A Taste of the Yoga Sutras, Lesson 11.
As part of her work connecting yoga and food, Camella Nair has created a 12 week course that pairs Patanjali’s yoga sutras with the everyday life activity of feeding the body. In this series for elephant journal, Camella provides readers with a short version of what she addresses more deeply in her course
2:11 Dhyana-heyas tad vrittayah.
The fluctuations of the hindrances are to be destroyed by meditation
“A person without a mystical technique is lost.”
~Sri Shelly Trimmer
Like a hamster running around a wheel in a cage, we are at the mercy of the momentum of our minds, unless we have a way of stepping outside of them momentarily. There is an intimate link between our minds and karma.
People want to learn yoga for many reasons, but I think that most people believe that it will improve their life in ways beyond the physical body. In fact, when new students come to class, I very often ask them what it is that they are seeking. “I want to learn to relax more” I hear or, “I want more peace in my life”.
This sutra tells us what is to be done to cultivate this desire we have for becoming less stressed and finding peace.
If we find value in the practice, we will stick with it because we then have discovered a way out of the cage, mystically speaking. We spoke about the yamas and niyamas, or ways we can overcome our minds habits, in lesson five.
Perhaps the most important from both is to observe non-violence (ahimsa) as much as we can, and to cultivate contentment (santosha). If we do this, then we are moving in the right direction towards meditation (dhyana), which is attuning to, and residing in, a balanced state.
Because the things that we subconsciously value in life are nothing more than a proclivity of our minds—an unconscious impulse, if you like. In other words, we think we are utilizing free will, when really the impulses we have are triggering certain thoughts, words and actions that may not be that noble or harmonious.
You could almost hear a pin drop in the room when my Paramguru said that we don’t incarnate, but the karma does. Think about it. If there were no karma, we could not exist on the Earth plane. If we try functioning through the body/mind complex, observing non-violence in our thoughts, words and actions and trying to become more content, that, in time, will become the proclivity of the mind.
We simply won’t play the emotional game of blame, hate, greed, pride, indignation and all the other impulses that can erupt from an unconditioned mind, because we will have stepped beyond our ego personality enough to reside in our true nature. We become more balanced, because we have softened the rough edges of our personality.
Think of the people you hold in high esteem. For the most part they tend to be happy and content. This does not mean that occasionally they don’t have an emotional outburst, but that the occasional outburst is not the primary vibration of their souls.
In the Buddhist tradition, practitioners learn to become more aware of the body/mind complex’s actions. For example: I may be in the kitchen preparing some vegetables, and I acknowledge that my body is chopping vegetables and my mind is aware of that.
A student asked her teacher, “Is it ok to meditate while I chop vegetables?” to which the teacher replied, “No.”
A second student asked, “Is it ok to chop vegetables when I meditate?” to which he replied, “Yes.”
Do you notice the subtle difference?
Kriya yoga is a conscious, volitional, engaged, spiritual action that we can actually take out into our everyday lives. If we practice awareness with every breath, and not just when we are “doing yoga,” our lives will improve.
For most of us, we need to learn to simplify our lives and improve the space we find ourselves in generally.
This means we need to be realistic about what we can accomplish in any given day and recognize that time for slowing down is necessary. It is said that Gandhi used to meditate for an hour each day and, when he had a heavy work load, proceeded to meditate for two hours. That would definitely get us to prioritize what is important.
S.P.O.T is the way that I have been taught by my guru to discipline areas of my life.
Spot the problem,
Prioritize what needs to be done,
Organize that, and
Trim what is not necessary from that list or from life.
When we have simplified our lives somewhat and are practicing non-violence and contentment, we are ready to sit and concentrate. The difference between concentration and meditation is that one is effortful and the other is effortless. Therefore meditation will be the byproduct of our effort that has preceded it.
In this sutra, Patanjali says that the fluctuations of the hindrances will be affected by meditation. This refers to the vrittis or fluctuations he names in book one. In fact, as early as sutra 1:2 he states that the goal of yoga is to remove the fluctuations of the mind. “Yogas chitta vritti nirodha”
It is the kleshas that give rise to these fluctuations that are just karmic impulses of our mind.
What we are trying to do in our formal seated practice, is to turn around in consciousness away from the wheel of proclivity and reactions, and to dive deep within our own being to reconnect to Atman, or our higher more balanced Self.
In this lesson of Cooking the Yoga Sutras, I use the metaphor of a cheese and chive soufflé, and suggest cooking it to help “digest” this sutra. The nature of a soufflé is to rise for while, like the ego, and then to implode in on itself. In the same way, when we meditate, we meditate not to get anything but to get rid of things—the things being the fluctuations of the mind! In this way, we start to cultivate space and time to think a new thought and solve any problems we may be facing in life.
Meditation therefore is the prescription to bring harmony and tranquility into our lives.
In next week’s lesson, we take a brief look at the connection between karma, the vrittis and the kleshas.
Camella Nair is an ordained Swami in the Kriya Yoga tradition and has been practicing yoga since she was 17. She has written two books on yoga as well as an online course on the yoga sutras which is part philosophy and part cooking (http://www.cookingtheyogasutras.com/). She lives with her two teenage sons in Northern California. She can be reached via email at [email protected].
Editor: Lorin Arnold