Nirodhaḥ Yoga Blog
Just be good and do good.
- Sri Swami Sivananda
This blog post is part of our Yoga Sutras series.
Want to start at the beginning?
Yoga Sutra 1.33
मैत्रीकरुणामुदितोपेक्षाणां सुखदुःखपुण्यापुण्यविषयाणां भावनातश्चित्तप्रसादनम्
Cultivating Friendliness Toward the Happy, Compassion for the Unhappy, Delight in the Virtuous and Disregard Toward Vice, One's Mind Becomes a Home to Serenity.
A perennial favorite, Sutra 1.33 gives us some of the most practical advice in the entire Yoga Sutras. As practical as it is, it may also be the most difficult discipline of all.
Even more challenging than mastering any arm balancing asana or completing a 10-day silent retreat, I think. Because this yoga is applied within our daily activities and in our reactions to the various experiences that come our way.
It’s very simple really. Yoga Sutra 1.33 reminds us that in order to retain our peace of mind, we’ll need four tools to overcome four different types of situations. In the Sonia Sumar Method, we often refer to them as the “four locks and keys.”
The four keys we need to cultivate serenity of mind are
This is a challenging practice for me and for many people, which is why I think it is such a favorite in Yoga Sutra studies. Luckily, Patanjali next offers five specific techniques and one general method to achieve this state of serenity, even if we are not able to retain feelings of friendliness, compassion, delight and disregard at all times.
Technique #1 (Yoga Sutra 1.34) - The simple breathing technique of focusing your attention on your exhalations and the slight retention naturally held after each exhalation.
This is fascinating to me. Around the beginning of the common era or maybe even earlier, Patanjali’s students finally wrote down what yogis for millennia had known. To calm your mind down, focus on your exhalations.
They didn’t have fancy monitors or machines and yet the yogis knew just by experimenting with their own bodies through their yoga practice (and as a teacher, by witnessing countless others having a similar effect to their practice) what the modern medical establishment has now also concluded thousands of years later.
Taking deep breaths calms us down.
What’s more, it primes our body to help our mind feel more relaxed. But more on the breath later in the Sutras.
Technique #2 (Yoga Sutra 1.35) - The next technique Patanjali recommends to calm the mind down is to fix one’s mind to something that your senses can perceive, such as a sound, an image, a pleasant aroma or to become aware of a part of your body or use mala beads to practice japa mala and engage your sense of touch.
Thoughts are very subtle and slippery. It’s hard to keep your mind fully one-pointed because it keeps slipping into other thoughts.
I think of the continuum of our body - breath - mind like that of solids - liquids - gasses. The mind is gaseous and difficult to control unless you have a container. Unlike the various states of matter, these various concentration techniques help us train our mind to stay more focused even when the container is removed.
The senses interact with the mind but are in the realm of the body, which is more solid. It’s easier to keep your mind focused on one thing when you can see it, hear it or feel it.
Technique #3 (Yoga Sutra 1.36) - Describes a method that Sonia Sumar is always reminding us of in Yoga Nidra, which is the radiant and blissful light within our heart. BKS Iyengar describes the object of our concentration here as “the innermost core of the heart.” (88) I love the suggestion Swami Satchidananda gives to “imagine your heart to contain a beautiful glowing lotus.” (88) Wise people all around tell us about the absorption one can find in our own luminous inner self, which “arises from the heart.” (Stiles, 11)
Technique #4 (Yoga Sutra 1.37) - As Swami Satchidananda explains, the fourth technique is for people who “do not have that much confidence in their own hearts. ‘Oh, how could I have such a wonderful heart with all this rubbish inside?’ In that case, you can think of the heart of a noble person.” (88) The noble person whose heart you should think of is a “self-realized being who has transcended human passions and attachments.” (Stiles, 11)
Method #5 (Yoga Sutra 1.38) - Or you might use an experience you’ve had in a dream or in a state of dreamless sleep as a base for your waking mind to distinguish between Isvara (supreme consciousness) and Prakriti (the elements of nature). (Iyengar, 89) The feeling produced by elevating dreams is a beautiful thing to concentrate on because it will cultivate more of that feeling and the resulting peace within our subconscious mind. Concentrating on the state of dreamless sleep allows us to use our memory to recreate something we have all experienced. This state of unconsciousness is similar to (but not the same as) the experience of samadhi in that for a little while at least, there are no thoughts. (Iyengar, 90)
Perhaps my favorite, favoritest thing about yoga - and I have a lot of favorite things about yoga - is how adaptable it is.
Truth is one, paths are many.
- Swami Satchidananda
In addition to suggesting the technique of concentrating on the heart of any enlightened person, Patanjali also says in Yoga Sutra 1.39 that we can use any other elevating technique that speaks to us. This is the general method Patanjali suggests. Just fix your heart and mind to something elevating and peaceful.
BKS Iyengar tells us “this group of sutras shows that Patanjali’s teaching was broad-based, enabling people of all creeds and all walks of life to aspire to life’s spiritual goal.” (91) This is why yoga is not a religion. It doesn’t suggest one religious technique but allows a person’s religion to become a part of their daily practice, if they so choose.
Finally, in Sutra 1.40, Patanjali explains the result of using the method of concentration you prefer best (remember, we want to pick just one technique). Eventually, this kind of concentration “develops the power to penetrate from the most infinitesimal particles to infinity.” (Iyengar, 91) Mastery in this field “extends from the most minute particle to…the form of the entire cosmos” (Stiles, 12) and thus brings us into unity, or yoga, with all things.
Next month, we’ll wrap up Book One of The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and cover Sutras 1.41 - 1.51. These final Sutras of Book One cover the various states of the last step of the Eight-Limbed Path or Raja Yoga.
<< PREVIOUS BLOG POST IN YOGA SUTRA SERIES
NEXT BLOG POST IN YOGA SUTRA SERIES >>
Which of the four keys is easiest for you to apply - friendliness, compassion, delight or disregard? Which is the most challenging? Why do you think that is? Can you try applying the one that's most challenging for you for just a day?
Just some thoughts about yoga as I go...
FIVE KEYS YOGA
WHAT OUR CLIENTS SAY
Five Keys is fantastic! The studio is lovely and soothing, and the teachers are very caring and attentive.
I've ... probably been to 25 different yoga studios. This is one of the most welcoming, calming spaces with very talented instructors.
I love this yoga studio. It's a great balance of a good workout and relaxation and feels like a real community.
An ideal studio for someone new to yoga.