Archive for January, 2012

The Isvara Sutras: 1:23-1:27

Monday, January 30th, 2012

As part of the practice of Svadhyaya, introspection through study of scripture, students from the 2011/12 200 hour teacher training were asked to contemplate the Isvara Sutras, 1:23 through 1:27, in Edwin Bryant’s translation of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. The following post provides examples of how students responded to Bryant’s interpretation and how the sutras resonated for them.

Erin McNally, 200/hr Teacher Training Student 2011

Sutra 1.23

Isvara-pranidhanad va

Or, [this previously mentioned state is attainable] from devotion to the lord.

Bryant: Devotion to God is the quickest way to samprajnata-samadhi; vision of the self by grace of god. This is achieved with bhakti-visesa; “simply by the yogis longing”. Devotion is in meditating on Isvara with love, and the actions of the yogi are desireless, entailing “devoting all one’s actions to the Lord, desiring no fruit for oneself.” The nature of Isvara is also revealed in this sutra: “he is untouched by the deposits of samskaras, fructification of karma, karma, or the obstacles to the practice of yoga, the klesas of II.3: nescience, ego, attachment, aversion, and the will to live.”


Isvara-pranidhanad va is the sutra that establishes how one either includes devotion to the lord into one’s practice or has that become the main method of practice. It would seem to me that, in order to achieve this level of devotion, the yogi needs the foundations set out in the 8 limbs of Yoga. Especially in the case of cultivating desireless action. But Bryant makes a case for the fact that this sutra describes the niyama Isvara-pranidhana as the only effective way to attain samprajnata-samadhi without delay. So the yogi who devotes one’s self to this practice may achieve the goals of yoga faster. But the tone of the commentary is that, while Isvara-pranidhana is a way in and of itself to attain Samadhi, it is  not the only way, and not the mandatory way. I think that this sutra sheds light on not only what one is devoting one’s self to in Isvara, but also what devotion actually is, desireless love.

Sutra 1.24

Klesa-karma-vipakasayair aparamrstah purusa-visesa Isvarah

The Lord is a special soul. He is untouched by the obstacles [to the practice of yoga], karma, the fructification  [of karma] and subconscious predispositions.

Bryant: Discusses the nature of Ivara according to Patanjali and locates the historical context that the sutras were written in terms of what Isvara is. Debates whether Isvara is to be understood as a creator god or as an entity or being representing pureness. Clarifies the difference between Isvara as purusa and the rest of purusa as experienced by all other beings. Isvara is free from four of the conditions of samsara, the klesas: ignorance, ego, attachment, aversion and the will to live, Karma, vipaka: the fruit of Karma-, and asaya (that which lies stored): vasanas (habits) and samskaras. Also notes that, while liberated yogis have broken free from these conditions of samsara, Isvara is not like these liberated purusas because he never was touched by these circumstances.


The clarification that this sutra offers on the nature of Isvara helps to explain how devotion to Isvara is a specific way for the yogi to have purusa revealed and thus find Samadhi. If Isvara was like other yogis in nature that had experienced and had been liberated from the conditions of samsara, it could follow that one could tap into the enlightenment offered by devotion to Isvara by devoting one’s self to any liberated yogi. This argument is not explicitly made by Bryant but it is within my reasoning on what Isvara is.

The time taken by Bryant to establish the historical context of Isvara helps to explain why, in Patanjali’s text, there is a level of ambiguity over what kind of God Isvara is. I’d like to believe, and Bryant argues, that Patanjali had foresight into the potential aversion to theism that some yogis may employ, and wanted to present the universal truth in the system of yoga without clouding it in a argument over the nature of God. As Bryant says “I’d like to imagine that Patanjali is too sophisticated and broad minded a thinker to risk sectarianizing the otherwise universalistic tenor of the sutras and thereby alienating the aspiring yogis with theistic (or non-theistic) orientations different than his own”

Sutra 1.25

tatra niratisayam sarvajna-bijam

In him, the seed of omniscience is unsurpassed.

Bryant: The phrasing of Isvara’s omniscience as ‘unsurpassed’ indicates that there are levels of all knowing. While this seems odd, the sutra means to clarify the difference between Isvara’s omniscience and the omniscience gained through practice or devotion by the yogi (or Jains and Buddhists). Again, Isvara’s is pure, having never been touched by ignorance. Bryant also explains that because Isvara is pure sattva, his “awareness can be in simultaneous contact with everything, that is, omniscience.”  This differs from the human experience of awareness due to the experience of gaining knowledge through the senses, “which is limited by the tamasic element in the senses of their particular bodies”.


While these Sutras set out to clarify the nature of Isvara, they also help to illuminate the restrictions that embodied beings have, i.e. the quality of the senses in terms of the gunas. The explanation here offered by Bryant of how Isvara’s awareness differs from embodied beings helps to further explain what pure sattva is.  While we can read sutra 1.24 and know a list of what Isvara is not, we can only infer what that means he is. By the clarification of what Isvara is in this sutra, sattva, we can come to understand what pureness may look like. In some ways I believe that, although Patanjali is not forcing theism into the practice of yoga, the knowledge available in devotion to Isvara is unlike any other; it is knowledge of purity.

Sutra 1.26

purvesam api guruh kalenanavacchedat

Isvara was also the teacher of the ancients, because he is not limited by time.

Bryant: Isvara is eternal, not subjected to the limitations of time. This is because, according to the cosmology of Yoga, time is “the movement of the gunas of prakrti, that is, the movement of matter.” Isvara is purusa. And Purusa is eternal, whether the special purusa that is Isvara or the purusa in all beings.


The question of what is purusa is touched on here.  We know that Isvara  is a special kind of purusa. The eternal nature of this purusa helps to illuminate to the yogi that even time, which is bound to matter, is not experienced by purusa, Isvara can bestow the knowledge of eternal purusa on yogis because, as purusa, as eternal and not bound by prakrti, the knowledge given is current, present, aware. Not tied to the time or current-ness or awareness of a teacher from another expression of the gunas, or rather, another time

Sutra 1.27

tasya vacakah pranavah

The name designating him is the mystical syllable om.

Bryant: Om is a “sonar incarnation of Brahman”. Om as Isvara is not a culturally agreed upon association of a word to a thing, it is “an eternal designation not assigned by human convention or socially agreed upon usage”. Om is imbued with the power of Isvara. Because om is linked to prakrti by sound which is accessed by the senses, it is a means of allowing praktri to access Isvara, who is otherwise not on the plane pf prakrti.


Om is like a key into a different system of language. Yogis use om to access Isvara from prakrtic existence. Om is a tool, passed down through time by beings bound in praktri, that creates a sonar bridge from matter to soul.


Libby Madden:200/hr Teacher Training Student 2011

Photo credit: Benjamin Rosser

Isvara pranidhana

Summary of Edwin’s translation: the goal of yoga is attainable by the grace of God. Through devotion, bhakti, god bestows his grace upon the yogi and the yogi is gifted with the fruits of Samadhi. Devotion to the lord entails the dedication of all actions to god with no expectation for fruits, and as such the ego melts away and the being is pure and centered. Concentration and meditation on the Lord as represented in the syllable, “om” with loving devotion leads to the realization of the purusa and liberation for the practitioner. Through dedication to Isvara the highest form of Samadhi can be attained, as by a simple act of grace Isvara can free the yogi from his or her material bonds. Isvara is a soul, but a special soul free of all obstacles and samsara, an eternal being untouched by time.  Pattanjali promotes a theistic yoga practice. One may practice the path of yoga non-theistically, but pattanjali promotes devotion to god as the highest path, and performing the guidelines of the yoga sutras with the attitude of devotion to god accelerates the practitioner to the ultimate goal of Samadhi.

Isvara is a special soul. Eternal and untouched by time, he was never once bound to the kind of life and samskaras like other beings. Therefore he is not some liberated yogi, he is beyond that. Isvara’s relationship to the material world and whether or not he has created it is not discussed, and pattanjali is primarily concerned with the function of Isvara in the path of yogic liberation. Though not much is explicitly stated in the Sutras about pattanjali’s view of Isvara (as Visnu, Shiva, etc.), it can be assumed that he was influenced by the mainstream concepts of his time.

Isvara is a degree of omniscience unattainable by any other being. All beings have a certain degree of knowledge that grows over time but Isvara has the highest level of knowledge, the seed of omniscience. Unlike the yogi who is at one point ignorant and over time becomes omniscient, Isvara was always omniscient. He is a distinct and special purusa, in a different category from all enlightened beings. Isvara is active but only for the purpose of all living beings, a benevolent God, purposed to uplift all beings from samsara. Isvara is the teacher to all ancients and all “ages” because he is not subject to time, or the configurations of the gunas. Isvara is designated by the syllable om not as a cultural changing linguistic name but as eternal and timeless designation. As he is unchanging and eternal he can invest this might into a vibration, a syllable, and that is om. By illuminating the vibration om with his presence, by his grace isvara allows aspirants in prakritic life to meditate on and experience his being through this vibration.

My interpretation: My first reaction to Edwin’s interpretation of the Isvara sutras is his reference to god as a “he”. Though the sutras state that Isvara is an omnipresent being, highest of all, I am resistant to the application of a gender. Edwin’s translations imply that god is a being, a unique kind of purusa. This is in a way surprising to me and differs from my perception of god and Idea for “isvara pranidhana”. I interpret the “being”, Isvara as more of an interconnectedness, a flow, existence of all things, the greater Source. Beyond even a being, a sort of ever-being- flow that contains all things and moves all things and is everywhere. I suppose you could classify that as a “special soul”….  Devotion to this Isvara as I perceive it is a submission to exactly what is, always, giving in to the flow and motion of life with a sense of love, devotion, and gratitude. The longer the focus on this the greater the sense of joy and equanimity, the easier the obstacles in the material world disappear. Devotion to god is a freeing state of unattached flowing equanimity, an idea that even to speak of brings butterflies into my heart. It is trust, love, peace, flow, balance.  It is omniscient because it is beyond all and within all, the essence of our beings as well as animals and all nature. To devote all action to god is to live with the understanding that there is something greater out there than your ego-self, and the development of this attitude as such melts the sense of importance around our ego-selves. In this sense my interpretation is similar to Edwin’s, I just perhaps have a less theistic approach. It seems to me that Pattanjali is promoting a theistic style of yoga not necessarily with the implication that god is actually any kind of typical soul but rather a higher nature and interconnectedness between all things, and the application of a theistic view or personification in the form of Visnu Siva or Krishna is more a tool to concentrate one’s devotion in a more tangible form than just some cosmic concept. Pattanjali says that with devotion the practitioner’s god, in whatever form they worship it in, will appear to him, thus implying that it is almost arbitrary what image one decides to devote that love to. To me it is more about the feeling, almost impossible to put into words, that one accesses, that deep love in the heart, that signifies concentration on the lord regardless of whether there is a theistic focus or not. Just as the syllable om is changeless regardless of cultural linguistic changes over the ages, the cosmic presence of Isvara is changeless regardless of cultural ideals and personifications of how the lord would look in human form.

I suppose the key difference in my interpretation of the idea of Isvara is that everything about god to me is less personified. “He” doesn’t “bestow grace” on the practitioner for their devotion, but rather the natural flow of things is that grace just kind of happens through the dropping in, acceptance, submission, and love for the natural flow of all things, God, Nature, existence, stillness.  Even thinking and writing about this, I have a warmth and peace in my heart. That is grace. That is my devotion to Isvara.

V Haddad:200/hr Teacher Training Student 2011, Singer/Songwriter

For Contemplation…

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Stay without ambition, without the least desire, exposed, vulnerable, unprotected, uncertain, alone, completely open to and welcoming life as it happens, without the selfish conviction that all must yield your pleasure or profit, material or so called spiritual.

Nisargadatta Maharaj

Pranayama: Removing the Veil, Sutra 2.52

Wednesday, January 25th, 2012

Inspired by the Pranayama Sutra below translated by B.K.S. Iyengar:

Sutra 2.52: Tatah kisyate prakasavaranam

Pranayama removes the veil covering the light of knowledge and heralds the dawn of wisdom.

Its practice destroys illusion, consisting of ignorance, desire, and delusion which obscure the intelligence; and allows the inner light of wisdom to shine.  As the breeze disperses the clouds that cover the sun, pranayama wafts away the clouds that hide the light of intelligence.

In the Yoga Chudamani Upanisad it is said that there is no discipline higher than pranayama.  It is called an exhalted knowledge (mahavidya), a royal road to well-being, freedom and bliss.

Kerry Doyle, Yoga Advanced Teacher Trainee

I think pranayama practice is really a practice about being intimate with yourself and with the essence of life.  I often begin the practice and am aware of a lot of tension or holdings and it takes working through each breath to disentangle.   Each inhalation teaches me about being receptive to life and each exhalation about letting go, letting go, letting go.  In one of the sutra commentaries in Edwin’s book, he talks about the yogi needing to be as sensitive as an eyeball.  I find this is really true in pranayama – the subtle shifts are hugely profound.  Our culture often focuses on working harder to achieve more – or that more is better.  In pranayama it’s an interesting practice to find that to draw in a deep inhalation comes from staying relaxed, slowing down – not gulping and not forcing.   In my practice sometimes I just have such simple intentions – can I take just one breath without tensing the throat?  Or can I inhale and keep the eyes soft?  What surprises me is how very difficult this can be for me to do and at the same time what a deep effect it has when I can just follow such simple intentions for even one breathe.   The pranayama practice gets right to the energy body – sort of strips it all down and digs right in.  In meditation, an instruction I’ve often been taught is to work with dropping the storyline and returning to the energy body/the sensations.  Pranayama practice puts me directly in touch with the sensations of the body – it skips that step of putting up the obstacle of the storyline – and puts me directly in touch with the raw experience.  When I can experience life in that way, it feels more possible to let life flow through me and around me without trying to hold onto it or push it away.

Sutra 2.52 –  Then, the covering of the illumination [of knowledge] is weakened.

Edwin begins his commentary stating, “Prakasa, illumination… a synonym for sattva.  The covering of illumination, prakasa-avarana, says Vyasa, is ultimately karma, and this is destroyed by the practice of pranayama.”

It strikes me as how remarkably difficult it is to do such a basic thing as inhaling and exhaling without adding something more to it.  And what an important life lesson – it’s the very foundation for taking the self/the ego out of all of our actions. Karma is accumulated when we mistake our thoughts, actions, feelings for the self.  Pranayama gives me a tool for learning how to loosen that grip of the ego on such a fundamental act of life as breathing – and from that a glimpse into what is possible in the rest of life.  When I practice I feel held by some greater force, aware of a union to something bigger than my small sense of self.  Pranayama helps dissolve the concept of a separate self by putting me in touch with that connection – and what’s incredible is how this can happen in just one breathe!

Wreck Your Body?

Friday, January 20th, 2012

There is a storm going on in the yoga community stirred by the New York Times Article, “How Yoga Can Wreck Your Body”. Many are questioning the validity of the claims made by Broad about the hazards of practicing yoga. The students and teachers at Karuna have been discussing the implications of this article and the apparent misuse and skew of information and we would like to share some of our thoughts.

Teachers never stop being students and students are forever growing to become their own teachers. The responsibility to avoid injury is placed on both the student and the teacher. Karuna’s student and teacher responses to the article have stated that ego and ignorance, asmita and avidya, both in teachers and in students, are to blame for injury. Yoga, in the full sense of the practice, is a means to liberate oneself from ego and ignorance. As students we are working to cultivate awareness of asmita and avidya and to choose actions that are not borne of the two. As teachers we are providing tools for this endeavor. The responsibility to prevent injury lies on all of us, on teachers and on students alike, to maintain a clear path where information is known and made available by the teacher and is sought after by the student. This requires us all to be present in each moment of our practice.

Although there are a few rather large problems with the NYT article, Karuna’s community is pleased that the article was written.  For our teachers it has brought about a heightened sensitivity to injury and how to better provide for the students with special needs.  It has reinforced the diligent check-ins for students at the beginning of class and throughout for people who have pre-existing injuries / conditions.  This can only make us better teachers.   At Karuna, we teach our students a clear vocabulary on “how to feel” whilst getting into the pose, being in the pose, exiting the pose, and after the pose.  In other words, bringing awareness to every single part of your practice.

IYNAUS, the Iyengar Yoga Association, wrote a letter to the editor of the NYT  that opens with “if yoga hurts, it is not yoga.”  What IYNAUS and Karuna’s community are expressing is that yoga, as a whole, following the 8 limbs, guided by the yamas and the niyamas, is a practice that should not be injurious to the practitioner. We can’t just separate asana from yoga. When asana is separated there is potential for injury.  The Yama Ahimsa, non-violence, is at the foundation of the practice of yoga. This practice of nonviolence is in thought, deed and act. Practicing asana with ahimsa requires us to be gentle with our bodies, to back off when pain is present, and to look for ways to prevent pain by communicating with our teachers so we can learn. The Niyama Santosa, contentment, is an essential observation in yoga. Practicing asana with santosa requires us to be truly ok with what is. In asana, if one cannot do a pose comfortably, ahimsa tells us to back off and santosa tells us to be ok with that. A certain amount of emotional pain will come up because we are working on the deepest level of our samskaras.  This is okay and we learn from the 8 limbs and from Ahimsa to work with this. If we don’t employ these teachings, among the vast amount of other teachings available to guide us in our practice, it is arguable that we are not doing yoga.

We recommend that you read these articles to help guide the clarity of your opinions:

New York Times

Roger Cole


Richard Rosen

Surrender vs. Resignation

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Written by Eileen Muir, inspired by Adyashanti while she was on a silent meditation retreat with him.

Resignation is a painful place to be in. It is often a strategy we do in order to not feel
pain, fear, or sometimes terror. It is a sort of ‘pretend surrender’. Often we do ‘pretend
surrender’ when we think we can’t do real surrender. There’s a dull tamasic energy
connected to it. The mind takes over and approximates surrender. It imitates it.
Resignation is a grey, grim place as a stance. You can resign with your head but not
with your heart. You can surrender with your heart but not with your mind. What keeps us from surrendering? We resign ourselves when we are unable to confront the truth of the situation. We cannot possibly know what will happen when we let go. But we often project an image of what that will look like with our mind. It really requires a leap of faith! A willingness to be aligned with your intention. A willingness to be aligned with truth. A willingness to see and feel it all! What do you know that you are trying not to know? Surrender throws us out of our comfort zone. You start to see through images of darkness, which are not our true being. Surrender is like relaxing into yourself. It’s a softening and a willingness to be vulnerable. It opens you up as a portal to liberation. It is dynamic and energetic, with a lot of spaciousness around the heart. .Resignation is flat, it is contracted, and it is from the mind. It is a kind of giving up, there is no energy flow in resignation. When you surrender, you feel exquisitely alive, you are flowing with the rivers of life, and there is abundance of energy available.

-Eileen Muir

Surrender vs. resignation was presented to the Advanced Teacher Training and below are a few responses from our students.

Kendra Renzoni: Teacher, Studio Manager, and   Student in Advanced Teacher Training

Surrender like a baby monkey or like a baby Kitten: I am like the baby monkey, holding onto my mother’s neck. I am TOTALLY with the path, momma monkey, God, the teacher, but I am holding on and there is no way I am letting go. I am not like the baby kitten, which hangs limply from the jaws of its mother as she leaps and dodges and weaves. I am so scared that if I don’t exert effort on our journey I will be dropped from the jaws of the mother cat or that I will become a burden, not worth carrying. However,
I know that I carry some things that could be called “difficult” to carry… but still I carry them because they are so nurturing. They are nurturing because they give me freedom from my suffering, it is my surrender to knowing that, that makes them easy, and they don’t feel difficult to carry. How does Isvara carry all of us?

Ann Ramsey, 300-Hour Advanced Yoga Teacher Training student

Giving up is influenced by assumptions and expectations, they create judgment, fear and a concentration of avoidance. This keeps us at a superficial level in all aspects of our life, including our asana, preventing space for curiosity to allow exploration to penetrate deeper and move through the difficulty, releasing patterns ( in muscular tension and samskaras) that create the obstacles. The Yamas and Niyamas are our compass though, through all of these experiences, holding downward dog for 4 minutes or dealing in relationships. Surrendering makes space to consider the possibilities of the relationship between effort and letting go. The letting go of attachments (assumptions, expectations created by the mind/samskaras) or muscular tension that cause agitation, that may teeter us on the edge of giving up. This helps to cultivate being in the present moment of practice (asana/life) rather then being distracted thinking about the outcome. Moving through the asana (life situations) is surrender, rather than moving around (avoidance) towards giving up. (more…)

Welcoming the Karuna Community

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012

Welcome to Karuna’s blog page! Our intention is that this blog will become
a forum for the larger Karuna community to share their thoughts, inspiration, and
philosophical insights. We are excited to have this new tool to reach beyond the studio

May the information that shapes our ever evolving practice integrate into every aspect of our waking life. Our hope is that the blog can be an opportunity for everyone to swim in the ocean together towards the light.

The content of this blog includes:

  • Student and teacher writings
  • Yoga Philosophy Discussions
  • Resources for the enrichment of practice
  • Health and wellness tips
  • Events and Class Information
  • Healthy healing vegetarian recipes


Poem written in response to Yoga Sutras 1.12-1.15

Tuesday, January 17th, 2012


  • Sutra 1.12: abhyasa vairagyabhyam tan nirodhah
    [The vrtti states of mind] are stilled by practice and dispassion
  • Sutra 1.13: tatra sthitau yatno ‘bhysah
    From these, practice is the effort to be fixed in concentrating the mind
  • Sutra 1.14:  sa tu dirgha-kala-nairantarya-satkarasevito drdha-bhumih
    Practice becomes firmly established when it has been cultivated uninterruptedly and with devotion over a prolonged period of time.
  • Sutra 1.15:  drstanusravika-visaya-vitrsnasya vasikara-samjna vairagyam
  • Dispassion is the controlled consciousness of one who is without craving for sense objects, whether these are actually perceived or described [in scripture] Defines what dispassion is

Poem written by Chris Hamel: 200 Hour Yoga Teacher Training Student 2011

Finding Rest

I’m pretty sure
You can’t hope to rest
until it’s hopeless,
I’m pretty sure
You can’t find peace
until you don’t need it anymore.

Now I might be wrong,
but I’m pretty sure
The more desperate you
The more love longs to find you,
and tuck you in,
And once you’re totally
The sheets are pulled tight,
and finally,
you can sleep at last. (more…)