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Yoga Sutras Analysis 1-2

by on January 31, 2011

Along my yoga journey, I’ve stumbled upon a lot of theoretical resources, including the authorship of several accomplished yogis in the past.  Of these are the Yoga Sutras, written by Patanjali, the acknowledged patron saint of yoga.  Over the next few blog entries, I will provide my analysis on the Sutras as I incorporate them into my practice.  My research indicates that the word Sutra literally means “thread,” so I consider each Sutra as a thread upon which I (or other yogis/teachers) may add my own beads of experience or example.  Moreover, the almost 200 sutras are divided into four sections: Samadhi (Contemplation, the goal of yoga), Sadhana (the practice of Yoga), Vibhuti (the accomplishments of Yoga), and Kaivalya (the Absoluteness of Yoga).  My translations are provided by Sri Swami Satchinanda from Yogaville, VA.

We start with book 1 (Samadhi).  Sutra the first (and second, since the first is pretty much a picnic):

“Now, the exposition of yoga is being made.”

“The restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff is Yoga.”

To me, exposition sounds similar to exposure.  In other words, there’s no theory being dispensed here – this Sutra provides a door for the reader to open and walk right into the experience of being a yogi.  Ask yourself, are you ready?

To me, the second sutra speaks volumes about why we do Yoga in the first place.  “Mind-stuff” immediately brings to mind the brain matter, including the neural pathways and myriad electronics that comprise brain tissue. Besides thoughts and emotions, this also makes me think about the sympathetic and parasympathetic nervous systems including the involuntary muscle reflexes (circulatory, digestive, etc. systems) as well as our endocrinal and immune systems (hormonal and lymphatic secretions).

The “modifications” are, to me, largely a default condition of the existence of such a complex and self-propagating nervous system.  So long as we eat, live, and survive, our nervous system undergoes its own processes.  Setting aside all awareness, we’re simply left with a plurality of neurons that fire away at will, generating all sorts of perceptions and pictures.  Poorly equipped comprehension cortex of our brain accepts everything that simmers up from the nervous system, and believes that we’re actually in as chaotic a state as the picture represents.

This brings me to the “restraint” part.  Seriously, if the above “modifications” were free to really happen, we’d flip out and die or go insane very fast.  In other words, we’re practicing some form of Yoga all the time, just so we don’t flip out.  Be it the evolutionary restraint of the medulla oblongata (enabling heart, digestive, and lungs to work), the fight-or-flight (stimulating adrenaline production), or the sensory systems (evaluating and balancing our sights, sounds, and other senses), we’re automatically exercising a level of restraint on the “mind stuff”.  Therefore, we’re naturally predisposed to performing yogic activities on a moment-to-moment basis.  See homeostasis (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Homeostasis) for details.

That doesn’t quite seal the deal, does it?  The sutra states a “restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff.”  So, what if the restraint modifies the modification?  How does one restrain the modification of the modification of the mind-stuff?!

Ha ha, trick question.  Nothing here is intended to “seal the deal.”  Instead of falling into an endless mind-loop, let’s simply reflect on what we’ve found to be obvious in the meaning of the first two sutras, and await the unveiling of the next piece of wisdom.  Comment below!

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From → Philosophy, sutras

5 Comments
  1. Neat post, Sachin. I hope you add more commentary on the Sutras! I have this commentary too, but I also have another translation I really like (in The Wisdom of Yoga). More eloquent English translations IMHO (ex. “1.1 Now, the teachings of yoga. 1.2 Yoga is to still the patterning of consciousness. 1.3 Then pure awareness can abide in its very nature.”) from Chip Hartranft.

Trackbacks & Pingbacks

  1. Sutras, pt. 3-4 « Yogier Than Thou
  2. Yoga Teacher Training – Day 7 « Yogier Than Thou
  3. Yoga Teacher Training – Days 11-13 « Yogier Than Thou

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