January 30, 2012

A Taste of the Yoga Sutras, Part 1. ~ Camella Nair

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.   


Lesson 1  2:1 Tapah-svadhyayesvara-pranidhananikriya-yogah.

Kriya Yoga is comprised of Self-discipline, Self-study and an Attunement to Indwelling Reality

Namaste, and welcome to this 12 week discussion of new way of looking at 12 of Patanjali’s yoga sutras from book 2 (Sadhana Pada).  If you have not yet considered looking at the yoga sutras because you have not had the time, or think you need to have studied Sanskrit or philosophy, then this way of looking at the sutras could make you hungry to know more.

Let’s consider the first sutra where Patanjali states what Kriya yoga is. This is a vital sutra that points us in the direction of what is often called “the practice of yoga”. It really is about becoming the master of our individual universe! Wherever we are in our practice, whatever the condition of the body and mind, we can volitionally change the patterning through self-discipline, self-study and attuning to something that expands the horizon of awareness for the individual.

How fantastic is that for starters?

The sadhana or spiritual practice is the kriya or volitional action that can be practiced by absolutely anyone who wants to improve their life. My teacher says that it can be pretty hard to change the circumstances of our life if we are up to our neck in the middle of an alligator pond.

We may to ask ourselves ;

  • Why the heck is this happening to me? When we should perhaps be thinking,
  • How the heck did I get here in the first place and,
  • What can I do to get out …….and not come back and make the same mistakes again!

It means that we have to develop something called free-will and this is interesting because most of us think we make choices in life but actually it is the karma (life experience) that is expressing itself. We (consciousness) just go along for the ride. (unconsciously)

To develop free will we need develop a healthy sense of self and be able to take a long look at our ego personality and how it functions in the world. For this we need to become less emotional and so getting out of the “head” and into the “body”  is a super place to start. In yoga, it is known as the ‘annamayakosha’ or temporary food sheath.

We can channel our focus and awareness into becoming more present as we practice hatha yoga or shop, prepare and eat food for that matter.  If we become more aware, we can recognize when our mind starts becoming enamored with something which we then act upon.

The mind responds to triggers which are really just symbols that have an effect upon it. In the course, I use a lemon to demonstrate how the symbol of a lemon has great power to affect our saliva glands if we think about cutting it, squeezing it and then drinking some of the juice. (the recipes associated with lesson have a main ingredient…lemons!)

The thoughts we think will all have an effect upon us to some degree, which of course in turn affect everything we have a relationship to outside of ourselves. A “yogi “ will tend to notice yoga symbols everywhere and see their Self as a “yogi “, and a cook will tend to relate to symbols and life as a ‘foodie.’  How we see our Self is important and so having a healthy sense of Self allows us to become aware of, and improve certain personality traits needing some adjustment on the path to enlightenment.

What makes you angry?

What makes you sad?

What makes you feel great?

Your answers are all symbols that either expand or contract your awareness. There are lifetimes of karmic proclivity as to why these symbols affect us the way they do, but if you are up to your neck in the alligator pit that is not really important at this time. Finding a safe way out is!

And so the methodology is tapas (self-discipline), svadhyaya (self-study) along with an attunement to all the good stuff that is deep within all sentient beings.

If chocolate is the most delicious symbol you can think of in the kitchen cupboard, then our eyes may light up and the heart skip a beat at the prospect of eating some. We will no doubt get some level of satisfaction from having a direct relationship with it. It is just an emotional response based on the trigger that you know makes you feel good.

There is nothing wrong with that. The problem comes from not knowing

What is the appropriate amount?

When we should eat it? And,

If we (the mind) have an unconscious compulsion to eat, why is that so? And is it wise?

Finally, how can we become more aware of what is unconscious and make it more conscious? Therefore apply free will?

So to sum up this sutra and perhaps offer some practical advice, we could start to;

  1. Become more aware of what foods we are eating and
  2. Become aware of what affect they have upon us.

(Having a journal is a good idea because it is amazing how we can push certain destructive or negative things into the back of our minds that we don’t want to face)

We really don’t have to become evangelical yogis or cooks to improve our lives, but can use our Self awareness within our practice of yoga and bringing food to the table, that initiates a feeling state of divine bliss and connection.

Stay tuned for Part 2!


Prepared for elephant journal by Lorin Arnold

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.

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