February 20, 2012

A Taste of the Yoga Sutras, Part 4 ~ 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 4 2:4 Avidyaksetram-uttaresamprasupta-tanu-vicchinna-udaranam

Ignorance of forgetfulness is the source field of all the other obstacles which are active, dormant, suspended or alternating in their quality.

When many people think about the quality of babies, words like innocence may come to mind, but this “squeaky clean” image is really a myth that needs to be busted wide open. In the second sutra lesson, I wrote about our life experiences being stuffed into a sort of “suitcase that we carry around” with us as we continue on our life’s journey, lifetime after lifetime! This means that we don’t come into the world with a “clean slate”, and therefore the little bundle that we may have dreamed about, planned and prepared for, may actually have a whole bag of “worms” that we are not prepared for (as did our parents when they had us).

We all have likes and dislikes that may have been part of our persona for many lifetimes and may not have a reasonable account of why it should be so in this lifetime. For example, why do some kids like greens and some not? They seem to just know if they do or they don’t.

More about that later!

In the previous sutra, we were introduced to the 5 ingredients that make up the obstacles to our enlightenment. You may remember they are known as the kleshas ; forgetfulness of who and what we are, egoism, attraction, aversion and clinging to this physical body.

In this sutra 4 2:4, Patanjali states that forgetfulness of who and what we are, is the root of our problems, not only that but, it is the source of the remaining 4 sutras.

That’s a great starting point but, he gives us more information as to the very nature or quality of these obstacles.

Of the kleshas or obstacles, he says they can be of the following qualities;

  • Alternating – sometimes they crop up in our lives usually causing us problems, sometimes, all is well. There may be occasional self-inquiry and self-improvement going on.
  • Dormant – the obstacles may start to show up later on in life; teenage stage is a prime example as the hormones trigger personality changes.
  • Suspended– the person is already aware of his/her demons and has mastered them to a degree. Has a lifestyle of balance. (balance is unique to the individual)
  • Active – or out of control, typically, a high maintenance personality that is emotional and has no or little self-awareness.

In my online course, I give soup recipes for each quality which makes learning and remembering the 4 qualities more fun. For example; the dormant quality is linked to a pureed, roasted butternut squash soup that a baby might have. A baby that perhaps has not yet shown much of an indicator of their ego which is dormant until the external trigger such as age and peer pressure may awaken the obstacle of egoism.

Time brings changes. Two people may come together in an intimate relationship and then over time have a change of heart, and a sweet natured baby may turn into an angry young man, for example.

One of the most vital cosmological concepts to grasp is the law of change. It really is the one thing we can be sure of. If we understand that, then we know that we may be attracted to some things for example at some point, but that the degree of the external influence’s effect upon us will probably change over time. The external influence is usually the trigger. You cannot drown in the desert for example (the desert is the external trigger) Some people overeat when they are depressed about something in their lives.(the event is he external trigger)

Here is another example using chocolate as the “trigger symbol” applied to the obstacle of attraction. Any one of us could resonate with one of the following qualities:

I may really like chocolate but don’t necessarily have to eat it all the time, as the desire I have for it may be intense only at certain times of the month (alternating in other words). At other times, my desire for it could be said to be dormant or sleeping, or I may not be introduced to chocolate as my parents could have kept me away from it, until I can make my own choices on what I eat. If I had real self-discipline and wanted to eliminate sugar from my diet for some health reason, then we could think of that as being a suspended or has a feeble desire. The constant munching, however, on candy and the like, perhaps while watching TV or working would fall into the category of being active, and is a desire that is way out of control usually to the detriment of our wellbeing.

For aversion, the following scenario that could be true, perhaps with regard to a small child;

I don’t like eating green vegetables, so I refuse to eat them all together (active aversion) or, I may like them as a child but then after vomiting with a non-related stomach virus, refuse to eat them again (dormant aversion) or, I could recognize I don’t have enough green food in my diet and perhaps binge on wheat grass and green drinks periodically. (alternating aversion). Or in the last scenario, decide that I don’t much like green vegetables but will find a way of cooking and combining foods to be able to eat them (suspended aversion) because I recognize that my body needs them to be healthy.

Do you see what really stands out here?


Only with continual self-awareness and self-discipline can we really see how little of either we actually apply in our lives. It is vital that we slow down the momentum of our lives to be able to see how much real volitional free-will we are using.

Want to know how much the average person uses?

Try 0.3%

Scary, isn’t it?

But here is the thing, if I am only using 0.3% of my free-will it means that the chocolate that I crave is not something that I have chosen but that my subconscious mind has spat out a symbol of chocolate that turns it on to the need to get some. This desire may have been something that I have had over the course of many lifetimes. So, I come into the world again with a suitcase full of chocolate.

We come full circle, to the root cause of the 5 kleshas which is the first one of forgetfulness of whom and what we are. My mind thinks I need chocolate but “I” as a spiritual traveler in time functioning through a body, does not. The body does have needs though, that need to be met if it is not to break down.

So, we get a scapegoat! It is our mind. Try giving your mind a name. It may seem very silly but it can help to give us a little bit more time to really think if something is wise to want. The mind has desires but the mind is a series of habits that have been cultivated over time. To step out of a detrimental pattern, giving the mind a name reminds us that we are not the mind. Sometimes the desire will pass. Sometimes not, but at least we are not looking at the candy wrapper wandering how the whole thing got finished so fast.

I think one of the most valuable things that a well taught and experienced yoga class can offer a student is that they can feel empowered to take responsibility for their own body in the class, and do only that which is beneficial for them. In time this translates off of the yoga mat into making wiser lifestyle changes effortlessly.

Dissolving that which no longer serves us or “tilling our garden”, is part of the process of letting go, that many of us have difficulty with. It could be an attachment to someone else in relationship or something like a trait or habit that is within us that needs to be dissolved. And it’s never easy, is it?

We are such sensitive beings really, but so is everyone else and so it is good to be able to see the world from someone else’s perspective, especially if it is different from our own. This is because it can tend to make us judgmental of others. We cling to the notion that we are right and therefore other people who think differently are wrong. We see it in politics, music choices, who got the Oscar for best film, as well as family members choosing what they want for dinner. In every avenue of life, in fact, it causes us to feel isolated and separate from everyone else. We start to think that we are the center of the universe and that everyone should pander to our needs like a baby.

This doesn’t describe you, of course.  Or does it? Ask yourself the following questions;

  • In what way do you behave or think like your parents? (positively and negatively)
  • In your most recent relationship, how often did you do something your partner wanted to do?
  • If so, was there any resentment? (honestly)
  • What one negative thought do you have about yourself that needs to be changed?

The real value in stepping outside the drama of everyday life that we do in any self-improvement program, is that we get to slow down the momentum of the mind and not take ourselves so seriously. In that slowing down process we can become more aware of other people and how they are affected by the drama in their lives, without judging them. In this way, we learn from their mistakes and don’t have to go down the same path as them.

To sum up this take on the sutra, it could be worth trying to bring a little more time for you each and every day. Use this time to relax and slow down your breath. This may be done easier with a change of environment. Getting outside if you are in an office all day, walking to the shops if you are at home, or finding quite space within the home where you won’t be disturbed for 15 minutes, to just relax and unwind.

Photo by Sean Davey

The changeable qualities of the mind (or the soups I use as a metaphor for this sutra) are like the qualities of the ocean. The same ocean can express its nature differently depending upon the external forces such as a shift in the earth’s crust, or high winds, or a melting ice cap for example.

Doing nothing but being present as our mind becomes turbulent and scattered sometimes is a practice that we can try to do. We don’t need to beat ourselves up in the process, just recognize that it is the mind functioning as it has become accustomed to. Once we can do that effortlessly, we can begin to see how the qualities of the mind’s obstacles are affecting and overriding our self- awareness.

There is great potential for positive changes in that!


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.  She can be reached via email at [email protected].

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