III.10 तस्य प्रशान्तवाहिता संस्कारात्

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

What we put our attention on grows.

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

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

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


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

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

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


pronoun, 6th case, singular

of that


adjective in compound

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


feminine, 1st case singular

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



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

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


III.9 व्युत्थाननिरोधसंस्कारयोरभिभवप्रादुर्भावौ निरोधक्षणचित्तान्वयो निरोधपरिणामः

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


neuter noun in compound

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


masculine noun in compound

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


masculine noun, 6th case dual, “of”

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


masculine noun in compound

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


masculine noun, dual 1st case

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


masculine noun in compound

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


masculine noun in compound

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


neuter noun in compound

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


masculine noun, 1st case singular

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


masculine noun in compound

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


masculine noun, 1st case singular

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

III.8 तदपि बहिरङ्गं निर्बीजस्य

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This is the ferment I grow out of.

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

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


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

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

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








functions like an adjective in compound



neuter noun, 1st case singular

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


masculine adjective, 6th case singular, “of”

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

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

III.7 त्रयमन्तरङ्‌गं पूर्वेभ्यः

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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


neuter noun, !st case singular

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


functions like an adjective in compound



neuter noun, 1st case singular

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


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

the previous [limbs]


III.6 तस्य भूमिषु विनियोगः

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


pronoun, 1st case singular, “of”

its (here, referring back to saṁyama)


feminine noun, 7th case plural

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


masculine noun, 1st case singular

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

III.5 तज्जयात् प्रज्ञालोकः

taj-jayāt prajñālokaḥ
tad-jayāt prajñā-ālokaḥ

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

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


pronoun in compound



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

victory, triumph (from ji, “to win”)


feminine noun in compound

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


masculine noun, 1st case singular

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

III.4 त्रयमेकत्र संयमः

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

–Octavia E. Butler, Parable of the Sower


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

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


neuter noun, !st case singular

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



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


masculine noun, 1st case singular

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

III.3 तादेवार्थमात्रनिर्भासं स्वरूपशून्यमिव समाधिः

tad evārtha-mātra-nirbhāsaṃ svarūpa-śūnyam iva samādhiḥ
tat eva artha-mātra-nirbhāsaṃ svarūpa-śūnyam iva samādhiḥ

“That–when the object alone shines forth, as if [citta] were empty of its own identity–is samādhi.”

The word samādhi comes from dhā, to hold or put. Sam means “with” or “all,” ā is an intensifier. Thus samādhi is “putting all together.” Patañjali defines samādhi as a kind of pure perception–the object alone is seen. One’s own form is “emptied” (śūnya). It is as though the perceiver has no identity.

As I have said, citta (sometimes translated as mind, sometimes as consciousness) is the apparatus by which we perceive. Our experience shapes citta, leaves patterns of thought, preconceptions, ideas that then affect what we see (or don’t see). Despite this inherent limitation, samādhi is the remarkable moment in citta when artha-mātra-nirbhāsaṃ– “the object alone shines.” Artha is the object one focuses on and mātra is “measure”; the phrase artha-mātra means something like the thing itself, the thing alone, or even the essence of the thing. Patañjali suggests that samādhi is an insight into the totality of a thing. It is, in Rohit Mehta’s words, a vision of Reality. (Here mātra is neuter; the feminine form of the word also means measure and is used to refer to sound or vibration–its cognate is our word meter. In an ultimate sense, the sound, the vibration, of a thing is its essence.)

Samādhi has been translated as absorption, union, communion, integration. It comprehends a quality of immersion or flow, in which a kind of natural curiosity and alertness operate. This is not a state that we perfectly control. It is certainly not a state that we can force. It is also not something out of the range of ordinary experience. As a mother gazes at her child, absorbed in the child, she is in samādhi. When a musician, as B.K.S. Iyengar says in his commentary on this sūtra, becomes engrossed in her playing, that is samādhi. The love of the thing brings us to its contemplation, holds our attention, and supports the liveliness of our engagement. It is “as if” (iva) the limitations of our form–the habits of mind built from fears, disappointments, obsessions and preoccupations–fall away, and we see, feel, hear anew.

It is not, however, a negation of self that leads to integration, that allows us to be in communion. Patañjali’s threefold process of dhāraṇā-dhyāna-samādhi assist the self in telling her story. In dhāraṇā, we choose a focal point (and a marginal area around it, as Rohit Mehta says). In dhyāna, we steadily observe the movements of our mind away from the focal point and back. The distractions of the mind themselves tell the story of the mind, of the self.

I have described the importance of the body in this practice of hearing one’s own story. Indeed, the mind makes itself known, powerfully and primarily, through the body. Trauma therapist Peter A. Levine calls the body experience, sensation, feeling, and motor response, “the unspoken voice.” By staying tuned to the body and breath as we practice, we hear this voice. We hear ourselves. When working with trauma patients, Levine helps them “uncouple” sensation from image and thought. To hold, to contain our impressions, make no conclusions, this is a yogic act. This is what happens as we observe the movements within us. In some sense, in dhāranā, we come to hold ourselves.

The emptying of dhyāna, which brings us to samādhi, is an emptying of memory (see I.43), of past preoccupations and present certainties. It requires a relaxation of hyper vigilance and a lowering of the defenses. It requires a willingness to not know, to be, simply, curious. The body shows us the way to this, in a “bottom’s up” way (Levine’s phrase). Breathing, sensing, feeling, the body moves instinctively toward balance, a balance of self and other, of autonomy and connection. Many of us need to come out of a kind of physical frozen state, a fear state, in which the brain is super-charged with image and thought, the life force itself suppressed. (See Peter A. Levine, In an Unspoken Voice: How the Body Releases Trauma and Restores Goodness.)

As I consider the importance of samādhi in our world today, at a time of climate crisis, of pandemic upheaval, of ongoing, even worsening, racist violence and injustice, I look to the words of adrienne marie brown, writer, healer, doula, and social justice facilitator. In her prophetic book Emergent Strategy, she describes a personal transformation needed for our times and declares that we are all “the protagonists” of a great turning, a change that we must envision into being. She writes:

Many of us have been socialized to understand that constant growth, violent competition, and critical mass are the ways to create change. But … adaptation and evolution depend more upon critical, deep, and authentic connections, a thread that can be tugged for support and resilience.

Resilience comes from, is made possible by, a connection inward as well as out. It is through our senses–not in spite of them–that we integrate within, that we free our curiosity and unleash our deep desire to connect, that we become quiet and more attuned to the other.

I am listening now with all my senses, as if the whole universe might exist just to teach me more about love.

(Both quotes are from Emergent Strategy: Shaping Change, Changing Worlds, by adrienne marie brownpp. 10, 14.)


“If the goal of the practice of meditation is to gain knowledge of the object of meditation that is immediate, unbiased, and whole then the mind has to reach a state where it completely, even if temporarily, gives up whatever form it is holding in favor of that of the chosen object.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sūtras, p. 168

“To watch the movement of inattention is to watch the activity of the knower of the field. It has to be understood that the thinker can be watched only in the movement of thought and not away from it. In this watching the thinker relates his own story, and when it is heard without any interruption then the thinker comes to a state of quiet. It is in this quietness emanating from the focal point, that there comes a deep silence which is indeed the condition of total attention. It is only in such a state of attention that seeing is possible. This seeing or right perception is described by Patañjali as Samādhi or communion… In this awareness, and there alone, one communes with the intrinsic significance or the quality of things or persons. The timeless moment is a flash…. The next moment the stream will move on. But it is in that timeless interval that one can have the enthralling vision of Reality, a regenerating touch of the Intangible. This is the moment of Love, of communion, or Samādhi. Love and Samādhi are not two different things.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, pp. 274-79

• In your experience, how does the “emptying” of the mind happen?
• How do you know when you come into a true perception of things?
• What does it mean to you, to listen, with all your senses, to a message of love? What is your understanding of why Rohit Mehta says, Love is Samādhi?
• What are conditions in you that lead to not listening, not sensing or feeling?
• What activities engross you most completely?


neuter pronoun, 1st case singular




specifically, so, just so


masculine noun in compound

object, aim


neuter noun in compound

measure; the one thing and no more (artha-mātra = the “object alone”)


neuter participle, 1st case singular

shining forth (from nir-, “forth, away from,” + bhās, “to shine”)


neuter noun in compound

identity, essence, natural form (from sva, “own,” + rūpa, “form”)


neuter adjective, 1st case singular




as though


masculine noun, 1st case singular

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

III.2 तत्र प्रत्ययैकतानता ध्यानम्

tatra pratyayaika-tānatā dhyānam
tatra pratyaya-eka-tānatā dhyānam

“There [in the state of dhāraṇā], a singleness of attention to arising thoughts is dhyāna.”

The word “meditation” is so widely used, it has become loaded. The outer form sometimes seems to stand for the thing itself. What is meditation? We all agree that specific practices taught by specific lineages–perhaps Tibetan or Zen Buddhism, Transcendental Meditation or Vipassana–are meditation. There is a common understanding as well that meditation involves some form of sitting (the Bhāgavad Gītā, indeed, describes sitting on an antelope skin in a clean place, not too high, not too low, holding the body, the head and neck upright). Yet when we consider, really, what is meant by meditation, we might ask, does it require one to sit? Could one perhaps do it lying down? Must one be still? Could one do it walking? Or dancing? Singing? Rock climbing? Author Julia Cameron describes her morning practice of writing to be meditation. Catholic priest Thomas Keating teaches a meditative technique he calls Centering Prayer. Are meditation and prayer two different things?

In some sense, yoga is meditation, and meditation is yoga. And though, traditionally, many have translated dhyāna, the seventh of the eight limbs of yoga,  as “meditation,” this obscures the specific definition Patañjali has given dhyāna here. The word “meditation” better applies to the entire process of dhāraṇā-dhyāna-samādhi.  (This will be discussed more in sūtra III.4.) It is not a separate practice from the rest of yoga. It is also not a fixed state, nor an endpoint, nor one unchanging thing. Meditation is process, a process of awareness and attention, of presence.

Dhāraṇā, making the choice of a point of focus and–as Rohit Mehta describes it–setting a marginal area of awareness around that point, is the first step in that process. Dhyāna is the second step; it is, Patañjali tells us, pratyaya-eka-tānatā, a singleness of attention–an observation of all arising sensations, feelings, thoughts–the repeated return to the focal point and the movement to what Mehta calls the marginal area as well.

The word pratyaya, which could be translated as idea or thought, comes from prati-, “towards,” and the verb i, “to go.” It thus describes movement (in a way that neither “idea” or “thought” do). It is a movement of citta towards an object or image or sense impression. It is not static, but rises, subsides. Eka is one, and tānatā, derived from tāna, thread or sound (itself derived from tan, to stretch) is extension or expansion.

The extending, expanding thread or sound of dhyāna is the inward sensing, feeling attentiveness of observation. As we choose the point, we also allow the movement of mind, feel the mind in the body and return our attention to the point. The ongoing presence to movement, sensation, feeling allows us to listen–as Rohit Mehta says–to the story of ourselves. Distractions from the point of focus, indeed, tell a story, and pratyaya-eka-tānatā suggests receptivity, sympathy to that story.

To come into right perception of the world around us, we must come into right relationship with ourselves.

Thus the importance of the body in dhyāna. Whether by attending to the breath, the position of the spine, or holding any part of the body as a point of focus, we feel the body more, we inhabit the mind that is in the body more fully. B.K.S. Iyengar describes eka-tānatā as having both a centrifugal direction from the center of self out to the skin, “the frontiers of the body,” and a centripetal one, which brings an experience of the whole body as one, which brings also subtle, inner sensations of self. The awareness centers. It expands.

As we listen to the story of the mind, Rohit Mehta says, the mind becomes quiet; our gaze, our attentiveness becomes more steady. This steadiness comes not from will power, but from a flow of concern, caring, purpose.

Already my gaze is upon the hill, the sunlit one.
The way to it, barely begun, lies ahead.
So we are grasped by what we have not grasped,
full of promise, shining in the distance.

It changes us, even if we do not reach it,
into something we barely sense, but are;
a movement beckons, answering our movement…
But we just feel the wind against us.
— Rainer Maria Rilke, Uncollected Poems, translated by Joanna Macy


“Eka-tānatā implies an unbroken flow of contact between the sādhaka‘s consciousness and her sādhana. … In āsana, there is a centrifugal movement of consciousness to the frontiers of the body, whether extended vertically, horizontally or circumferentially, and a centripetal movement as the whole body is brought into single focus.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.2

Dhyāna is the state of watching the flow of thought without any interruption. To observe the movement of the mind in a condition of extensive awareness is, according to Patañjali, the state of dhyāna…. It is necessary to realize that distraction is the language through which the mind tells its own story. We have never listened to the mind, in fact we have treated mind as something alien to us. The non-listening to the story of the mind makes distraction into such an enormous problem in all approaches of meditation…. Meditation is indeed the emptying of the mind of all its contents. But the mind cannot be emptied, it empties itself. And this emptying happens when the story of the mind is listened to without any judgment or evaluation…. When the mind empties itself, the thought process automatically ends. The cessation of the thought process is a state of silence. And it is only in the silence of the mind that the focal point can be looked at.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, pp. 259-65

• Do you watch the movement of your consciousness when you practice āsana? How would you describe that movement? Where does the movement go? What happens when you watch the breath?
• What happens for you when the mind drifts away from the area of focus? What is the nature of your response? What is your relationship with distractions? What is your relationship with your mind?
• After a session of practice, do you feel you have “heard” your mind? Have you “listened to its story”?
• Do you feel your practice has brought you a more direct perception of things?
• In what other activities in your life do you choose a focal point? What happens in that activity when you find that you have shifted away from the point?



there (refers to previous sūtra)


masculine noun in compound

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



one, single


feminine noun, 1st case singular

extension, expansion; having the quality of a thread, or a note of sound (from tan,, to stretch; tāna is “thread”; eka-tāna, is “directing the mind to one object”; -ta is feminine suffix that makes an abstract noun)


neuter noun, 1st case singular

observation, contemplation (from dhyai, “to think, ponder, reflect, call to mind”)

III.1 देशबन्धश्चित्तस्य धारणा

Vibhūti Pāda

Chapter Three is known as the Vibhūti Pāda, often translated as the Book of Powers, or Accomplishments, or Extraordinary Powers. B.K.S. Iyengar warns the aspiring yoga practitioner not to be sidetracked by personal attainments but to keep focus on the goal of the work, which he describes as inward. Various commentators seem alternately fascinated and embarrassed by this narration of abilities.

There is no denying that Patañjali has given a fair amount of attention to the attainments of yoga in this chapter, and it is worth looking a little closer at the chapter’s common name.  Vibhūti is a feminine noun. It derives from vi-, here an intensifier, and the verb bhū, “to be.” Vi-bhū means “to expand,” and so, one might understand vibhūti to be an expansion, an opening up of possibility, a widening of scope and agency. It can mean power; it can also mean magnificence or splendor.

Matthew Remski calls Chapter Three the Book of Wonders, and I like that name.  The Vibhūti Pāda leads us into a contemplation of the world in and around us–into the marvelousness of being.

Curiously, the chapter begins in the middle of Patanjali’s description of the eight limbs of yoga. Patañjali (or whatever editor divided the text into four chapters) has introduced the first five limbs in the second pāda and reserves the last three for the third. There are many ways to understand this division. Some commentators interpret the last three limbs to be the result of the first five, to be themselves accomplishments; others describe the first five as the outer limbs, the last three as inner.

In my view, Patañjali (or his editor) has chosen to begin a new chapter with another comprehensive view of yoga, another way to define what yoga is. Dhāraṇā, dhyāna, samādhi are, one might say, the heart of yoga. They interconnect each with the other and they underlie, make possible, the practice of the other limbs. They are yoga.


deśa-bandhaś cittasya dhāraṇā
deśa-bandhaḥ cittasya dhāraṇā

“Dhāraṇā is the binding of citta to a place.

The subject of yoga is citta, our consciousness, mind, field of perception (see II.4). The last three limbs, dhāraṇā, dhyāna, and samādhi, specifically describe a process of citta. They are a trio of events that work, as we shall see, inseparably from one another. They form a kind of wave pattern of citta activity.

None of our English words quite get at the sense of the Sanskrit citta (from cit, “to perceive”). It is the apparatus by which we observe and experience. It includes our nervous system, our senses and physiological processes, our thought patterns. It can be described as the field in which perceptions arise. My Sanskrit teacher Vyaas Houston once described it as in perpetual motion, and this has influenced my understanding of, my own observations of, my own citta. In many ways, the practices of yoga bring greater freedom to citta; thus, my translation of nirodha (see I.2) as the removal of patterns of mind that limit perception.

Dhāraṇā derives from dhṛ, to hold or to carry (also the root of dharma), and Patañjali defines it here as deśa-bandhaḥ cittasya, binding or connecting citta to a place. Yogic practice begins with the selection of a place–a focal point–to direct our attention to. My introduction to dhāraṇā thus began in an Iyengar Yoga āsana class, and I can still feel today the thrill in my cells at being asked to “circularize the thigh” (the thigh–how round it is!) or “lift the side ribs” (the side ribs, what are those?). One class that delighted me, in particular, began with standing in tadāsana for about thirty minutes, exploring the feet, the inner and outer edges, the ball mounds, the arch, the toes, the heel. To “hold” the places in the body had a profound effect on me–calming, anchoring, expanding.

My sense of dhāraṇā was further shaped by studying Sanskrit with Vyaas Houston. Vyaas began every class with an agreement on the ground rules of participation. The first and foremost was “I choose the point.” This sounds so simple, almost silly: he was asking us to agree to choose to direct citta–ever-moving, ever in flow–to the place of focus that the group was attending to. In Sanskrit class, the “place” might be the sight of Devanāgarī on a big piece of poster paper, the sound of a letter of the alphabet, the feel of that sound in the palate. When we recognize dhāraṇā is a choice, we also recognize that as much as we might fix the attention on a point, it will also at some subsequent moment move again. Choice is an intention; finding one’s attention off the point is an opportunity to choose the point again.

Rohit Mehta, whose commentary on dhāraṇā, dhyāna, and samādhi is well worth reading (see Yoga, the Art of Integration, pp. 233-282), calls attention to that quality of flow and argues that allowing flow is necessary to a relaxed, natural functioning of citta. He compares citta to the eye. When the eye focuses, he says, it establishes both a focal point and a marginal area around that point.  The eye keeps the focal point in sight but also moves in and out of the marginal area. That movement allows for a “normal” functioning of the eye, says Mehta, without tension. Likewise, the mind, when allowed to define its own marginal area, will move in and out. The choice to return to the focal point can be made in an easy, non-violent way.

If the marginal area is too large, says Mehta, the mind drifts and all focus is lost. If too narrow, the mind is strained.

Patañjali has previously described the practice of holding a point of focus. Indeed, he has specifically said, in sūtra I.32, that the obstacles we face can be overcome by “the practice of one thing,” eka tattva abhyāsaḥ. The contemplation of oneness, the “thatness” of what is, is not really dhāraṇā, and yet the act of choosing the point is a profound act–the intention to hold a single object or aim (artha), to let go of other things, perhpas temporarily, ushers us into an understanding that expands.

Kierkegaard said, Purity of heart is to will one thing. And in the essay of that title, he asserts that all roads can, potentially, lead to oneness, and that that oneness is the Good. Oneness beckons to us, he says, like a loving mother teaching a child to walk:

The mother is far enough away from the child so that she cannot actually support the child, but she holds out her arms. She imitates the child’s movements. If it totters she swiftly bends as if she would seize it–so the child believes that it is not walking alone. … So the child walks alone, with eyes fixed upon the mother’s face, not on the difficulties of the way; supporting herself by the arms that do not hold on to her, striving after refuge in the mother’s embrace, hardly suspecting that in the same moment she is proving that she can do without her, for now the child is walking alone. –Soren Kierkegaard, Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing, ch. 5


“Most people, even most yoga practitioners, are under the impression that āsanas are merely external and physical. This sūtra removes that misconception. Patañjali defines concentration as the focusing of attention either within or outside the body….. External objects should be auspicious and associated with purity. Internally, the mind penetrates to the soul, the core of one’s being: the object is, in reality, pure existence.” –B.K.S. Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sūtras of Patañjali, commentary on III.1

“The mind is not in the habit of attentively focusing on one point. It wants to run here and there, and does. Many times during a meditation session, the mind will quietly slither away, initially undetected. Each time the mind’s wandering ways are discovered, the practitioner lets go of of the wayward thoughts and refocuses on the object of meditation.” –The Reverend Jaganath Carrera, Inside the Yoga Sutras, p. 166

“Deśa means a territory or an area, or in the present context a range. … Let the mind move freely in this realm where the focal and the marginal areas have been defined. Very often the mind will move on and linger in the marginal area. Let this lingering happen without losing sight of the subject of focal interest. It is not necessary to hold on tightly to the subject of focal interest. But if there is no resistance to the marginal stimulations then the mind will oscillate between the focal and the marginal. There will come into existence a right relationship between the focal and the marginal which will take away all strain and tension.” –Rohit Mehta, Yoga, the Art of Integration, pp. 236, 248

• Have you experienced strain or tension in efforts to hold your attention? What has helped with that? Have you experienced failure?
• How do you choose a focal point? (What are focal points in your āsana or prāṇāyāma practice?) What are objects or aims in your daily life?
• Do you experience dhāraṇā as constraint or freedom?
• What happens in you when your attention drifts?


masculine noun in compound

place, focal point (from diś, “to point out”)


masculine noun, 1st case singular

binding (from bandh, “to bind”)


neuter noun, 6th case singular

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


feminine noun, 1st case singular

placing one’s point of focus (from dhṛ, “to hold, support”)