes that śauca is not primarily a moral value. The point of it, he says, is that it “permits sensitivity.” In other words, śauca is akin to nirodha and to Patañjali’s definition of yoga (I.2): yogaś citta-vṛtti-nirodhaḥ, “yoga is the removal of the patternings of the consciousness.” The object of yoga is citta, the consciousness. For Patañjali, yoga is a clearing, a cleansing of the perception.

The next sūtra, II.41, addresses the clearing effects of śauca on the consciousness. Today’s sūtra, in a more puzzling–and maybe troubling–way, describes sva-aṅga-jugupsā, “protection of one’s own body,” and paraiḥ asaṁsargaḥ, “non-contact with the other (or the adverse).” Vyāsa, the fifth-century, first-known commentator on Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, takes jugupsā to mean disgust and interprets the sūtra to be referring to disgust for the body. Through familiarity with his or her own body, he says, the practitioner will develop disgust for all bodies and will wish for non-contact with other bodies, thus, detachment from physical life. The ascetic path is ancient and venerable, and it is represented in many traditions, the West as well as the East, but a process of “developing disgust” in my body is antithetical to my own experience of yoga practice.  I instead look to the root meaning of jugupsā, which is “to protect,” and the sense of paraiḥ that refers to what is adverse, hostile to my well-being.

B.K.S. Iyengar begins the instruction of yoga with the body, not as a preparation or prelude to the yoga of the mind (which many traditional teachings do), but as a way of working on the mind–indeed, on the whole self. He taught to see the mind with the body–an idea that is wonderfully topsy-turvy–and insisted that practice was to awaken the intelligence of the body. Śauca, according to Iyengar, is the cleansing and refreshing of the body and the mind to reveal the spirit, to connect the person to her innermost and truest self.

The greatest gift of the Iyengar method of yoga for me has been the affirmation that learning comes through the body, that the way to understanding who I am, what my life is, comes through inhabiting, sensing, feeling this ordinary, marvelous, miraculous body.

There are many practices that are yoga, and there are many lineages that emphasize different aspects of the practice that Patañjali describes. I have been introduced to practices that emphasize chanting and sitting meditation, and I have come to recognize the yogic element in other endeavors and disciplines, like learning Sanskrit, even doing politics. Yet central to my personal practice is working with the body, focusing on the movement of the body with the breath, and honoring the body. The śauca that I consider to be essential to my own practice is not taking baths or brushing the teeth or eating wholesome food–though these are also aspects of śauca for the body. But, primarily, in my experience, śauca is movement. The body thrives on challenge, on stress, on undertakings. The body must move. Our joints, muscles, tendons, ligaments need to be loaded to be able to bear loads. The heart and the lungs thrive on increased demand. That demand makes them healthy, helps the blood to flow well. The body likes engagement with gravity.

In yoga practice, by fixing my attention on āsana and breath, I learn about my mind. I  calm my nervous system and find an emotional strength that supports me. To some extent the shapes of the āsanas facilitate this process. They have been called “sacred geometry,” in that they take our awareness into space, into sensing and witnessing ourselves as part of the infinite. Mr. Iyengar describes the effect of practicing āsana and prāṇāyāma as a bathing of the “inner body”; from this bathing, he says, we become sensitive to, alive to our own inner processes and to our intuitive selves. A recent scientific term B.K.S. Iyengar might have liked for this inward perceiving is “interoception,” the perception of our own inner physiological signals, how we are at an organic level, in a deep, felt way.

Śauca comes from the root śuc, to be radiant. Another translation for it is purity. (See II.5 for another discussion of purity.) Purity, cleaning, the removal of impurities, the confusion between purity and impurity, is a recurring theme in the Yoga Sūtras, and it is worthwhile to keep it as a living question. What does purity mean for me? I would say, today, that it has something to do with interoception, the truth that is found within, the clarity of purpose that comes from the heart, and the presence that I can bring, with love, to my life.

To my mind, the idea that doing dishes is unpleasant can occur only when you aren’t doing them. Once you are standing in front of the sink with your sleeves rolled up and your hands in the warm water, it is really quite pleasant.

I enjoy taking my time with each dish, being fully aware of the dish, the water, and each movement of my hands. I know that if I hurry in order to be able to finish so I can sit down sooner and eat dessert or enjoy a cup of tea, the time of washing dishes will be unpleasant and not worth living. That would be a pity, for each minute, each second of life is a miracle. The dishes themselves and the fact that I am here washing them are miracles!…

Each thought, each action in the sunlight of awareness becomes sacred. In this light, no boundary exists between the sacred and the profane.

I must confess it takes me a bit longer to do the dishes, but I live fully in every moment, and I am happy.

Washing the dishes is at the same time a means and an end. We do the dishes not only in order to have clean dishes, we also do the dishes just to do the dishes, to live fully in each moment while washing them, and to be truly in touch with life.

–Thich Nhat Hanh,  At Home in the World: Stories and essential teachings from a monk’s life


“As a temple or a church is kept clean each day, the inner body, the temple of the soul, should be bathed with a copious supply of blood through āsanas and prāṇāyāma. They cleanse the body physically, physiologically and intellectually. The body, having its own intelligence, develops its potential to change its behavioral patterns.”–commentary on II.40 by B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali

“As a result of physical purification, the body’s protective instincts become fully awakened and alert. Unhindered by the influences of entrenched toxins, they become engaged in the business of warning us away from foods, drinks, and activities that are detrimental to our health. And, just as important, our immune systems can now work at their optimum level, improving the body’s defense against disease.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras, p. 147

“One must be able to listen to the call of that which transcends the body and the mind, in other words, one must be able to listen to the Voice of the Silence. This is possible only when one is just by oneself. This retreat need not necessarily be in the physical sense, although a physical retreat is conducive to a deep experience of solitude. It has however to be remembered that if the physical retreat does not help in the renewal of the mind then it is of little value. A retreat fundamentally has a psychological significance so that the mind is able to throw off the burden of the past and is completely refreshed. It is meaningful only if the body is refreshed and the mind renewed. This indeed is purity in its real sense.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 175

• Do you feel your yoga practice has uncovered an intelligence of the body? Has it helped you get better at protecting and caring for your body?
• When is practice most like a retreat for you?
• What is refreshment or renewal of the mind? Do you experience this after āsana practice? What does it feel like? What is an example of it in your life?
• Do you make a conscious effort to spend time alone? How do you listen to the Voice of the Silence?


masculine noun, 5th case singular, “from”

purity, cleanliness (from śuc, “to be radiant”)


adjective in compound
one’s own, self

neuter noun in compound

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


feminine noun, 1st case singular

desire to protect (from ju, “to urge,” + gup, “to protect”)



masculine adjective, 3rd case plural, “with”

other, adverse, hostile


masculine noun, 1st case singular

non-contact (from a-, “not,” + sam-, “with,” + sṛj, “to emit”)

II.39 अपरिग्रहस्थैर्ये जन्मकथंतासम्बोधः

aparigraha-sthairye janma-kathaṁtā-sambodhaḥ
“Stable in non-acquisitiveness, [one] understands the why and wherefore of birth.”

Parigrah (pari-, “around,” + grah, “to grasp”) is to hold around, to embrace, to encircle, to fence in–to own. A traditional meaning of aparigraha was the state of having no household, no servants, no wife. For Gandhi, aparigraha was, simply, “non-possession.” For most interpreters of Patañjali, though, the principle does not refer to having no possessions but to one’s attitude about the possessions one has; it suggests a resolve to live in a simple way and not seek more than one’s needs. It is translated “non-avarice,” “greedlessness,” “non-grasping,” “non-possessiveness.” It is an attitude toward having, toward being. I have translated it as “non-acquisitiveness.”

To be non-acquisitive is no automatic or easy thing–especially in our culture. Capitalism clamors at us to work hard to be more and have more. We esteem those with money and/or prestige and/or influence. Non-acquisitiveness is a willingness to have less. But, even then, in what manner do we have less? How do we hold on to what we have, how jealous are we of our holdings, how fearful that they may be lost? What if the possession we hold most dear is our reputation–how others see us? Are we defensive and reactive about that?

A practice of gratefulness can be effective in confronting a compulsion to acquire. To recognize what I have, this day, not in the future, and to say thank you, can break a sense of inadequacy, emptiness, hunger.

Poet Mark Nepo writes:

There is no tomorrow, only a string of todays. Still, like most of us, I was somehow taught to dream forward, to fill the future with everything that matters: Someday I will be happy. When I am rich, I will be free. When I find the right person, then I will know love. I will be loving and happy and truthful and genuine then.” –Mark Nepo, The Book of Awakening

I recently talked with a friend about a lifetime expectation, dimly assumed, lurking beneath the surface, that some day in the future, we would arrive. We would be more knowing, more settled, circumstances would be easy. We are both in our mid-60s, and by many measures, the future is now. To our dismay, we don’t feel we have arrived.

Rohit Mehta describes dreaming forward to the future as the mind’s attempt to create psychological continuity, “to project its own conclusions on life.” My desire to arrive can certainly be seen this way. My narrative about the way things are supposed to be is a story of success/failure, right/wrong, good/bad, reward/punishment. I would like to make a satisfying conclusion.  “Life has its own purpose,” says Mehta.

The nature of things is ongoing movement. The settled situation, gathered goods, established family or social network–they all transform. This truth is, at least partly, what Patañjali means when he speaks of janma-kathaṁtā-sambodhaḥ–understanding the why and wherefore of birth. Janma is birth. Katham means “how,” and the suffix -tā makes an abstract noun. Kathaṁtā is the state or nature of how, in other words, why. Sambodhaḥ is a complete knowledge, not piecemeal, not even mental–one might describe it as the knowledge of the heart.

Patañjali suggests that understanding comes when we let go, let go of fixed ideas, accumulated possessions, narratives of success and failure. B.K.S. Iyengar says that aparigraha is the most subtle of the yamas. Indeed, to not “grasp round,” to not “encircle” and “hold on”–and yet to care–that requires great surrender.

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

–Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”



“When one is steady in living without surplus possessions and without greed, one realizes the true meaning of one’s life, and all life unfolds before one.”–commentary on II.39 by B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali

“The more one owns, the more one needs to protect it. Accepting more than is necessary and acquiring more and more goods, knowledge, relationships, and mystical states, clutters the mind and keeps it from grasping the source of things and the motivations and reasons for our life.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 123

“It may be noted that aparigraha is not non-possession, but non-possessiveness. To understand the distinction between the two is absolutely essential. Non-possession is comparatively easy for it involves the discarding of things that one may have. While non-possession may imply the giving up of the home, non-possessiveness indicates the rendering of the mind completely homeless. So long as the mind clings to a conclusion and acts from that centre it has not been rendered homeless….When man acts from no centre of the mind, then truly he is enabled to know the how and why of life. The true purpose of life is revealed to one only when one refrains from projecting one’s own concept of end and purpose. Life has its own purpose.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 170

• What do you tend to hold on to? What do you feel you cannot live without?
• Do you accumulate things, people, or accomplishments?
• Are there any ideas or beliefs that you are rigid about?
• How does projecting your own purpose on to a situation prevent you from understanding it?


masculine noun in compound

non-acquisitiveness (from a-, prefix that negates, + pari-, “around,” + grah, “to grasp”)


neuter noun, 7th case singular

stability, steadfastness (from sthā, “to stand”)


 neuter noun in compound

birth (from jan, “to be born”)


feminine noun in compound

wherefore, the nature of how, the why (from katham, “how,” + –, suffix that makes abstract noun)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

full knowledge, complete understanding (from sam-, “with, all,” + budh, “to know”)


II.38 ब्रह्मचर्यप्रतिष्ठायां वीर्यलाभः

brahmacarya-pratiṣṭhāyām vīrya-lābhaḥ
“Upon the establishment of connection to Spirit, obtainment of vital energy.”

In Hinduism, brahmacarya refers to the time of life when a student devotes himself or herself to the study of sacred literature. This period was considered a time before marriage and household responsibilities. The term literally means “to move or walk with Brahman,” and it is important to understand that Brahman, a neuter proper noun, is not a specific god or goddess, but is the name for what is Absolute, Ultimate Reality, Cosmic Soul, what is beyond words or concepts. Brahman derives from bṛh, “to expand or increase,” and, to quote Vimala Thakar, the name suggests the “inexhaustible creativity” of the universe.

I translate brahmacarya here as connection to Spirit–this is its most powerful and essential meaning to me. Tradition, as Vimala Thakar states (see her commentary below), has defined brahmacarya more narrowly: as celibacy, or, with less absoluteness, continence or moderation, perhaps of all the appetites, but specifically in relation to sexual drive.

I was born in 1956, in a big American metropolis, New York City, and I have grown up in an era of drastically shifting norms around sexual behavior and intimate relationship. My parents were young adults during the 1960s sexual revolution, and their generation sought to throw over the proscriptive rules, the enforced silence, the sexual shaming of Puritanism. I grew up with a confusion around boundaries about sex. As I came of age, there was an Anything Goes attitude among my peers, and it was considered a feminist point of pride, at that time, to be casual about sex (as casual, say, as men).

I have come to value boundaries–and I am suspicious not only of the norms of my young adulthood but of my own diminished sense of self protection. I have been slow to recognize when I am in an unsafe situation. In my case, casualness concealed a disconnection from my body, a dissociation from harms I had experienced, an alienation from my own felt sense of self.

The larger meaning of brahmacarya, to me, is good conduct in my relation to others, generally, and nurturance of the connection inward, specifically–so that I can know who I am in relationship. This connection comes for me through physical practice, with movement, breath, feeling–my body teaches me who I am, and who I come from. It teaches me about touch and love and care. It teaches me about boundaries. It shows me the importance of my social ties but also the necessity of holding my own autonomy, of establishing my own space.

Women are often not accorded autonomy over their own bodies, and we get many subliminal messages to make ourselves available–sexually, emotionally–to let ourselves be used. (See Down Girl: The Logic of Misogyny, by Kate Manne.) I am glad that with the #MeToo movement, women are calling out sexual abuse more, are recognizing and naming that, yes–this is a personal attack, and it is violent. I applaud the women in the Iyengar yoga community who have named abuse this past year. I know they were disbelieved and discredited by some for the testimony they gave. I am grateful to them for their bravery.

Our bodies are our selves. Survivors of sexual abuse often undergo a loss of vital energy, a soul death. (See The Body Keeps the Score, by Bessel van der Kolk.) The recovery of self, and of one’s own life force, requires us to inhabit our bodies once again. It demands self-care and self-empowerment. It requires the right to choose. Indeed, brahmacarya can be understood to be self-reliance, that is, Self-reliance, a connection to and dependence on the source of one’s strength.

May God bless you with discomfort,
At easy answers, half-truths,
And superficial relationships
So that you may live
Deep within your heart.

May God bless you with anger
At injustice, oppression,
And exploitation of people,
So that you may work for
Justice, freedom and peace.

May God bless you with tears,
To shed for those who suffer pain,
Rejection, hunger and war,
So that you may reach out your hand
To comfort them and
To turn their pain to joy

And may God bless you
With enough foolishness
To believe that you can
Make a difference in the world,
So that you can do
What others claim cannot be done
To bring justice and kindness
To all our children and the poor.


–Franciscan blessing/benediction


Brahman is a Sanskrit word, and the root meaning of the word Brahman is ‘that which contains an inexhaustible potential of creativity.’ Brahman is a name given to the Ultimate Reality by the Vedas because it is inexhaustible creativity. For millions and billions of years, Life has been manifesting, the manifestations have been merging back into formlessness, but the dance of emergence of forms and merging back of forms into the formlessness goes on. So the name Brahman was given to unnameableness of inexhaustible creativity…. The word brahmacarya has been narrowed down to mean ‘celibacy.’ The meaning of the word brahmacarya got limited to ‘celibacy, continence, refraining from a sex life.’ But this is an interpretation imposed upon the word brahmacarya by commentators that you have come across in India for thousands of years. And when the books of Indian philosophy got translated into English or French or German, the word brahmacarya was translated as celibacy. Celibacy is a very limited thing. Dedication to the awareness of Divinity, dedication to the understanding of Divinity can be possible even in married life.” –Vimala Thakar, Glimpses of Raja Yoga, p. 23

• How do you cultivate your connection within and to the source of your strength?
• Do you value time alone? Are you sometimes too much alone?
• What do you consider continence in relationships to be? Is it possible to be sexually but not emotionally continent?
• Are you respectful of the divine in others? In yourself?


neuter noun in compound

connection to Spirit (from Brahman, the name of Cosmic Soul, Ultimate Reality, Source of all, + car, “to move, to walk”)


feminine noun, 7th case singular

establishment, resting place, ground (from prati-, “down upon,” + sthā, “to stand”)


neuter noun in compound

vigor, energy, power, valor (from vīraḥ, “hero,” + -ya, suffix that makes abstract noun)

masculine noun, 1st case singular

obtainment, gain (from labh, “to obtain”)

II.37 अस्तेयप्रतिष्ठायां सर्वरत्नोपस्थानम

asteya-pratiṣṭhāyām sarva-ratnopasthānam
asteya-pratiṣṭhāyām sarva-ratna-upasthānam

“Upon the establishment of non-stealing, the presence of real wealth.”

The third yama is asteya, non-stealing (from a-, “not,” + stā, “to steal”). In the past, I have drawn a blank when it comes to non-stealing. It seems so obvious, a rule I have followed since childhood. In more recent years, I have come to see its larger, political implications.

I am inspired by the comments of Georg Feuerstein describing how he has come to look at the global effects of his lifestyle (see The Deeper Dimensions of Yoga, p. 210). I now contemplate asteya a good deal, and I consider it my responsibility to understand the history of my country, its current actions, and my participation in them. This country built its wealth on land stolen from indigenous peoples and the forced labor of enslaved African men and women. Economic inequality continues to affect Native Americans and African Americans disproportionately. The most affluent U.S. citizens–and I am one of them–use more than our share of the world’s resources, and we suffer less than our share of the environmental wreckage that we cause.

What has led us, as a society, despite our affluence, to insist on more and more? What stops us, as individuals, from caring about justice?

I recognize in myself that I am shaped by having grown up in a capitalist  culture. I have been raised with a sense that the acquisition of things is a good, that the economy must expand, and that I must earn money (or at least have money) to be a respectable person. In Montana, where I now live, there are many who do not believe health care is a right—our legislature just added a work requirement to the state Medicaid program. That is, to receive health care, a person must prove that she or he is willing to work.

We see ourselves through the lens of work and how we earn money. In some sense, we experience ourselves as products. We must prove ourselves to have value on the market.

One of the most moving spiritual teachings I ever heard came from Matthew Sanford, a man who was paralyzed from the waist down at age 13, who came to be a practitioner and lover of yoga and who has been a pioneer in sharing yoga with the disabled. It was at a workshop in St. Paul, Minnesota. He said, “What you are is enough.”

What you are is enough.

The great fifteenth-century mystic Meister Eckhart wrote that “The soul grows by subtraction not addition.” By emptying, we find the fullness within. By committing ourselves to people, to the common good—to caring—we find plenty. Matthew Fox considers the relevance of Meister Eckhart today. For Eckhart, he says, economic and ecological justice were matters of the spirit. Fox writes,

Avarice is not good for the soul, for children, for society, or for the planet. It makes madmen of adults. Avarice is the ultimate addiction. Yet we honor it! We rationalize our economic system and justify its abuses. We glorify as heroes those who can make the most money, even when those riches have been gathered at the expense of the greater good, or at the expense of our own welfare. Our only choice, even though the deck is stacked against us, seems to be to try to play the game everyone’s playing and get what we can for ourselves. —Matthew Fox, Meister Eckhart: A Mystic Warrior for Our Times, pp. 232

In this sūtra, Patañjali tells us that when we are established in non-stealing, we will come into the presence of real wealth, sarva-ratna-upasthānam (literally, “standing nearby all jewels”). We will come to be in the presence of that bounty that is beyond understanding, not based on acquisition, not based on more.

“We need time and space for emptying, for being, for living and working without a why,” says Matthew Fox. A significant aspect of yoga practice is the gift of time and space. Even there, I am often afflicted by a sense of deficiency. Am I getting it right? Am I getting it wrong? Shouldn’t this pose be better? Shouldn’t I be able to teach better? Have a better yoga business? A powerful contemplation: What you are is enough.

The ancient Vedic hymn Purṇam Adaḥ says, “Fullness is there, fullness is here. Fullness arises out of fullness. Take away fullness from fullness, fullness remains.”

pūrṇam adaḥ pūrṇam idaṁ
pūrṇāt pūrṇam udacyate
pūrṇasya pūrṇam ādāya
pūrṇam evāvaśiṣyate


“’Fair trade’ is a timely broadening of asteya (commonly, ‘non-stealing’), to account for the complexities of global economy, in which laying claim to property itself might be considered a form of stealing, and in which wage and resource disparities constitute gross violations of human rights. The letter of current law is insufficient when it comes to the ethics of economy. We must go farther, and ask: What are my relationships to food, shelter, labor, and information worth to my life? Does money accurately reflect and compensate effort and relationship? What am I really giving of myself to live in the developed world? Is my time and lifeblood worth as much as the time and lifeblood of the man who picked my vegetables?” –Matthew Remski, Threads of Yoga, p. 109

“What are the psychological possessions which one feels one is in danger of losing? Surely that which is acquired can be lost, whereas that which is inherent can never be lost. One need not cling to them as if someone is going to take them away. One seeks to acquire because one feels a psychological incompleteness with oneself.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 166

• Do you look to things outside yourself for completion? Do you envy others?
• Have you ever had an acquisitive attitude about practice itself?
• Do you consider your place in the global economy when you consider asteya?
• Does your practice bring you a sense of fullness?



neuter noun in compound

non-stealing (from a-, prefix that negates, + stā, “to steal”)


feminine noun, 7th case singular

establishment, resting place, ground (from prati-, “down upon,” + sthā, “to stand”)





neuter noun in compound

jewel, gem, gift, riches (from , “to give”)


neuter noun, 1st case singular

presence, nearness, obtaining (from upa-, “near, + sthā, “to stand”; upasthā, “to stand near”)

II.36 सत्यप्रतिष्ठायां क्रियाफलाश्रयत्वम

satya-pratiṣṭhāyām kriyā-phalāśrayatvam
satya-pratiṣṭhāyām kriyā-phala-āśrayatvam

“Upon the establishment of truth, assurance of the fruit of actions.”

The second yama is satya, “truth.” The Sanskrit word derives from the verb ās, “to be” and so points to the “is-ness” of truth. Truth is—in Sanskrit—what is.

In this sense, the Sanskrit idea of truth hews closely to the modern scientific idea. Through direct observation (an important principle of yoga, see I.7), with careful attention, and with willingness to remove blinders, preconceptions, the scientist strives to see more clearly, know more fully. The yoga practitioner does this as well. The field of her observation includes her own self. Beginning with the outer body and moving to the breath and more subtle sensations, the yoga practitioner turns inward, looks, listens, feels the state of herself, inside herself. Neurologist and trauma specialist Bessel van der Kolk calls the ability to sense inwardly “interoception” (see II.7). B.K.S. Iyengar calls the process of turning inward “involution.”

In yoga practice, we follow the breath, we feel the body—in movement, in stillness, wide, narrow, vertical, at right angles to gravity, upside-down, folded over, knotted up, turning, spiraling. The practice awakens the senses, lights an experience of one’s being as active, dynamic. The body in motion speaks to us; the body that we allow ourselves to feel reveals the self to the self. The work that is done in āsana and prāṇāyāma can release long-held memories, unrecognized or denied emotions; it is a kind of excavation of layers long buried.

For many, yoga practice leads to a profound sense of oneness, in oneself, in the world—expressed in many traditions as the ultimate truth, as God.

In this sūtra, Patañjali says that one who is established in truth, who stands in truth, will rest in the assurance of the fruits of action (kriyā-phala-āśrayatvam). There need be no anxiety about outcomes or consequences, as though truth were its own safe space, a refuge (one meaning of āśraya is resting place, shelter).

What a beautiful idea this is: that truth is a refuge. Yet it is so human and so common for us to deny difficult truths. We don’t like the truths that go against the stories we have been taught, the values that we share. In my personal life, it has been hard for me to accept that I have harmed others. I have also struggled to acknowledge how I have been harmed.

There is perhaps no greater example of denial than our society’s refusal to acknowledge climate change. The reality of climate change and the extent of the environmental destruction we face demands that Americans let go of the story of progress, of the solutions of modern capitalism. We cannot live as we have been living. This is a difficult truth.

Gandhi founded his political movement on the principle of satyāgraha, literally, “holding on to the truth.” Satyāgraha, in its most general sense, was a principle of non-violent witness. Specifically, it was a declaration that the injustice and exploitation of the British occupation of India were to be denied no longer.

Satya as a yama is an injunction to pay attention and see what is there. Pay attention to the clues of the body and the movement of the breath; to the unfolding of nature in her cycles but also the political news of the day; to the processing of the intellect and the understanding of the heart.

The truth is in many ways elusive—so many-sided! Yet we go at it, in many different ways. One way is with silence.

Be still and know that I am God.
Psalm 46:10

The truth cannot be found by argument, the soul itself is truth, it is that Self praised by Yādnyawalkya which is all Selves.
–W.B. Yeats, introduction to Aphorisms of Patañjali

The fact that religions through the ages have spoken in images, parables, and paradoxes means simply that there are no other ways of grasping the reality to which they refer. But that does not mean that it is not a genuine reality. And splitting this reality into an objective and a subjective side won’t get us very far.
— Neils Bohr, quoted by Maria Popova; see her blog Brain Pickings



“It is not our mind, but the inner voice of our cells which has the power to implement our decisions.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on II.36

“What is the condition of non-falsehood? Surely it is that state where one perceives what is and not what one has projected. It is our projections that create falsehood and the projections arise out of the incomplete past. Why is one not able to see what is? It is because the past seeking fulfillment creates a screen so that one is not enabled to see anything directly.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga and the Art of Integration, p. 163

“In several traditions, truth is with God–in the Gospel, ‘I am the Way, the Truth, the Life’–in Chāndogya Upaniṣad, truth is Being, that is, God. Truth is a fundamental concept. Respecting it is an exacting discipline that requires perfect fidelity and coherence among intention, speech, the action, and its results.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 120

• What true thing in your personal life–or perhaps in our national life–has it been difficult for you to see or accept? What has helped you accept it?
• Are you direct in your communications with people? Do you have a tendency to gossip?
• Does the practice of satya lead you to speak less or more? Does it guide you in political action?
• What does it mean to you to listen to the “inner voice of your cells”? What does interoception teach you?


neuter noun in compound

truth (from sat, “existing, being,” + -ya, which makes abstract noun)


feminine noun, 7th case singular

establishment, resting place, ground  (from prati-, “down upon,” + sthā, “to stand”)


feminine noun in compound

doing, action, performance, purificatory rite, practice (from kṛ, “to do”)


masculine noun in compound

fruit (from phal, “to bear fruit”)


neuter noun, 1st case singular

(from ā + śri, “to depend on,” +-tva, which makes an abstract noun)


II.35 अहिंसाप्रतिष्ठायां तत्सन्निधौ वैरत्यागः

ahiṁsā-pratiṣṭhāyāṁ tat-sannidhau vaira-tyāgaḥ
ahiṁsā-pratiṣṭhāyāṁ tad-sannidhau vaira-tyāgaḥ

“Upon the establishment of non-harming–in the presence of that–relinquishment of hostilities.”

Ahiṁsā, non-harming, is the first of the yamas and is the foremost moral injunction. A- is a prefix of negation; hiṁsa means “harming” (from han, “to hurt”). Patañjali begins each of the yama sūtras (II.35-39) with the construction “upon the establishment.” Here: ahiṁsā-pratiṣṭhāyāṁ, “upon the establishment of non-harming.”

Pratiṣṭhā derives from prati-, “down upon,” plus sthā, “to stand,” and means standing still or the place that one stands still, the ground, the resting place. Our English word “establishment” is a nice translation because it contains a cognate of the same important root, sthā, “to stand.” (The base can be seen in the word sthiti, “standing,” a term Geeta Iyengar often uses for the yoga postures.) Pratiṣṭhā has a seventh-case ending in this phrase, which suggests location: it connects back to the image of citta, consciousness, as a field (see II.4). It is as though Patañjali says, “in that place where ahiṁsā is established,” or “in that resting place of ahiṁsā.” The next phrase, tad-sannidhau, “in the presence of that,” is also in the seventh case. There, Patañjali says, where ahiṁsā is established, in the presence of that, hostilities are relinquished.

It is a beautiful, fantastical promise. It suggests a powerful, transformative–perhaps a priori–force. Thus B.K.S. Iyengar insists ahiṁsā has the positive meaning of love and claims it as the principle of connection of all living things (Light on Yoga, p. 31). He writes feelingly of love in Light on Life, describing friendliness, compassion, gladness, presence (see sutra I.33) as essential to Patañjali’s yoga (p. 59).

If the yamas are not rules per se, not a list of specific dos and don’ts, but (to use Jaganath Carrera’s word) friends that assist and guide us (see II.30), then what does this friend say? What does this friend invite us to do? Perhaps it is indeed to consider connection, to check our empathy, our curiosity, our care–of others, of ourselves.

Matthew Remski, whose Threads of Yoga is a personal contemplation of the Yoga Sūtras, emphasizes the positive power of ahiṁsā when he translates it as “protection.” This accords with the sense of ahiṁsā as being parama dharma (the foremost of the dharmas, a term used in the Mahabhārata). Dharma refers to those actions that support life and the balance of creation–one might say, the common good. Remski considers crucial to the idea of ahiṁsā, and our human need for connection, to be politically aware and active.

In an essay on ahiṁsā in his book The Deeper Dimension of Yoga, writer and Sanskrit scholar Georg Feuerstein explores the implications of ahiṁsā for himself. He questions his livelihood, his family and social relationships, his responsibilities on a global level. He describes ahiṁsā as a manifestation of love, a presence–sannidhi. As yoga practitioners, he says, we must come to understand that “our field is interconnected with the fields of everyone and everything else.” He reflects too on the subtleties of how our inner attitudes and thoughts–the conditions of our field, as it were–affects others. “Even if we do not mean to harm another person, our coldness or indifference is a form of harming.”

The more I ask this friend, ahiṁsā, to teach me what it is (or what she is–ahiṁsā is a feminine noun), the more I am struck by this quality of positive power. Ahiṁsā, though expressed as a negative, shows up as is-ness. Non-harming does not come from the withdrawal of participation; it is not expressed by the mere absence of ill intent. For example, if I am responsible for a child, I must do more than suffer the child, withholding criticism or harshness. It is not at all enough for me to not be mean or bad. A child needs active care, involved interest. A child needs to feel that someone delights in her. The care of a child must come from the heart.

This friend ahiṁsā tells me to look at the condition of my field, to the state of my heart. I consider these lines from e.e. cummings:

you shall above all things be glad and young.
For if you’re young, whatever life you wear
it will become you;and if you are glad
whatever’s living will yourself become.

I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing
than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance

Am I moving forward in my life with gladness and with the joy, the nimbleness, the curiosity of the young? Am I ready to learn from the birds?  Or do I–perhaps from fear or hurt–seek control, monotony, limitation? If I am engaged in “teaching the stars not to dance,” I am creating harm. Life calls for expansion. It calls for the dance. It calls for love.


“You have to create love and affection for your body, for what it can do for you. Love must be incarnated in the smallest cell of the body, to make them intelligent so that they can collaborate with all the other ones, in the big republic of the body.” —B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 59

“If by behavior, by glances, by words you attack, invade the psyches of other people, you are not a nonviolent person. You may not kill physically, but you are killing psychologically, you are hurting by eyes, you are hurting by words.” –Vimala Thakar, Glimpses of Raja Yoga, p. 19

“Whenever we are not present as love, we inevitably reduce our own life and life in others. Hence we are responsible for how we are present in the world, even when we are on our own, because our field is interconnected with the fields of everyone and everything else.” –Georg Feuerstein, The Deeper Dimension of Yoga, p. 203

• What does ahiṁsā say to you? Has ahiṁsā affected any decision you have made? Has it affected the quality of how you engage?
• What does it mean to you to be glad and young?
• What are the subtle forms that harm can take?
• Have you discovered more love and affection for your body through the practice of yoga? Has the opposite sometimes happened? What do you do then?


feminine noun in compound

non-harming, non-violence (from a-, prefix that negates, + han, “to hurt”)


feminine noun, 7th case singular, “in”

establishment, resting place, ground  (from prati-, “down upon,” + sthā, “to stand”)


pronoun in compound



masculine noun, 7th case singular, “in”

presence (from sam-, “with,” + ni-, “down,” + dhā, “to place”)


masculine noun in compound

hostility (from vī, “to approach, attack”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

giving up, laying down, relinquishing (from tyaj, “to abandon”)