Archive for the ‘Yoga Philosophy’ Category

Cittavrtti Nirodhah

Monday, March 23rd, 2015

Each year at Karuna a new 200 hour teacher training begins. Students embark on a rigorous journey, employing their bodies, minds and spirits in a deep study of Yoga. The first questions asked for contemplation have a variety of answers, and those answers may change for individuals over the course of their training or throughout years of practice. The following questions are useful to contemplate and revisit for teacher trainees, teachers and student alike. Joanna Caplan, a current teacher trainee, shares her thoughts:

.

Given the definitions of yoga as “cittavrtti nirodhah” how does the way you do yoga challenge the way you think and feel? How does the way you think and feel challenge the way you do yoga? Discuss and be succinct.

.

In his translation of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, BKS Iyengar writes “yoga is thus the art and science of mental discipline through which the mind becomes cultured and matured” and yoga is “the control or restraint of the movements of consciousness, leading to their complete cessation” (Iyengar 50). In theory Patanjali’s system is precise, concrete, scientific, complex and accessible. So what does this mean in practice?

.This past month, I have begun to establish a regular home asana, pranayama and meditation practice. My past ten plus years of a semi-regular, on and off again asana practice rarely included a meditation component. In fact, it had been a while since my mind and I had come to greet each other in this way. While meditation is an accessible and concrete practice, I have found it to be challenging and confrontational. The mind is relentless in its chatter and as Maharaj says with such a beautiful bluntness in the collection of his talks entitled I am That, “mind means disturbance; restlessness itself is mind…Examine closely and you will see that the mind is seething with thoughts. It may go blank occasionally, but it does for a time and reverts to its usual restlessness” (Maharaj 126).

.I find the above statement to be radical and liberating. In my experience, there is an adage that through a yoga practice one will find “peace of mind”, however how can this be true if the very nature of the mind is restlessness itself? Furthermore, if we think about peace in this way, as something we can find or acquire then peace becomes yet another sensation, like good and bad, pain and pleasure. In relation to my asana practice, I have in fact found myself getting lost in the sensations of pain and pleasure. By the end of class, I want to feel a certain way, to be more calm, centered and peaceful. Maharaj says, “the peace you claim to have found is brittle – any little thing can crack it. What you call peace is only absence of disturbance…Real peace cannot be disturbed” (Maharaj 127). Therefore, the feeling I get after finishing an asana practice is just that, a feeling. Now I am not discounting my asana practice. Rather, I am beginning to observe my patterns, my habits, my cittavrtti, and in these observations I am beginning to hear and approach an understanding of what Patanjali is articulating.

.So how can yoga “the art and science of mental discipline through which the mind becomes cultured and matured” and “the control or restraint of the movements of consciousness, leading to their complete cessation” if according to Maharaj the mind can never be cultured or matured? I think it is because the mind, in yogic philosophy, is multidimensional and dynamic. It is not one thing. And we are actually not talking about the mind but about citta or consciousness, which contains the mind “consciousness is made up of three factors, mind (manas), intellect (buddhi) and ego (ahamkara)” (Iyengar 49). So this is both a semantic issue (are we talking or writing about the mind or about consciousness) and a practical issue (are we getting wooed by sensations masquerading as “peace of mind”?).

.I do, however, observe moments of connecting to something deeper, to something that goes beyond sensation, feeling and mind, to something completely effortless. It is as though, for a moment, “instead of searching for what you have do not have, you find what it is you have never lost” (Maharaj 128). I think this is what Patanjali, Iyengar, Maharaj are talking about. I think that it can, in fact, be simple and effortless and one can begin to “realize the true peace, the peace you have never lost, that peace will remain with you, for it was never away from you” (Maharaj 128). So the practice becomes a practice of returning to oneself, or rather, realizing that “you are yourself, and no reason is needed” (Maharaj 128).

.I want my practice to be about surrender and release. I want my practice to remind me that I have never left myself, I am right here, deep, deep inside and all I have to do is listen.

Removing the Obstacles

Thursday, December 26th, 2013

Jack Kornfield says “Within us is a secret longing to remember the light, to step out of time in this dancing world. It’s where we began and where we return.”

In our seeking, many of us find yoga- its goal is to deliver a spiritual practice that unites us with ultimate reality.

Through the sutras, we learn that following the fundamental path of yoga requires us to disengage from the material world (Prakriti) because our spirit self (Purusha) has become entangled through the five afflictions (kleshas). These are: ignorance (avidya), egoist pride (asmita), desire (raga), aversion (dvesa) and fear of death (abinivesa) and they lead to suffering of our physical, emotional and spiritual selves. According to Patanjali, we need to disentangle spirit from matter through constant, inner practice to purify body mind and spirit (abhayasa) and renunciation or non-attachment leading to spiritual surrender (vairagya), in order to truly know ourselves. By following the yogic path, we are provided with the means to awaken our authentic selves that lie beyond the order of nature and remain unchanging.

As we began our teacher-training program, Eileen introduced us to a non-negativity diet, one way of taking a moment-by-moment inventory of how the various kleshas may be impacting our lives. By noticing our tendencies to deny truth or our failure to be curious, we chose avidya. Through a competitive spirit, we demonstrate asmita, and through attachment to outcomes, possessions or even particular people, we align ourselves with raga. We demonstrate dvesa when we employ judgment, of ourselves and of others, and abinivesa when we place ourselves before others in an attempt to outwit death.

When we are not experiencing our true selves, we are entangled with the layers of unreality (colorings) of the mind. These are dual- aklistas are thought patterns that hamper us on our path to enlightenment and klistas are patterns that move us forward. To observe the coloring of our thoughts is a useful practice. By noticing and acknowledging to ourselves that they are in fact, just thoughts, we can move to the next level of noticing if they are colored or not, positive or negative, serving us well, or not. According to Patanjali, ignorance creates all the other obstacles. We have it in our power to cultivate concentration and remove these obstacles to enlightenment. We have the choice to end our own suffering through practice and renunciation. As we learn to detach from the outcomes of our work and focus simply, clearly and continuously, on the process, we can teach ourselves to notice without judgment and through these observations, we create the vehicle for change. The Buddhists teach that what we resist persists. When we practice with vairagya, we observe without resistance; we grow. By noticing and contemplating on the kleshas in the form of a daily inventory, we begin the process of eradication.

Because the nature of all, including ourselves, is of Prakriti, we carry all the characteristics of nature (gunas) in various imbalanced ways. Our nature changes from one moment to the next, exposing us to the tendencies of sattva (illumination), rajas (passion) and tamas (inertia). The gunas cause us to perceive the world in unbalanced ways. Hopefully, as we learn to quiet the mind, we will see more clearly with a heart that may be more trustworthy than the fickle distortions of the mind.

In any case, the colorful klista sanskaras, the imbalanced state of the gunas and the kleshic tendencies are part of the human condition and the sutras provide us with a means of comprehending and a vehicle for transcendence.

Kathi Burke is a recent graduate of Karuna’s 200hr Teacher Training Program

The Art of Observation

Tuesday, November 5th, 2013

A student recently snapped this shot of a class observing Eileen doing a pranayama demonstration. The practice we do at Karuna is a mindfulness practice of seeing, hearing, feeling, and doing. Doing from a place of being. As an aspect of the Iyengar practice students learn the art of observation; we observe actions in each others bodies and try to translate these actions into our own bodies. One may wonder how it is possible to observe the breath. This photograph is a great example of the subtle awareness one begins to gain through the yoga practice. Watching pranayama is another aspect of meditation on the breath. Here each student is able to witness the movement of the breath through the body and become more familiar with the sound of the different methods of breathing as well as the quality of softness in the muscles and skin. Observation throughout the class not only illustrates the physical qualities in each posture and method, it also becomes a practice in quieting the mind and turning one’s attention to dharana: fixing the consciousness on one point.

The Bhagavad Gita

Wednesday, October 9th, 2013

This past month the yoga teacher trainees at Karuna were assigned to read the Bhagavad Gita. In preparation for the workshop taught by Satyanarayana Dasa at Karuna a few weeks ago, students were asked to answer the following questions:

.

i. What is Karma?
ii. How is work transformed into worship?
iii. Why does the Gita offer many alternative paths of practice?
iv. What is the Gita’s position on polytheism?
v. What are the obstacles to the recognition of divinity in each of us? What do you suggest as a practice to enable each person to identify the “self” as distinct from the body?

.
Megan Frazier is a current student in the 200/hr Teacher Training. She also teaches anatomy at Karuna. This is her response.

.
Before I answer these questions, I feel that I must honestly say how much I have struggled with reading the Bhagavad Gita. Unlike most of what I have been exposed to in this training, I do not feel aligned with much of what I have been reading. I have sought out different translations and tried listening to a recording. I have 5 versions at home right now including “a walk through for westerners,” “annotated and explained,” and even a children’s book. I have not made it all the way through any version except the children’s book and I am finding that I have difficulty getting past the content and hearing the message that lies beneath the parable. It feels wrong to me that the conclusion of the lesson that all of our experiences are an illusion is that Arjuna should go ahead and kill his friends and family members. We are told that he is “Duty-bound” to “protect his honor” and these do not sit with me as God-supported actions but as the samskaras of centuries of patriarchal thinking and acting. Just as the Bible was written by men (not by God), this text also seems to have been written down by men and contains their inherent and cultural biases. I don’t know how to get completely past that skepticism to appreciate the song of God that is presented.

What is Karma?.

Karma is one of those words that seems to be frequently misused. Something bad will happen to someone and they will say “that was bad Karma.” It doesn’t seem correct to me to say that Karma could be good or bad, based on what I read in the Gita. Nor does it seem to be quite as simple as “I have bad Karma and that’s why something bad just happened to me. “ There seems to be more than one definition for Karma within the Gita, but the one that resonated most with me was this: “Whatever we do and whatever we are is the consequence of samskaras deposited in the mental body by our thoughts, words and deeds of past lives. These impressions, carried in latent form into our next life, determine our future temperament and destiny.”1 This is a more nuanced way of saying “you reap what you sow.” What I like about the idea of Karma is that it inserts some personal responsibility into the theology. Without that concept, the ideas in the Gita would overwhelm me. If everything flows back to the divinity, if there is one God responsible for everything I experience, then why should I bother to act? Why would my actions matter? Karma teaches me that my actions do matter, and that although there may be many lifetimes before I reach union with the divinity, I can make choices in this lifetime that will move “me” in that direction (though it seems strange to say “me” when I am talking about union with God!)

.How is work transformed into worship?

This question is harder for me to understand. I believe that the Gita tells us that we need to do our worldly work, we need to persist in action, but that we need to do so without attachment. When I translate that into my own situation, here is my interpretation: I work with very challenged children in very challenged families and social situations. If this is truly my work (which I am still trying to figure out), it is correct for me to do my work (as opposed to staying home and praying and doing yoga or watching TV all day!) But it is incorrect for me to expect or become attached to the outcomes, to changing the children or the families, or to improve or take them out of their situations. The other piece is that if we work “with our heart fixed on the divinity”2 our work can become sacred. This thought is comforting to me, because work can get caught up in so many struggles of the mind – am I paid enough? Am I appreciated enough? Can I get health insurance? Am I passionate about my work every day? Making a shift to fix my heart on the divinity through the work day is a good strategy to escape all these thoughts which, in truth, are NOT my work.

.
Why does the Gita offer many alternative paths of practice?

Even though I have been working on reading this work since last month, I guess I have not read or understood enough to really take in that this is what the Gita is doing. I was able to learn from searching for more information that three of the paths are considered Karma Yoga (selfless action), Bhakti yoga (devotion) and Jnana yoga (self transcending knowledge) but this is not what I learned from the reading that I did. I imagine that the reason for multiple paths is because there is so much complexity in the relationship between personhood and the divine; each path perhaps provides a unique set of lessons or lens through which to understand the path as well as the destination (which is the same for all three paths).

.
What is the Gita’s position on polytheism?

I understand the Gita to be saying that there is only one God, that everything is the Godhead. “Whatever form of God people choose to worship in good faith, it is I, the Godhead, who makes their faith steady and unwavering. I do this to help them evolve stage by stage along their spiritual path” (7:21). I interpret this to mean that someone who professes to worship a “different” God is not actually doing so, but instead has not progressed far enough along his or her spiritual path (influenced by his or her Karma) to understand that it is this One God (who is speaking through Krishna) that he or she is worshipping.

.
What are the obstacles to the recognition of divinity in each of us?

What do you suggest as a practice to enable each person to identify the “self” as distinct from the body? The primary obstacles, I believe, are the samskaras of the individual hand in hand with the conflation of the self with the self’s desires. When we derive our satisfaction/contentment or sense of rightness from the fulfillment of our desires, we are compelled to do whatever it takes to keep getting our desires met. The solution to this is discussed in the Gita as well as in the Sutras: the balance of practice and dispassion, abhyasa and vairagyam, will permit an individual to cultivate detachment from desire while also helping to lessen the hold that our samskaras have over our habits/actions. My image for the samskaras is like an Etch-A-Sketch, and there are some pathways very clearly marked. The purpose of our practice is to create the potential for all the pathways to be available to us equally (all the silvery Etch-a-Sketch coating to be removed) so that we can act based on what is the best choice for our Karma and not simply as dictated by our samskaras.

References

1. Bhagavad Gita: Annotated and Explained. Translation by Shri Purohit Swami, Annotation by Kendra Crossen Burroughs. Woodstock, VT; Skylight Illuminations;2001. Pages 28-30
2. The Bhagavad Gita: A Walkthrough for Westerners. Hawley, Jack. Novato, CA. New World Library. 2001.

Megan Frazier - Experiental AnatomyMegan Frazier has always loved the exploration of the body, both as a dancer and as an anatomist. She holds an MS in physical therapy as well as an MFA in Dance and a BS in biology. She currently practices physical therapy in both pediatric and geriatric settings, and is an adjunct neuroanatomy instructor at Springfield College. Megan was first introduced to yoga in high school by her modern dance teacher, and finds that yoga practice deeply enhances her anatomical exploration.

The Contentment in Right Action

Wednesday, July 17th, 2013

The Contentment in Right Action

Yoga is the practice of self-awareness. It’s goals are freedom, Self realization, divine expression. Satya is about living our truth. Finding our truth, both on and off the mat, can be challenging. Svadhyaya (self-study) is the means.

By Kathi Burke

A life story:

Recently, my directors announced that there would be no raises for the fifth consecutive year. We’ve grown too large and our profit margin too small. Despite their request for feedback, I kept my own counsel. My thoughts were most likely controversial ones and I have worked for many years on curbing my often passionate and impulsive flow of words.

After allowing my ideas to percolate, I wrote them. I suggested we increase salaries to a few, should there be a small overage. I advanced the theory that the youngest faculty, who were often repaying loans and prohibitive insurance costs were working for entry-level salaries, thus more negatively impacted by budgetary constraints. I proposed that the best and brightest of these were the agency’s future but also were most likely to be recruited to work elsewhere.  I named a few and took the opportunity to share my pleasure in working with an excellent young teacher for the past two years.

Long story short, I made a mistake. I said something else. In order to dispel the characteristic notion that “no one is hiring”, I shared that I knew that at least one school district had already approached my exemplary colleague with an offer. I pushed SEND. Then, I was flooded with regret.

Satya requires us to take the next “right action” in any given moment. Just because something is truthful, it does not make it right to share. I called my colleague and told on myself only to find out that she and a few others had been given a retroactive increase two days prior from some grant monies. WOW! I was overjoyed! How wonderful!

Not even close.  A day later the raise was retracted. The reason, of course, was my letter. They saw the fact that she hadn’t shared the offer as subversive and offensive. We were shocked! I was guilty of every possible charge I could muster against myself. We engaged in debating the fairness of their decisions for some time; and then it hit me.

Svadhyaya requires letting go of results and complete immersion of oneself in the process.  At the core of self-study is the attitude of non-attachment.  I’ve acknowledged my overly zealous nature. My passion can champion many causes well, but it can also obscure my truth.  I recently read that through santosa we end the war with reality. When we are attached to a particular outcome, we often aren’t able to perceive truth. When invested in our own view, we obscure the views of others. Our curiosity in possibilities is suppressed; as we build our case, we move away from the core of our being.

This problem wasn’t about them, how rational or irrational their decision. It wasn’t even about my colleague. It was about my sharing information that wasn’t mine to share, an old character flaw of impulsive zeal. I stopped participating. I accepted full blame. I apologized. Then I went home and wrote a check. When I put it in the mail the next morning, a sense of calm and freedom returned. This summer, each time I choose not to make an unnecessary purchase, I am reminded to be grateful for the assistance in erasing a samskara, one of attaching myself too passionately to an outcome.

In yogic philosophy,  samskaras cycle through many lives. Only through the awareness of these negative traits through svadhyaya, do we avail ourselves of the opportunity to grow into our divinity and to abandon these patterns. The object of self-study is an emerging awareness of the divinity within. The single most profound illusion is our misguided belief that we are separate from god. It is in birthing the realization that we carry the divine within us that we grow in satya and santosa.

The mat story:

While I’ve had a lifetime to work on the observance of self-study and the restraints of truthfulness, I am in my infancy applying these concepts to the mat. Seneca wrote: “It is not because things are difficult that we do not dare; it is because we do not dare that things are difficult.” Getting caught up in my “story” of injury and poor health distorts my truth on the mat. Recognizing and embracing my improving health will serve me better as I relax into today.

Svadhyaya requires me to put my reactions aside with my “story”.  I can learn to examine my fear, my distrust and my attitudes about specific postures truthfully and with curiosity only when I release my grip and practice non-attachment. I know from life experiences that when I invest in outcomes, I loose my availability for growth and contentment.

I find that when I approach the mat with fear, I am unable to remain still in body and mind, thus becoming unavailable to learn the lessons I require to grow. If I obsess about what I am “unable to do”, I will make that my reality. Letting go of fear will bring greater sensation, awareness and growth.

As with my zealotry in my work life, my fear of physical weakness and strength in balance may be another samskara waiting to be released.

Kathi Burke is the mother of three grown children and lives in Troy, NY with her husband of 40 years and her Jack Russell, Pepper. She finds joy as a speech pathologist working with young children and  in teaching a movement form combining martial, healing and dance arts called NIA.

Sutra IV.7 -IV.8

Monday, July 1st, 2013

Sutra IV.7: karmasuklakrsnam yoginas tri-vidham itaresam

The karma of a yogi is neither white nor black; of everyone else it is of three types.

translation by Edwin Bryant

The following interpretations are written by Vanessa Serrota.

“The wise person lets go of all results, whether good or bad, and is focused on action alone. Yoga is skill in actions.” –Bhagavad Gita

This sutra teaches us to disengage (detach) from the fruits of our actions, just as the Bhagavad Gita teaches. It is important to note that the sutra says that in addition to a yogi’s actions not being black (tamasic) or grey (rajasic), neither are they white (sattvic). This may seem confusing, as the first two limbs of yoga themselves are directing us toward illuminated, “white” actions. I think the sutra is showing us that the first two limbs are just the beginning, an important place to start and that ultimately, in order to really go beyond, our motivations must become rootless, so that we detach even from the desire to do good. To me, this sutra is about being exactly present in this moment. If we surrender the fruits of our actions, we avail ourselves for what is, right now. We open up the possibility of being moved by the grace of God.

Sutra IV.7 speaks to the work we do in this method of yoga as well. When we talk about “it’s not one size fits all” and about “knowing what you’re doing and why you’re doing it”, concepts which are hallmarks of the Iyengar tradition, it is another way of saying “take the right action at the right time”. Which cannot be planned ahead. We have never been here before. What is this moment asking of us?

Sutra IV.8: tatas tad-vipakanugunanam evabhivyaktir vasananam

From [these three types of karma] the activation of only those subliminal impressions that are ready for fruition [in the next life] occurs.

translation by Edwin Bryant

This sutra is about the accumulation of karma. Each of the three kinds of actions create impressions. Even the white (sattvic) actions create impressions, as the white actions are equally driven by desire. These impressions are like seeds inside of us, manifesting as karma when the conditions are suitable. We carry these seeds of karma with us through however many lifetimes it takes for the right conditions to occur. By making right actions at right times, the fruits of the actions of the yogi are offered to God devotionally, thus the yogi accumulates no seeds of karma

Vanessa Serotta graduated from the 500hr Teacher Training with Eileen Muir. She teaches level 1-2 Monday mornings and will be teaching the next 8 Week Beginner’s series at Karuna in September

“My Body is a Temple, My Asanas are My Prayers”

Sunday, June 9th, 2013

The following is an extended exerpt from a documentary on B.K.S. Iyengar that is now in post-production. Currently the producers of the film are raising funds in order to release the full 90 minute documentary. Donations can be made at this website: http://www.indiegogo.com/projects/sadhaka-the-yoga-of-b-k-s-iyengar

Development Screener1 from Lindsey Clennell on Vimeo.

Chrysalis

Monday, June 3rd, 2013
.
As a part of the 200 hour Yoga Teacher Training at Karuna, students spend a great deal of time developing their practice of Svadhyaya, or self reflection, by reading various scripture and writings. The primary text used throughout the course is The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The following is based on a meditation on the second sutra of this text submitted by Kitty Troger, a current trainee in the program.
.
Given the definitions of Yoga as chitti-vritti-nirodhah in Patanjali’s Sutra 1.2, how does the way you do yoga challenge the way you think and feel? How does the way you thinkand feel challenge the way you do yoga? Discuss and be succinct.
.
Yoga challenges us to calm the mental noise that results from sensory
stimulation. We often confuse this mental noise with who we are, but it is only a
reflection of the perceptions, thoughts, and feelings that we have gathered over
the course of our human experience. Yoga is a way of being, a way of quieting all
of the preconceptions that we have developed, thus allowing us to see the world
with new and unfiltered eyes.
This is difficult for us because, like all creatures, we rely on sensory input and
experience to develop our view of the world. However, all of these accumulated
“truths” actually blind us to the underlying reality of the world and the natural
essence that is our selves. If we could only maintain the inquisitive senses of a
child, untainted by society, culture, and other learned behavioral modifiers. The
art of yoga is regaining our connection with the pure essence from which we
arose from the ether into being.
Once we realize our connectivity to this pure essence, the truth we were
searching for becomes self-evident. Yoga is the process of removing the
experiential programming from our minds, inevitably bringing us into unity with
the ultimate reality. At the end we emerge, as if from a chrysalis, fresh and
renewed, no longer searching and instead simply being. At that point we realize
the perfect bliss of living, living in the moments that have surrounded us all along.
This is the power of Yoga.

Commentary on Sutra III.36- Susan Yard Harris

Wednesday, March 20th, 2013
Currently the participants in Karuna’s weekly Sutra Study group have been discussing the third chapter of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Each week one student takes one or two sutras, reads several translations and commentaries from sources such as B.K.S. Iyengar and Edwin Bryant, summarizes their translations, then writes an interpretation of their own. Susan Yard Harris, a Yoga teacher at Karuna, shared this interpretation of Sutra III.36:
Sutra III.36:
By samyama, the yogi easily differentiates between the intelligence
and the soul, which is real and true. (Translation by B.K.S. Iyengar)
Samyama means holding together, integration; the application of dharana, dhyana,
and samadhi on an object of meditation. By dharana and dhyana, the practitioner
can experience the difference between the intelligence and the soul. (Read
Iyengar’s commentary on the Sutras, p. 217.)
Susan’s commentary:
Yoga provides us with techniques that enable us to quiet the citta and experience
the light of the soul. Cultivating awareness of the fluctuations of consciousness,
attention to the breath when thoughts arise, practice and detachment by quieting
the organs of perception, and meditation on the effulgent light in the center of the
heart (which is the soul) teach us to observe our thoughts and emotions with a
loving witness and open us to experience the light of the soul.
Teaching awareness helps our students become more conscious. Teaching
compassion helps them (and us) develop a loving witness to their thoughts and
actions on the yoga mat and in life. Attention to the breath and pranayama quiet
the mind and bring students into a receptive state so that light can arise. A well-
thought-out and well-taught sequence builds physical strength and quiets the
nervous system for dharana and dhyana. Students will learn that steadfast practice
over a long period of time develops their fortitude and devotion.
Just as teaching sincerely and from your heart helps your students open to
experience their own truth, personal practice becomes, over time, the way you live
your life.
Susan teaches “Wise Yoga- 50 and Up” on Mondays from 4-5pm at Karuna. The Sutra Study group is on Thursdays 5-5:25 and is free and open to the public.

Mystical Powers

Tuesday, February 26th, 2013

We have been studying the third chapter of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali for the past couple months at Karuna. The chapter is aptly named “Mystical Powers” as it describes eventual experiences and capabilities a yogi may acquire after a level of mastery is achieved of the last 3 limbs of Yoga, dharana, dhyana and samadhi. As an effect of doing these three limbs together, samyama, one is said to be able to do things such as know the future (3.16), know their past lives (3.18), read minds(3.19), know of their own death (3.22), and cease experiencing hunger or thirst (3.30), among other things. This chapter of the sutras comes with a warning that certain powers, though gained through yoga practice, can take one off their yogic path if squandered or coveted.

In our discussions of these sutras we have kept in mind that within the cosmology of the Yoga Sutras these powers are believed to be quite real and literal. We have also discussed the ways that these powers can be understood figuratively within our own practices. When discussing one sutra, the ability to assume the consciousness of others (3.38/39), many of us made linkages to our asana practice as well as our experience as teachers. When we ‘come watch’ a pose being demonstrated in class we are observing the person doing the pose as though we were in that body, or as though that body was our own. When one teaches asana one has to relay techniques of embodiment of not just physical form but of philosophy as well. In order to be adept at this teachers have to try to feel what their students are feeling in order to provide options to guide them in the right direction.

Looking at the third chapter figuratively can provide us with openings to the ideas offered and provide us with insights to strengthen our practice as teachers and students. Owen Wormser, one of the current students in Karuna’s 200 Hour Teacher Training, captured these images of a bobcat in his yard the other day. After seeing how quickly this animal seems to become invisible, we were inspired to revisit Sutra 3.21: When samyama is done on the form of one’s own physical body, the illumination or visual characteristic of the body is suspended, and is thus invisible to other people.

Photos taken by Owen Wormser

Erin McNally is a Yoga teacher currently participating in advanced training at Karuna.