Today this article wants to shed a light on some very important principles from the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali. If you practice yoga or any other discipline they will greatly help you to keep a steady, effective and uplifting practice. You can apply the principles to your yoga practice or to establish any other habit in your life with ease.
The Yoga Sutras
Patanjali was a saint, who wrote down the teachings between 820 B.C. and 200 B.C. The “Yoga Sutras” consist of 195 aphorisms, or sutras, which are divided into 4 books. He summarized what was already practiced and known for a long time. His teachings are often described as a handbook that helps to use the mind as an instrument for the soul, so that the student may achieve self-realization1.
The following list will give you some of the sutras related to a yoga practice.
- II.46: The posture assumed must be steady and easy.
- II.47: Steadiness and ease of posture are to be achieved through persistent light effort and through concentration of the mind upon the infinitive.
- II.48: When right posture (asana) has been attained there follows right control of prana (life-force energy) and proper inspiration and expiration of the breath.
Another translation by Georg Feuerstein2 is:
- II.46: Posture should be stable and comfortable.
- II.47: The correct practice of posture is accompanied by the relaxation of tension and the coinciding of consciousness with the infinitive.
- II.48: Thence comes unassailability by the opposites found in Nature, such as heat and cold.
If you apply the above sutras, you will feel stronger and at the same time more at ease in your yoga practice. They will give you steadiness and ease in your practice, help you to align with your inner voice and help you to transcend opposites.
Steadiness and Ease
When you come onto your mat in yoga, let the feet, the hands, whatever touches the mat, sink into the mat. There is a difference between pushing your foot into the mat and letting your weight sink into the floor. Pushing would make you stiff. Letting go your weight softly but with a gentle approach of decisiveness lets you feel an uplifting energy flowing through your body and keeping you tall and aligned effortlessly.
Orit Sen Gupta3 refers to this principle as “Rooting”. Rooting gives you the steadiness in the posture and at the same time it allows you to release tension and feel at ease.
Likewise, if you transfer this principle of rooting in establishing new habits, you let yourself relax into the new habit. Instead of pushing yourself into a new behavior you offer the new habit to your Higher Self (this is the letting go-part), relax into it, and follow the steps with a sense of joy and excitement. Examples are if you are establishing new eating habits, a new meditation practice or if you wanted to be conscious about the way you communicate with other people.
Steadiness and ease go together. By relaxing into the practice, mat or habit you do it out of love for yourself. You take all blame and judgement out, that what would make you stiff, and instead practice firmly but gently and in a consistent manner. Baby steps over a long period of time yield profound results.
Another important aspect of these sutras is, that “you align with the infinitive”. In yoga, you turn your attention inwards and listen to how you feel during practice. You open your senses to what is going on. This will give you the insights of how to move, stay and breath in your asana with ease and proper alignment also in your body. As for establishing new habits: It’s again about pushing or surrendering to the practice. When you surrender you ask your Higher Self to act through you. It is very calming to make this request a daily habit.
When you feel at ease in your posture your breath is deep and steady. The breath is the connection between your body and your mind. A calm, steady breath helps you to be aware of your mind and what you are thinking. It is ok that you are having thoughts – it is the function of the mind to have thoughts.
However, you can become aware of the fact if your thoughts are helpful in any given moment or not: Yoga strives the practitioner to be the master of his thoughts. If you pay close attention to your mind you can change your perspective on a situation or feeling. The ego usually thinks in opposites or judgmental. If you think with your higher mind you can always gain a fresh perspective (see my article on self-observation and especially the table at the end of the article here).
You can establish daily routines and discipline in an uplifting and joyful manner. Just as letting your foot sinking into the mat when standing in Tadasana and feeling the uplifting energy running through your spine and pulling you gently up establishing a mindful other practice in a relaxed way will bring you joy and a sense of enjoyable accomplishment. You need both, the inner parent, who keeps the practice going, out of love (“tough love”) and the sense of surrender into the practice. Practicing with the combined strength of feminine and masculine energy will help you to transcend any perceived opposites, to feel more peaceful and to have more life-force energy running through you.