II.45 समाधिसिद्धिरीश्वरप्रणिधानात

samādhi-siddhir īśvara-praṇidhānāt
samādhi-siddhiḥ īśvara-praṇidhānāt
“The ability to perceive directly and fully [comes] from turning toward the source within.”

Who or what owns it all? Who or what do I defer to, commit to, surrender to? What brings me the widest perspective that I can have? What support lies underneath the support?

Just as sūtra I.23 introduced īśvara-praṇidhana as the ultimate yogic act, implicit in all yogic practices, so does Patañjali’s discussion of the yamas and niyamas culminate with this same great injunction: turn inward, turn to the source.

As I have described, the word īśvara (from īś, “to own,” +   vṛ, “to choose”) can be an adjective that means powerful, capable. As a noun, it refers to one who is the owner, a rich person, a king or queen. It is commonly translated Lord or God. To understand Patañjali’s idea of īśvara, it is useful to return to chapter one and consider sūtras I.23-29. There, Patañjali describes īśvara as the self that is untouched by circumstances (I.24), a place within, beyond time, the holder of the seed of knowledge, the original teacher (I.25-26), understood by vibration, not concept (I.27-28). The sound of īśvara is OM, and OM takes us inward, to the connection to what īśvara is in us (I.29).

Praṇidhāna (from pra-, “towards,” + ni-, “under”, + dhā, “to place”) carries with it the sense of placing something down and before, turning something over, as it were. It is translated surrender, devotion, commitment.

In the context of the practice of yoga, and specifically, Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtras, what we surrender–what we lay down–is our preconceptions, patterns of thought, reactive tendencies. Rohit Mehta translates īśvara-praṇidhāna as aspiration to what is highest, orientation to ultimate reality. He says the yoga aspirant must be “poor and penniless in the psychological sense” to come to the view of reality, to “live in the open spaces.” (See quotation below.)

To view reality, to see clearly, is samādhi, and Mehta here echoes the definition of samādhi that Patañjali will give in sūtra III.3, where he describes an “emptying” of citta so that the object alone shines there. This emptying allows the fulfillment (siddhi) of what samādhi is. In today’s sūtra, Patañjali simply says, samādhi-siddhiḥ īśvara-praṇidhānāt, which I have translated: the ability to perceive directly and fully [comes] from turning toward the source within.

Patañjali will describe the turn inward, the how of it, in the following sūtras. It is worth pausing here to reflect on a quality that Mehta mentions in his discussion of santoṣa and that relates to īśvara-praṇidhāna as well: self-containment. The spiritual person, says Mehta, is neither a conformist nor non-conformist, but finds authority within. I was fortunate to see an interview with the young Swedish climate activist Greta Thunberg this week. Greta is diagnosed with Asperger’s syndrome and has chosen to be forthright about it. Asked how it affects her as an activist, she answered:

It is thanks to my diagnosis, my Asperger’s syndrome…because without that I wouldn’t have noticed this crisis…. Everyone else saw the same pictures and films that I did, the destruction of nature and what was happening with the climate, but no one of them seemed to really … I didn’t understand why their lives weren’t turned upside down like mine was.  —https://theintercept.com/2019/09/13/greta-thunberg-naomi-klein-climate/

Most of us gauge our responses based on what our families or neighbors or fellow citizens do. Greta Thunberg took in the facts of climate change directly and has directly responded. She is an exemplar of what we aspire to as yoga practitioners.

The turn inward, the surrender or commitment to seeing as the seer within sees, is central to yoga practice. So, is īśvara-praṇidhāna–and therefore yogatheistic? Rohit Mehta argues that Patañjali’s īśvara is neither anthropomorphic nor a personal deity. And though religious practitioners can readily recognize the principle of surrendering to God, īśvara-praṇidhāna is a more universal expression of faith–non-sectarian, even secular. To not know, to let go, to trust, these are the attributes of Patañjali’s īśvara-praṇidhāna.

What supports me? What do I turn to? What is the support under the support?

There is a basket of fresh bread on your head, yet you go door to door asking for crusts. Knock on the inner door. No other. Sloshing knee-deep in clear streamwater, you keep wanting a drink from other people’s waterbags. Water is everywhere around you, but you see only barriers that keep you from water. A horse is moving beneath the rider’s thighs, yet still he asks, Where is my horse? Right there, under you. Yes, this is a horse, but where’s the horse? Can’t you see? Yes, I can see, but whoever saw such a horse? Mad with thirst, he cannot drink from the stream running so close by his face. He is like a pearl on the deep bottom wondering, inside the shell, Where is the ocean? His mental questionings form the barrier. His physical eyesight bandages his knowing. Self-consciousness plugs his ears. Stay bewildered in God and only that. –Rumi, translation by Coleman Barks


“Patañjali says that while making effort, while training, while studying, become aware that there is a principle permeating everything. Toward It, have an attitude of surrender–otherwise you might mistake yourself as this master of your body and master of the cosmos or the universe. You are in a limited form and all your actions are limited. You have to work in a conditioned, limited structure, so whatever you do has limitation. But there is an unlimited, all-pervading principle that is omniscient, omnipresent, omnipotent–these three beautiful terms explain everything that is indicated by the word īśvara. There is no other meaning to the word īśvara as far as Patañjali is concerned.” –Vimala Thakar, Glimpses of Raja Yoga, p. 37

Īśvara or Reality is not in some one direction. It is all-pervading. So right orientation means opening oneself to Reality, and therefore living in the open spaces. It is a condition of an open mind, not open to something or in some direction, but just open. It is a state of openness. … To come to this state the mind has to be divested of everything. To be poor and penniless in the psychological sense is to know what non-possessiveness [aparigraha] is.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 183

“Pupil: ‘Sir, can one see God? If so, why can’t we see [her]him?’ Sri Ramakrishna: ‘Yes, [s]he can assuredly be seen. One can see [her]him with form, and one can see [her]him also as formless.'” –quoted by Swami Prabhavananda and Christopher Isherwood, How to Know God, p. 158

• What are you committed to? Devoted to?
• In what ways is surrender a rhythm that underlies your practice? What is the interplay between effort and letting go, for you?
• Has yoga practice brought you to a state of openness? What is required of you to become more open?
• What form does God take for you (if any)? What is faith for you?


masculine noun in compound(I.41

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


feminine noun, 1st case
power, ability, completion (from sidh, “to fulfill, to reach, to succeed”)

masculine noun in compound

owner (from īś, “to own,” + vṛ, “to choose”)


neuter noun, 5th case singular

devotion, surrender, contemplation (from pra-, towards + ni-, “under,” + dhā, “to place, support”)


II.44 स्वाध्यायादिष्टदेवतासम्प्रयोगः

svādhyāyād iṣṭa-devatā-samprayogaḥ
svādhyāyāt iṣṭa-devatā-samprayogaḥ
“From self-study, union with the beloved within.”

The spiritual path might be described as the journey to discover one’s self. The discipline (tapas) of walking that path includes bringing awareness and honesty to one’s tendencies, proclivities, limitations, adaptations of all kinds. It involves a willingness to observe, to test, to try new behaviors. In short, it involves study.

Svādhyāya, the fourth niyama, is self-study. It derives from sva, “self” + adhī, “to study, to go fully into” (the root verb of adhī is i, “to go”). But the English word self does not quite express the fullness of the expression sva as it is used in Sanskrit. Sva is a pronoun that means “one’s own,” and could be used to indicate anything that belongs to one. As a noun, it is often used to refer to the soul.  It is also a name of the god Viṣṇu, protector and preserver of life. So the word both refers to the individual and that that is greater than the individual–the source, the deep reality.

Mr. Iyengar writes that yoga is an inward journey, and in that journey we move through layers of our being, “from the world of appearances, or surfaces, into the subtlest heart of living matter.” There is a kind of excavation that happens as we go inward; we remove and release old ways of being and thinking; we move toward an innate self. Some describe this as coming into wholeness. In yogic terms, it is discovering the divine within.

The inward experience can happen powerfully in the seemingly “surface” practice of āsana. I may be especially aware of this because it is my tendency to separate from my body–to remove myself from felt experience and dwell on the intellectual or analytical layer of myself. To bring my awareness to the felt–to physical perceptions–acquaints me with me. I know then what I am feeling, what I am sensing around me, and I come alive, become more “sensitive,” as Rohit Mehta would say.

This awakening of the senses has brought me up against hard truths about myself. It has led me to recognize my own self-defeating behaviors. It has revealed a definite inclination toward shame. Thus, a key tool of self-study, I would say, is curiosity. Can I be interested not in the success or failure of a pose, but in the how of it? If I become disturbed by a person or event, can I sympathetically say to  myself, Huh! What is that about? Can I be curious? Can I be loving?

Christian theologian Henri Nouwen writes of the spiritual journey in personal and psychological terms in his 1992 book Life of the Beloved. This work was an attempt to describe the spiritual life to a secular friend. He specifically addresses shame, which he calls “self-rejection”:

Over the years, I have come to realize that the greatest trap in our life is not success, popularity, or power, but self-rejection…I am constantly surprised at how quickly I give in to this temptation. As as soon as someone accuses me or criticizes me, as soon as I am rejected, left alone, or abandoned, I find myself thinking: Well, that proves once again that I am a nobody.”  (Life of the Beloved, pp. 31-32)

For Henri Nouwen, the quality of being turned against oneself, of rejecting oneself, is a trap. It delays and deflects from the spiritual path, the aim of which is belovedness.

It is not unlike what Patañjali says here. From self-study, Patañjali says, comes union with the beloved within (iṣṭa-devata). In Hinduism, the iṣṭa-devata is the representation of the divine that the devotee particularly connects with; it is the expression of the divine that one loves. In secular terms, we might understand this to be any symbol, place, or activity that connects us to what is beyond ourselves and what is within.

The key to the term iṣṭa-devata, I believe, is iṣṭa. It is the past passive participle of the verb iṣ, “to desire”–it refers to what is desired, longed for…what is beloved. The iṣṭa-devata (again, in secular terms) is the thing that excites us, brings enthusiasm, that supports us in our efforts; it is the habit or practice that holds our attention, that captures our curiosity, that draws us toward truth, toward insight, toward wholeness.

As we come to know ourselves better, we choose our individual path with more discernment. What is right for me may not be right for you. What you love, what connects you, is your guide.

B.K.S. Iyengar was known to say, “Be a learner.” I would add, Be curious. Be the Beloved.

Dear friend, being the Beloved is the origin and the fulfillment of the life of the Spirit. I say this because, as soon as we catch a glimpse of the truth, we are put on a journey in search of the fullness of that truth and we will not rest until we can rest in that truth. From the moment we claim the truth of being the Beloved, we are faced with the call to become who we are. Becoming the Beloved is the great spiritual journey we have to make. –Henri Nouwen, Life of the Beloved, p. 43


“Self-study refers not only to the regular, independent study and recitation of wisdom teachings but also more broadly to the way one applies them to one’s own life. It is not enough simply to arrive at an intellectual, conceptual grasp of the ideas associated with tradition. One must ‘walk the talk’ by actually taking action.” –Chip Hartranft, The Yoga-Sūtra of Patañjali, p. 36

“To a yogi … the path toward spirit  lies entirely in the domain of nature. It is the exploration of nature from the world of appearances, or surface, into the subtlest heart of living matter. Spirituality is not some external goal that one must seek but a part of the divine core of each of us, which we must reveal. For the yogi, spirit is not separate from body. Spirituality, as I have tried to make clear, is not ethereal and outside nature but accessible and palpable in our very own bodies.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 18

• Has the practice of yoga brought you greater knowledge of yourself? Has it brought you surprises about yourself? Has it affected your inner dialogue? Have you come to have compassion for yourself?
• Has knowledge of yourself helped you trust yourself more? Has it brought self-reliance? Responsibility?
• What connects you to spirit? Is there a place or an activity that centers you? What is your experience of spirit in the body?
• Is there a form of the divine that is dear to you? What is your source of inspiration?


masculine noun, 5th case singular, “from”

self-study; traditionally, study of sacred books and repetition of mantra (from sva, “self, one’s own” + adhī, “to study, to go fully into”; root verb is i, “to go”)


past passive participle in compound
beloved (from iṣ, “to desire”)

feminine noun in compound

deity (derivation uncertain, possibly from div, “to shine”)

masculine noun, 1st case singular

connection, union (from sam-, “with,” + pra-, prefix that suggests auspiciousness, + yuj, “to join”)

II.43 कायेन्द्रियसिद्धिरशुद्धिक्षयात् तपसः

kāyendriya-siddhir aśuddhi-kṣayāt tapasaḥ
kāya-indriya-siddhiḥ aśuddhi-kṣayāt tapasaḥ

“Strength of the body and senses comes from tapas–the removal of impurities.”

Tapas is the discipline of spiritual practice. It is the discipline to repeat, once more, and once more, those actions that clear, clarify, transform. Tapas is the willingness to begin again. It is the acceptance of the slog. It is determination when encountering resistance.

The word tapas comes from the root tap, “to burn,” and like the word kriyā (sacred act, see II.1), it suggests the lighting of the fire that was central to Vedic ritual. This imagery is vivid in the Bhagavad Gītā, verse VI.1:

anāśritaḥ karmaphalaṁ
kāryam karma karoti yaḥ
sa sannyāsī ca yogī ca
na niragnir na cākriyaḥ

The one who does the actions-to-be-done,
without attachment to the fruits,
that one is a yogi and is free–
not the one without a fire and without sacred acts.

The actions-to-be-done vary for each of us, but we must each light a fire.

In this sūtra, Patañjali emphasizes again that spiritual practice works as an act of removal–aśuddhi-kṣayāt (by the removal of impurities, a phrase used to describe the eight limbs of yoga generally, see II.26). Yoga is not about acquisition.

And yet this process of removal, this lighting of the fire, unveils to us, unblocks in us, our natural potentials. Patañjali states that, by means of tapas, the body and the senses are strengthened; they are brought to fulfillment–kāya-indriya-siddhiḥ. In his recent book, One Simple Thing, A New Look at the Science of Yoga, Eddie Stern describes tapas as “a positive stress” (p. 119). Indeed, there is a growing recognition in modern medicine and psychology that the body and the nervous system need to be stressed to stay strong. We must move, be active, face challenges to keep our bodies and minds healthy.

Patañjali will elaborate on the powers (siddhis) in Ch. 3, the Vibhuti Pāda, “chapter of accomplishments,” but he suggests here that the powers of which the body and the senses are capable are not special or magical, though they may seem so at times. They are rather the abilities revealed when the obstacles to learning are cleared. The body, generally, is ready to learn–it is the mind that says no. The senses, often, are under-used.

Vimala Thakar emphasizes that the limbs of yoga educate the body and the senses and free us of “the clutches of conditioning.” Rohit Mehta, who often speaks of the re-education of the senses, describes in his commentary on this sūtra that tapas brings sensitivity. He considers tapas, essentially, to be an austerity of simplicity, a condition in which “all ostentation and sophistication are put aside.”

Pratyāhāra, the turning inward of the senses, the “bending inward”–as B.K.S. Iyengar says–is essential to this aspect of tapas. Doing nothing, being still, observing inwardly, these renew the senses. They heighten the awareness. They also require a kind of fire of attention. There is a not-doing to the doing that is yogic tapas. One might also say that there is a doing to the not-doing.

When I consider my own tapas, I ask myself, Am I willing to learn? Am I willing to have the conditionings that clutch me released (even if they don’t disappear)? Do I make time in the day for spaciousness? In the body? In the mind? Am I willing to listen, to receive? To be sensitive? I am pretty sure I do not free myself. Space does.

In a word, let this thing deal with you, and lead you as it will. Let it be active, and you passive. Watch it if you like, but let it alone. Do not interfere with it, as though you would help, for fear that you should spoil it all. Be the tree; let it be the carpenter. Be the house, and let it be the householder who lives there. Be willing to be blind, and give up all longing to know the why and how, for knowing will be more of a hindrance than a help. It is enough that you should feel moved lovingly by you know not what, and that in this inward urge you have no real thought for anything less than God, and that your desire is steadily and simply turned toward that. —The Cloud of Unknowing, ch. 34


“The third niyama, tapas, sustained practice, corresponds to pratyāhāra, the hinge between the outer and inner aspects of yoga practice. It implies that cognitive awareness is bent inward with a view to self-knowledge (svādhyāya). It directs one toward the core of being and, like the blacksmith’s bellows, it must always continue to heat the heart of the fire of practice, otherwise the alchemical transformation through extreme heat will never take place. The fire will burn merrily, but it will not turn lead into gold.”–B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on Life, p. 263

Tapas is not mortification. No suppression, no repression, no denial–but it is an austerity….Tapas is to educate the body–āsanas, prāṇāyāma, pratyāhāra, etc. You educate the body in speech, in ideas, etc., so that it can set itself free of the clutches of conditionings. You cannot destroy conditionings, but you can release yourself from their hold, their domination, their clutches.” –Vimala Thakar, Glimpses of Raja Yoga, p. 28

“It would be well to regard tapas as simplicity, that condition of the body and mind where all ostentation and sophistication are put aside. In such simplicity there arises a great sensitivity in the functioning of the body and the mind. One is able to respond to the beauty of nature and man.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 179

• What role has discipline played in your life? What are the disciplines important to your life today?
• Do you consider sensitivity a goal of practice?
• What has brought you transformation–physical, psychological, or spiritual? What “conditionings” do you most need release from? How does practice help with that?
• Is a quality of fire necessary in practice? (How do you kindle that fire? How do you help it burn steady?)


masculine noun in compound



neuter noun in compound

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


feminine noun, first case singular

power, ability (from sidh, “to fulfill, to reach, to succeed”)


feminine noun in compound

impurity (from a-, negation, + śudh, “to purify, make clear”)


masculine noun, 5th case singular, “from”

removal, elimination, destruction (from kṣi, “to destroy”)


neuter noun, 5th case singular, “from”

discipline, fire, pain (from tap, “to be hot, blaze, burn”)

II.42 सन्तोषादनुत्तमः सुखलाभः

santoṣād anuttamaḥ sukha-lābhaḥ
santoṣāt anuttamaḥ sukha-lābhaḥ
“From contentment, incomparable attainment of happiness.”

The second niyama is santoṣa–contentment. It can be understood to come, like saumanasya (cheerfulness), from the first niyama, which is śauca, cleanliness. The health, vitality, and sensitivity that śauca brings do themselves give us a feeling of contentment. Yet in this sūtra, contentment is not described as a consequence. Like the other niyamas, contentment is an action.

Generally, as a product of my society, I have viewed contentment as a result of action, as an object to be won. Enshrined in our Declaration of Independence is the phrase “the pursuit of happiness” and I am sure that has influenced me. Matthew Remski remarks that the American standard of living is based on “incessant appeals to our dissatisfaction” (Threads of Yoga, p.112). Our dissatisfaction drives the engine of our economy. I am so accustomed to it as part of life that I hardly know there is an alternative.

Patañjali challenges us to live in a different way. He tells us to practice contentment.

Santoṣa derives from the prefix sam-, “with or all,” and the verbal root tuṣ, “to be satisfied.” Tuṣ is a pretty verb: tuṣyāmi, “I am satisfied”; tuṣyati,“he/she is satisfied.” What leads me to be satisfied? What prevents me from feeling satisfied–even when circumstances are good, when I have much to be thankful for?

One summer when my daughter was in high school, she worked on a permaculture farm run by a family. Her employer, a man named Nick, gave her a list of tasks to do. When she had finished them, she went back to him and asked what’s next. Now, he said, you sit down and absorb what you have done. I always do that, he said.

Do I sometimes not feel satisfied because I have not let myself absorb what I have done? Or enjoy what is happening? Do I feel the water on my skin when I do the dishes? (See Thich Nhat Hanh quote on washing the dishes, II.40.) Do I taste my food when I eat? Do I notice the weather, the seasons, the sky? Do I let myself experience the fullness that is in each moment?  The awakened senses can lead us to be in our lives more.

Many spiritual traditions direct us to find contentment within. At the source of our self, within our self, we are told, we find our self. The Bhagavad Gītā expresses this beautifully in the following verse:

yatra caivātmanā ‘tmānam
where, and indeed, by the self, the self

paśyann ātmani tuṣyati
beholding–in the self, she is satisfied (VI.20)

The word for self–ātman–appears three times. “By means of the self, seeing the self, in the self, she [the practitioner] is satisfied.” To be in the self is to be satisfied.

This satisfaction means, to me, that I am attuned to my everyday self and with my everyday life. It means that I keep things simple. Can I be glad in the body I have, with its idiosyncrasies, strengths, and limitations? Can I be glad, even, in the peculiarities of my temperament? How much do feelings of not being good enough, even more so than not having enough, disturb the contentment that might come if I let it?

Rohit Mehta says the real meaning of santoṣa is “psychological self-containment.” It is a state, he says, in which we are not dependent on external happenings, but find instead a happiness that is incorruptible. I like Mehta’s definition, and it leads me to wonder if the independence that comes of establishing the self in one’s self, that comes of practicing santoṣa, isn’t itself significant.

Indeed, there is much to not be satisfied by in the state of our country. The world is in a climate crisis. Men and women and children seeking refuge at the U.S. border are detained and held in inhumane conditions. I believe it is my obligation to not look away, to be a witness, and to respond as best I can. I don’t always know what I can do, and I often feel deficient, but it does seem to me that the “incorruptible happiness” of santoṣa can strengthen my purpose. This moment in history calls for engagement. May the niyamas support me in that.

“I have no power of miracle other than the attainment of quiet happiness, I have no tact except the exercise of gentleness.” — Oracle of Sumiyoshi, Shinto prayer (thanks to Mark Nepo)

“I could be bounded in a nutshell, and count myself a king of infinite space, were it not that I have bad dreams.” – Hamlet, II.ii


“You know how electricity is produced: water flows like a waterfall onto turbines which rotate under the action of the water to generate the current. So also, when we are performing āsanas, we make the blood fall on every one of our cells like water onto a turbine, to release the hidden energy of our body and bring new light to the cells. When that light comes, we experience santoṣa–contentment–which is the second principle of niyama.”–B.K.S. Iyengar, The Tree of Yoga, p. 50

“Contentment comes from mental well-being (saumanasya) that moves us to consider the positive in all beings and situations. Often our frustrations come from regrets, agitation, suffering, or comparing ourselves with others. Focusing on what others have–or don’t have, for that matter–instead of nourishing gratitude, leads to everlasting discontent. Contentment is a dynamic and constructive attitude that brings us to look at things in a new way. It calms the mind, bringing a flowering of subtle joy and inner serenity that are independent of all outside influences and perishable things. It is essential for self-confidence, for succeeding in our personal endeavors, and for relationships, education, teaching, and therapy.” –Bernard Bouanchaud, The Essence of Yoga, p. 126

“So long as man thinks his happiness lies outside, in external happenings, he is destined to remain unhappy, for he can have no control over the external factors. To be psychologically self-contained is to find happiness within.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, p. 178

• Do you practice contentment? How?
• Is adrenaline a fuel for you? Anxiety? Worry? Is there a way that contentment itself could be dynamic?
• Do you experience a link between self-confidence and contentment? (Do you compare yourself to others?) What supports, for you, feelings of satisfaction, abundance?


masculine noun, 5th case singular, “from”

contentment (from sam-,”with or all,” + tuṣ, “to be satisfied”)


masculine adjective, 1st case singular
having no superior, highest, unsurpassed (from an-, “not,” + ud, “up, high”)

neuter noun in compound

happiness (from su, “good,” + kha, “axle hole, space”)

masculine noun, 1st case singular

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

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”)