PATANJALI & DESIKACHAR
based on Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and The Heart of Yoga
500 RYT book report © 2014
Text by: Alexey Baykov
1. Most compelling topics of "The Heart of Yoga"
Since I began practicing yoga the idea of finding a teacher was as a needle in my head, and each seminar that I participated (in Russia and Ukraine) I had a hope to find one and I was sure that a teacher should have the same culture background so that we could mutually understand each other. Time passed and I decided to get an American certificate just to see what the level of education in yoga is and I just picked up the 1st web-site that came to my sight. And I was surprised that I met such teachers as Everett and Katherine, who amazed me by the deep feeling of yoga practice, and I had realized that I spontaneously found good teachers.
In the “The Heart of Yoga” it’s stated that it’s necessary to meet a teacher from time to time to find a point of reference: “Having a point of reference is absolutely necessary. We need somebody who can hold a mirror in front of us. Otherwise we very quickly begin to imagine that we are perfect and know it all.” And this great opportunity to have a teacher is a real gift in life which I believe should be valued as a precious stone, especially nowadays, when there’re billions of students and millions of fake-teachers who pretend to be gurus. More over Desikachar highlights the importance of a competent teacher several times saying that the yoga techniques given should be guided by a teacher.
And what is most important to mention is that “this personal connection cannot be replaced by books or videos. There must be a relationship, a real relationship, one that is based on trust.”
And so I hope to have such relationships though I understand they can’t be created artificially it’s a mutual process that is beyond wishes and hopes.
The real lesson that I got was in the last day when I had to present my part of the sequence to the class, and because of many inner and outer reasons I mixed up yogasanas in the wrong way and more over used yogasanas that were not supposed to be used, so I was told that I made a big mistake failing the exam. This gave a real shock to my ego, which continued for a rather long time after, because the ego decided that teaching yoga is not for me anymore. And at the same time I felt gratitude to Everett for being frank with me and it became the best lesson in my life, which I’ll remember, and this experience becomes a driving force for me to learn and practice more to be a better teacher.
And re-reading “The Heart of Yoga” I met the same situation with Desikachar, which inspired me and gave me strength and support to go further. It’s said that when he first began studying his father sometimes said right in front of the students: “What you are teaching at the moment is wrong.” And further he reveals that “it was rather seen as good fortune to be given advice by the teacher.”
From my point of view the concept of Kuṇḍalinī is a very compelling topic and there’re so many imprecise definitions that confuse people and make them create theories and ideas that live their own life having no connection to real phenomenon. And as it’s stated in “The Heart of Yoga” even in the most quoted source for Hatha-Yoga practitioners “Haṭha Yoga Pradīpikā” presents “contradictory descriptions of it”, which make people think that there’re two different types of energy existing side by side: Prāṇa and Kuṇḍalinī. That sounds really illogic and creates confusion and mystery. So in “The Heart of Yoga” the author declares that “many of these ideas are based on superficial and inaccurate translations, or the inability to explain unclear passages in certain texts.”
Thus from the viewpoint of Desikachar the definition from Yoga Yājñavalkya is the best, the clearest, and the most coherent, stating that “on the experience of the rising of prāṇa in the suṣumṇā, the Yoga Yājñavalkya quite simply says: “How could I describe what a person then becomes aware of?” There is no shock such as the one you described. When some-one sees the truth, the only shock is to have to see what he or she was before.” So Kuṇḍalinī is used as a good metaphor to describe the rising energy force that leads us to the truth, so “it makes little sense to take it literally.”
And this sounds like a real revelation, that there’s so mysterious force but Prana (Prāṇa). I think it’s important to mention “Yoga & Ayurveda” where it’s stated that Kuṇḍalinī is the same as Tejas (Valor) – the higher feminine energy or yoga Shakti, while Amrit (divine nectar), which is the higher masculine energy or yoga Shiva, is the same as Ojas (Endurance). So they meet each other in between, where Prāṇa (Vitality) arises right from the center of the Heart, the seed of individual Soul (Mahat). In the sacred symbolism it’s known as an illustration of an egg (as a soul) with several rings around (as a snake of Kuṇḍalinī), and as a cone - Shiva lingam (liṅgaṃ) or Cosmic Egg which represents Pineal gland in the human brain, which is waters by milk from the top in Hindu rituals to represent Amrit coming from above.
More over in the sacred geometry this cone is illustrated in Sri Yantra, as if an observer is looking on the cone (pineal) from above, seeing the seed of the Soul, which is represented by a red spot in the center.
1.3. Patañjali and Saṃyama
Desikachar’s comments on Sutras are very essential. As for there’re lots of different interpretations, Desikachar being Krishnamacharya’s son and his strict follower, transfers also the viewpoint of his father. For me the next topic on Saṃyama became a new opening about abilities of people to other’s states of mind:
In Sutra 3.19 it’s stated that one person can observe only the consequences of others’ mind states, and also such characteristics as rates of breathing that reveal turbulence, confusion, doubt, fear etc. And then it is revealed in the next sutra.
3.20 But, can we see from this what is the origin of the state of mind? No. The cause of the state of mind of one individual is beyond the scope of observation by another. This is because different objects produce different responses in different individuals.
So for me it became obvious why people can't judge each other. I knew it as a rule of thumb, but there were no arguments, and so my mind judged everything and everyone, as there were no reason to do in another way, more over as we know it from psychology, one’s mind does those things that are prohibited. So the explanation of that by the statement “Our field of observation is limited to the symptoms, and cannot extend to the causes” became a real breakthrough and made me review my whole life and my attitude.
So it’s stated that we can't see all the reason (shallow and/or profound), even if we think that we know ourselves very well, other people are out of the competence.
This become a real revelation for me, as all my life I've been too critical to others and judged people and in the same way I was very judgmental to myself, and encouraged others to judge me, so that I'd have a feedback. I thought it’s a fair exchange. But for now I understand that it was my ego, which wanted attention and judging is not the way of introspection, while meditation is.
2. Concepts that affected my personal practice of yoga and meditation
2.1. Human Imperfection
It is said that Patañjali stresses several times the statement that nothing can be annihilated: “What is replaced in the process of change remains in the dormant state.”
This became a revelation for me, as for I’ve always been kind of idealistic during all my life, as if it’s was programmed into my genes and blood, and I’ve been non-companionate to any injustice which I saw, everything should be right and correct from my point of view. So when I practiced yoga that made me more and more strict to myself, and any deviation from the path caused a real depression making me weak in mind and body – I couldn’t bare any mistakes, so I was very impatient. I criticized myself in very rude and harsh way, which made me more aggressive and non-calm and non-peaceful. This experience on my own and also past relations made me come to the understanding that people can’t be perfect, and that it’s non-yogic to be so categorical towards yourself and others.
And this statement of Patañjali in Desikachar’s translation and explanation really became a final drop into the understanding of human imperfection and that the yoga path is going through the Golden Mean, that a yogi should realize his imperfections and accept them, that individual practice can’t be perfect, it changes under the influence of so many factors that really depend on a yogi, and a lot more that don’t depend on him, as the sun, the moon, the weather, other people, and so on and so forth. For now this statement make me more acceptable, patient, peaceful, loving and conscious to myself and to the others surrounding me.
I believe this wisdom should be taught in yoga-classes also, because many students and disciples, especially Vata- and Pita-types could be too strict and harsh with themselves, creating non-yogic practice that may harm their minds and bodies. And me, as a Vata type, practiced yoga in the beginning very uncaring to my body and mind that caused a lot of crisis moments, and I couldn’t understand what’s happening. For now after overcoming a lot of difficulties, and when I become more true to myself (more acceptable, patient and sensitive), the information is coming to support this attitude.
Also it’s stated that “these tendencies are both maintained and sustained by misapprehensions, external stimuli, attachment to the fruits of actions, and the quality of mind that promotes hyperactivity.” Thus the reduction of these tendencies makes the undesirable impressions ineffective.
So it means that in personal yoga practice only consciousness with being present here and now may help in saving the previous success on the path of yoga, because any potential fears, past behavioral patterns and habits, realized emotions and re-analyzed thoughts may return back into activity. Thus being a yogi is like living with a snake in one small room, when only attention and right attitude could save from attack of the ever-ready cobra.
The obstacles listed by Patañjali in Sutra 1.30 are usually described in different ways and sometimes they become contradictory (even in the clasical texts), and so I decided to understand which translations best suit each other, and and came to the result: 1. vyadhi - illness (disease), 2. styana – procrastination (lethargy, inefficiency), 3. samshaya - doubt (indecision), 4. pramada - haste (impatience) or carelessness (negligence), 5. alasya - resignation or fatigue (laziness in mind and body), 6. avirati - distraction (failure to regulate the desire for worldly objects - cravings), 7. bhranti-darshana - ignorance or arrogance (incorrect assumptions or thinking), 8. alabdha-bhumikatva - inability to take a new step (failing to attain stages of the practice), and 9. anavasthitatva – instability or loss of confidence (instability in maintaining a level of practice once attained).
I would hightlight the 4th obstacle which is called Styana (procrastination), which from my point of view worldwide desease, almost with same spread as depression (plague of the 21st century). I think that procrastination and depression are the double-edged sword, just the difference in the degree of the phenomenon.
There’re lots of interesting ideas and how-to’s to cure this desease, there’re millions of self-help books such as “The War of Art” and “The Artist’s Way”, which I practiced for a long time, as for my type of mind is prone to procrastination and depression. So from my experience only yoga practice is a good tool of solving this obstacle. During a long period of practice the border between practice and non-practice time becomes indistinguishable and it’s rather difficult to say when an adept is in the process of yoga and when he/she is not. But it turns out to be that Styana arises not in the process of yoga practice, as I thought before, but in between.
However Anavasthitatvāni, which is slipping down from the level maintained (one more feature of my character), is one of the obstacles that arise in the process of yoga practice and in between the sessions. From my point of view it also the result of procrastination, as the fear of the unknown, which doesn’t let an adept become stable in what he/she reached and go further along the travel.
As Desikachar highlights this characteristic of one’s mind to have lack of power to stay on the level and fall back, losing what has been gained and he states that: “at no stage on the yoga path should we think we have become masters. Rather, we should know that the feeling of being a little better today than yesterday exists just as much as the hope that we will be a little better in the future. These feelings will come and go until we reach the point where there is no better and no worse.” So that a adept of yoga reaches the “point of no return”, when he/she doesn’t judge oneself anymore and there’s no more comparing and competition. The yogi is satisfied with what is present here and now.
2.3. Weaknesses VS Strengths
Sutra 2.44 by Patañjali, in Desikachar interpretation, tells us about self-study, which “developed to the highest degree, brings one close to higher forces that promote understanding of the most complex.”
And then he states a tantric approach to Yoga when studying oneslf leads to understanding of own weaknesses and strengths. Thus as a yoga adept learns to nullify his/her weaknesses and use strengths to the utmost he reaches the highest knowledge of oneself.
From my experience I would call it “to do what you can’t do”, which mean that in yoga practice it’s essential to move from what you know about yourself to what is unknown. Step by step, inch by inch in each technique an adept is going through the barriers of mind, beyond the limits of course taking into account the limits of this discovery. That’s why Yoga is so difficult to continue – as body and mind are anchord by comfortable lethargy (styana) from which all other obsctacles arise.
Desikachar discusses the importance of understanding the reasons for old, negative saṃskāra (patterns of behavior) as for “only the powerful saṃskāra cause us problems, while the weaker ones perhaps reinforce those that are more influential.” So for me personally it happens to be Styana which works as a fire-starter for other saṃskāras.
For real it’s almost painful for the mind to go further, as ego (Ahamkara) being a process of I-fabrication tends to save what it thinks is stable and comfortable - the world which is already known. But self-study tells us that nothing is known for real, because life is so complex that it can’t be placed into a little box of ego’s worldview.
However yoga starts from the desire of ego to become better, it is the first step on the path of yoga, and then an adept uses it through “recognition and coquest of Avidya and its effects” and as Patañjali states - this is “the only ladder by which we can climb upward”.
It’s interesting that from the viewpoint of Desikachar when an adept already redirected oneself toward something positive, trying to stop what is harmful, “we do not have to do anything ourselves, but rather whatever it is simply fades out”. I believe this is essential in personal yoga practice, as for an adept should be very sensitive to one’s own needs and practice with Ahimsa, which sounds simple, but difficult in real life.
3. Concepts that changed the way I share yoga
3.1. Devotion in Practice
Patanjali (Patañjali) tells in his Sutras that to overcome obstacles in Yoga practice one should offer regular prayers to God with a feeling of submission to his power, which surely enables the state of Yoga to be achieved. In the following sūtra, Patañjali gives his definition of God.
1.24 God is the Supreme Being whose actions are never based on misapprehension.
For me personally it's easy to admit this description of God , in spite of / in the favor of that my parents and my elder brother are not religious at all (they're deep in scientific point of view and strict logic, and treat religion as brain-washing), though I easily visit churches of any religion, even Muslim which are not popular among western people. And I feel comfortable there. I do not include myself to any confession, however I'm more positive towards Tibetan Buddhism, where there's no description of God, as he/she is treated as a substance that is beyond all interpretations. Though I like different definitions of God from any religions, because they can enrich my inner world and help me to understand other people, and also help me to understand myself and discuss such topics with others.
I'm sure that it's correctly highlighted in Yoga and Ayurveda book about yoga practice and surrender to God. It's stated that Technique without devotion become sterile and artificial, thus they should be blended with knowledge and devotion for they to best proceed and done in the form of service.
It's obvious that religion is very personal, and contemporary yoga is not a instrument for propaganda, so I think a teacher should be detached from students appreciations which means that a teacher should not impose his own view or decline or humiliate this sphere of people's life, he/she should be able to admit religion as a way of living at the same. This sounds much more simple then real life teaching.
For me personally there's no question in this subject about how I practice yoga. But as for teaching in the class this subject is difficult to deal with, because a teacher can't teach sterile techniques , can't avoid speaking about God, though he can operate with some scientific facts, and also should encourage students to follow some rules of yoga classes (singing Om in the beginning and in the end of the classes).
The last is the most difficult for me to share, because non-religious and religious students may feel simply uncomfortable or even nervous as if there're recruit into another religion. So a teacher should be very attentive to reactions of the students, a teacher should be able to create a comfortable atmosphere. As it is said in the The Heart of Yoga: "...yoga practice should suit students, but not students to the yoga system".
3.2. Teaching Yoga
Desikachar comments on Patañjali’s Sutra 3.19. where it is stated that Saṃyama on the changes that arise in an individual’s mind and their consequences develops in one the ability to acutely observe the state of mind of others.
I believe this is a must for a yoga teacher to see the states of physical body and mind of others, so that he/she can feel empathy and understand what is needed “here and now” for a student or for the whole group to progress. As it is stated in the “The Heart of Yoga" - yoga practice should be individual and one practice can't suit all. Thus it is very important to be sensitive to others, but at the same time stay detached and not involved too much into problems of one student, because it may lead to inadequate teaching of others. A golden mean should be found in teaching a yoga class. That’s why techniques of Vinyasa Krama are so essential to be applied.
1. Knowledge of physical body structure and its functions to teach asanas correctly taking into account all peculiarities of students’ bodies to find out which postures are most useful and which ones need guidance to lead toward greater self-discovery.
2. Sukham (lightness) and Stirham (stillness), which result in lightness and stillness of the mind and they lead to ease of asana practice and better understanding of self, so that practice becomes a tool for self-observance, as a mirror to watch the body and mind.
3. Tantra, which is the principle to overcome obstacles on the way to Self-remembrance by using all contradicting aspects of the mind and all aspects of life (“seizing every opportunity that helps to progress”) to generate Tejas (the sacred flame) which should be directed inside, so that in the clash of oppositions a breakthrough, a revelation is born and evolution of a human-being happens.
Moreover it’s important to remember Desikachar’s statement that we should “not obstruct the progress on the path of yoga by setting certain goal, as for progress means different things to different people.” And that is proved by Patañjali’s Yoga Sutras which states that each person gets different things from the same teaching based on one’s own perspective.
Thus, yoga practice for an individual is not giving information and forcing to the goal but “inviting transformation into self”, and the teacher’s job is to support this understanding of yoga by students to let the transformations happen.
3.3. Yoga Class
As it is stated in “The Heart of Yoga” - a good teacher is one who helps a student to find out which postures are most useful, and on which ones the student needs guidance. So that a teacher helps a student in getting to know oneself and inspires him/her to do the work toward greater self-discovery. To execute this main function it’s essential for a yoga teacher to understand “āsana from the point of view of whole-body”, so that a teacher feels “the movement of prāṇa to adopt classic āsanas to the needs of each student”, rather than students adopt themselves to the asana.
So one the main purpose of a yoga class with lots of students is to understand their needs and direct each student in the right way, as for a student should get the benefits from “the principle that is inherent to each particular posture”.
And it’s very difficult, which is proved by Krishnamacharya who said that “we are not magicians, and it’s not easy to handle many people at the same time”, however a group is a good support for people if they share the same interests the same way as “patients of bypass surgery”.
From the perspective of yoga sequence “the key to right practice and the appropriate variations of an āsana is to maintain the link between breath and body.” That’s why a teacher should direct students attention to their breath making them feel the effect of Pratyahara, as for “consciously following the breath is a form of meditation” in which students try to become completely one with the movement. Thus stuents should become attentive to how their bodies respond to the breath, and how does the breath respond to the movement of the body, learning to make breath their own teacher.
It’s essential to let students understand that maintaining the link between breath and body especially in lengthening the exhale (lahngana) and pausing after the exhale (kumbhaka), has more significance to the purpose of yoga than achieving a classic āsana for its own sake.”
I like the Desikachar’s approach and his way of revealing complicated topics in simple terms, saying that rather than struggling with the body in an āsana, students should learn to monitor the āsana with the breath, “observing the unfolding of an āsana”, so that “the breath and body become one movement, one process, and that is a very powerful yoga”. That’s sounds beautifully simple, but for real it’s hard to make people understand this formula, but once it’s understood a student is already making the huge step on the path of yoga.
4. Explaining Suḥkha and Duḥkha and how I relate to these concepts
Yoga Sutras of Patañjali state that there’re nine kinds of distractions and four consequences that arise on the path of Yoga. All of them represent Duḥkha which arise from Avidya, but can be figured out and be perceived only as a result: pain and suffering.
This pain (Duḥkha) comes from all the stuff in mind-body system that create obstacles for a human-being to cognize the Reality as it is, which is Pure Energy of Divine Light and Eternal Love. And this reality for an individual is Self-remembrance, Authenticity or True Nature (Smarana) which is full of Joy and Light (Suḥkha).
According to Patañjali everything in our experience is changing, so that nothing, including Duḥkha, is in a fixed condition. Thus if an adept has the desire to change, he can make positive changes for himself.
So from the viewpoint of Yoga – Duḥkha (stuff) that prevents an adept from residing in Smarana can be cleared out by maintaining comfortable breath, mastering the fluctuations of the mind achieving Sthira (steadiness); cultivating light, ease, spaciousness and comfort (Suḥkha), so that a stilled purified mind is created and thus connected to the Source of Pure Light and Joy of Being. However Yoga cannot guarantee a particular benefit, as it’s not a recipe for less suffering, though it can offer help in changing the attitude so that an adept has less avidya and therefore greater freedom from Duhkha.
It’s stated that Duḥkha may also arise out of the efforts to progress in Yoga, and it happened with me when I was striving for achievements in yogasanas, and I was in such a hurry, that I couldn’t get what I wanted – I cling (Duḥkha) myself to the asana achievement and lost the joy (Suḥkha) of the process. Also when I realized that some of the patterns of my behavior really harm my practice it caused me pain not to behave like this and I couldn’t stay on the new level, I rolled back into the old behavior, and again it caused pain (Duḥkha).
It’s interesting that according to Yoga Sutras of Patañjali, those who search for clarity become sensitive and aware all the time even if unpleasant comes into the sight, and see more suffering around. So that the deeper one goes into self, the more sensitive one becomes thus more Duḥkha is seen. And it happens in my life too. It becomes obvious when I discuss some world events with my fellows and friends and most of them say that I’m a pessimist, but I think that I’m not, because most of the time I’m in positive mood, I just can notice more details and connections, which I try to question and analyze whether it’s my imagination or real facts.
Also it is stated that Duḥkha arises from Gunas – Tamas and Rajas, which have their own cycles of domination reducing freedom and space (Suḥkha) in life thus creating limits, and only Sattva (state in which neither of the two guna predominate) leads to the reduction of Duḥkha.
In Vyasa’s commentary on Yoga Sutras of Patañjali it is claimed that there’re 7 steps to toward true recognition of Duḥkha, and finally an adept of Yoga can achieve a state called Kaivalya in which one is free (Suḥkha) of external concerns that cause Duḥkha.