Yoga in The Gita: Dynamic Participation in Your Daily Life.

Via Catherine Ghosh
on Mar 11, 2012
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Welcome to a new Gita Talk series!

In this round Braja Sorensen and I will be guiding you through a tour of one of yoga’s most essential texts, The Bhagavad Gita, while highlighting yoga. 

Stepping into the first chapter of the Bhagavad Gita is the total opposite of stepping into your favorite yoga studio!

It is not at all welcoming.

Instead of being greeted by the embracing comfort of your own peaceful, little oasis; that safe place you frequent to connect with your own inner bliss, the Gita begins by plopping you straight into one of the main character’s worst nightmares.

It’s dark and frightening, and the discomfort so utterly unbearable, Arjuna declares at the end of the first chapter that he would rather die than have to face it. Literally.

Yes, this most critical yoga text begins with a death wish. With depression, tension and confusion so thick and overwhelming it makes death look peaceful.

They say that every one of us will suffer an existential crisis before we die. 

Ironically, it seems to be programmed into the human experience as tightly as our survival instinct is, possibly woven into our DNA strands even: that dark night of the soul in which we become totally disoriented and collapse. Arjuna collapses in the Gita, his bow slipping from his hands.

We all know the drill: circumstances in our life become so uninviting we begin to despise them, dread participating in them, and inevitably find ourselves crawling under cozy blankets and wishing with all our might we didn’t have to face our own life. Do I really have to revisit this now? The Bhagavad Gita asks that we do.

This ancient guide to peace wants us to start with war: the wars we fight with ourselves. Those most uncomfortable, yuckiest, crisis moments we’d rather forget about. The times we start freaking out in life, as Arjuna did in the Gita. But I thought yoga was supposed to make me feel better? Do I really have to go there?

 Yoga asks that we take fearless looks into the places we resist most. 

Usually journeys into our dark places are ones we take by ourselves. They are private, often embarrassing and they expose our most vulnerable weaknesses, leaving us emotionally naked and raw. This is that humbling space we only let our best friend into. You know the one. When you’re such a total mess you only trust a loved one to see you that way. To Arjuna, Krishna is that person. He lets him in because he trusts him.

Krishna is Arjuna’s best friend. Before he is his chariot driver, or his guru, or his brother-in-law, or his doorway beyond darkness, Krishna is a person Arjuna knows he can trust. So at the beginning of the Gita we find Arjuna in tears and trembling, giving up on life, breaking down in front of Krishna and basically turning himself over to Krishna’s loving compassion.

When we lose trust in ourselves, and our ability to see our own reflection, and to spot the light at the end of the tunnel, we turn to someone close to us and entrust that person to authoritatively illuminate the path back to ourselves.

According to the Bhagavad Gita, anyone who helps you through rough spots in your life, and shifts your perspectives of reality into more inspiring ones -the kinds that make you want to participate fully in your life- is playing the role of a yoga teacher, whether they know it or not, in the broadest sense of the term.

Yoga, as you have probably heard, comes from the Sanskrit root word yuj, which means to connect, to link, to join together, or unite. What does yoga aim to connect us with? A healthy, flexible body? Nirvana or Samadhi? That mysterious something we call God? How about mystical powers or eternal peace? Maybe yoga moves us toward a Hindu deity with blue skin and four arms?

Without getting too fancy here, yoga simply connects us with our highest, most dynamic potential. 

Yoga affirms our raison d’être and celebrates our life. It becomes like a best friend cheering us on. Not forcing us, not dictating to us, but gently inviting us to make the best possible choices we can for ourselves.

Krishna first identifies yoga in the Bhagavad Gita (chap. 2 verse 39) as clear discernment that will free one from feeling forced into action.

~I invite you to ponder that for a second.~

When Krishna responds to Arjuna’s despondence, he is like the best friend who reminds you that staying in bed all day eating junk food and watching TV is not really what you want to do.

Avoidance is not the answer, he says. Neither is worrying oneself into a stagnating paralysis because of fear or confusion. But, you already know this deep down inside, don’t you?

Connect with that knowledge, Krishna says. And not just in theory but in practice. Get out of bed and live your life! Not because you feel forced to, but because you want to.

Speaking directly to Arjuna’s stagnation, Krishna emphasizes the importance of action that does not calculate what fruits one might obtain from those actions. Krishna also makes it clear that yoga is not just philosophy, (as in Sankhya’s teachings) but philosophy in action: a lifestyle.

Yoga is clear, discerning, totally voluntary, dynamic participation in one’s life. 

It aims to make us aware that we are the authors of our own lives. Written any good chapters in your lately? Yoga teaches us how to do that.

The word author comes from the Latin root word auctor, which also gives us the English word authority. Our own personal relationship with authority inevitably becomes a big part of the beginning of any yoga practice. It is also the way the Bhagavad Gita begins.

The Bhagavad Gita is a scene, within another scene, within a greater book clad The Mahabharata. 

Painting courtesy of BBT

When we open the first page of the Gita we step into a story that is already in progress. It’s as if you had fast-forwarded through a movie until you reached the most intimate, uncomfortable, heart-to-heart dialogue between two of the characters, (in which one of them was freaking out), and you only watched that part of the movie.

Why zero in on that part of the movie? Maybe a good way to answer that question is to find out who has the most lines in that cross section of the film.

Who has authorized him to speak?

We are all free to accept or reject anyone’s word as authority in our lives. Usually how influential someone is in our life depends on how connected we feel to them. We allow ourselves to be most intimately connected to those whom we trust, and effortlessly turn their words into ones worthy of our attention.

Krishna’s voice is the dominant voice in the Bhgavad Gita. Of the nearly 700 verses comprising the text, Krishna speaks 585 of these. Although the entire book consists mainly of Krishna’s conversation with Arjuna, given his friend’s despondent state, Krishna does most of the talking. And Arjuna listens. Not just with his mind, but he listens with his heart.

Arjuna takes Krishna’s words to heart because he knows Krishna loves him and will speak in his best interests. 

The intimacy Arjuna has in his friendship with Krishna is what makes what Krishna has to say most valuable to him. Arjuna does not open himself up to a stranger. Instead, he does so to his closest friend.

Arjuna’s level of vulnerability with Krishna is commensurate with the level of intimacy they share.

Arjuna does not surrender his life to some unknown guru, instead he finds shelter within the loving words of his best friend.

Authority begins with us. It begins with us choosing whose views we’re going to be receptive to. 

In the relationship highlighted in the Gita, it is the love between friends that gives Krishna’s words authority. This same love then shines the light on Arjuna’s obscured views. Sun rays dispel darkness.

In the yoga tradition the sun represents authority. 

The sun is also the dynasty to which Krishna belongs. And it rises on the horizon as the dialogue begins between these two main characters of this book.

The sun illuminates two battlefields in The Bhagavad Gita: the one Arjuna initially resists joining, and the one that rages fiercely within him, and how they feed off each other.

After the first chapter, the Gita begins to broaden past Arjuna’s tunnel vision into the expansive landscapes of alternative perspectives offered to him by his brilliant friend, Krishna.

Most importantly, perhaps, is the way the Gita emphasizes our own authority to decide how we are going to make our way across those landscapes, as we understand the consequences of what maps we follow.

The more closely we listen, the easier it will be to traverse them. The first person we listen to is ourselves. We tell ourselves who we trust enough to be in a position of authority in our life. Without trust we lack real receptivity.

 In yoga, trust becomes the bridge between darkness and light. 

So, as we begin this journey together, deeper and deeper into the fields of perception Krishna takes Arjuna through in the Gita, you may wish to start by contemplating this:

What is your own relationship with authority, both inner and outer?

For yoga is all about curiosity, and inquiry and our relationship with the wondrous world around us and within us, and all the inspiring connections we make in our lives.


Please see the next article in this series, Yoga In The Gita: What Do We Do When We Feel Out Of Control?, by Braja Sorensen, which continues on the subject of authority. Our journey into the Gita will engage translations from A.C. Bhaktivedanta Swami and Graham M. Schweig. Buckle your seat belts for an exciting ride! We are thrilled to have you aboard.

To keep track of all the articles on this series, go to

Yoga In The Gita ~ Catherine Ghosh & Braja Sorensen

~Graham M. Schweig will be teaching from his translation of The Bhagavad Gita at the next Yoga Journal Conference in NYC, April 12-16.. For a peek at his classes, please click here. ~


Copyright © 2012 by Catherine Ghosh. All rights reserved.


About Catherine Ghosh

Catherine Ghosh is an artist, writer, mother of two sons and editor of Journey of the Heart: An Anthology of Spiritual Poetry by Women (Balboa Press, 2014). As a practitioner of bhakti yoga since 1986, she is co-founder of The Secret Yoga Institute with author and teacher Graham M. Schweig, Ph.D., her life partner. Catherine has been a contributing editor for Integral Yoga Magazine, and is a regular columnist for Mantra, Yoga + Health Magazine. Together with Braja Sorensen, she created the Yoga In The Gita series. Catherine is passionate about inspiring women to share their spiritual insights and honor their valuable voices on her Women's Spiritual Poetry site Journey of The Heart .. You may connect with her on FaceBook, or email her at [email protected] A lover of nature, she divides her time between her two homes in Northern Florida and Southern Virginia.


30 Responses to “Yoga in The Gita: Dynamic Participation in Your Daily Life.”

  1. What a wonderful start to an exciting series of articles…..thank you Catherine!

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Braja Sorensen
    Lost & Found in India
    Editor, Elephant Spirituality
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  2. […] See Catherine’s first article here, Yoga In The Gita: “I’d Rather Die!” […]

  3. Kevin says:

    It's amusing to me that I read this, arrived at the question about authority, and immediately a line from a song by Nine Inch Nails popped into my head. The song is "Head Like A Hole", and the lines is"…I'd rather die than give you control!"

    *sigh* I have had a long, troubled relationship with authority, both inner and outer. But it become increasingly apparent to me that I will have to learn to submit to both if I am to achieve balance and peace in my life. Someone whom I love dearly recently told me "The reason for your anxiety is that you don't commit", meaning I waver too much in decisions of importance. Among her many qualities, she is very smart and a good judge of people…and she is right.

    I must contemplate this question again, and will consult the Gita (and thank you, Braja, for connecting me to it.)

  4. ValCarruthers says:

    The process of becoming, waking up to or realizing our inner authority involves getting quiet and listening to the "still, small voice within." Your marvelous explanation of the Gita coupled with our consistent practice provides space to do exactly that. Namaste.

  5. Thank YOU Braja! This will be fun!~

  6. Why, thank you Valerie! I am happy to hear that.

  7. I'm happy to hear my article made you reflect on your need to embrace authority (inner and outer), and not feel controlled or limited by it, but instead, find that it liberates you! Or, as you say, it is part of the formula of balance and peace win life. To commit to a decision is indeed more peaceful than being captive by the restlessness of indecision, as Arjuna was. And I am listening to the NIN song now, and can see why this issue of authority reminded you of it. Great lyrics and mood for expressing the struggle you've experienced. Thank you for sharing, Kevin! And thank you to your wise friend for challenging you to consider having some authority in your life, as a means to calm it.

  8. Kevin…so glad you're here and reading Catherine's post; and that you're still moving onward and upward….with the Gita 🙂

  9. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    Just posted to "Featured Today" on the Elephant Yoga homepage.

    Posting to Elephant Yoga on Facebook and Twitter.

    Tanya Lee Markul, Yoga Editor
    Like Elephant Yoga on Facebook
    Follow on Twitter

  10. Kona says:

    Wise words Kevin, and good response to this very good read above. I'm just glad to hear someone else write a similar response to that which I feel in my heart… and with the appropriate soundtrack to boot! 🙂

  11. Kona says:

    Thanks for this timely piece… as I am just surfacing through one of those crisis moments, slowly but surely. There's something very powerful about surrendering to our inner guidance and actually committing to moving forward. Wavering and faltering is just a recipe for perpetual anxiety and inevitable depression, as we repress our real strengths, our real 'power' to Live Fully. It was refreshing to read this, as I was tempted to go back to sleep and hide under the covers… but instead enjoyed a beautiful sunrise, outside in the crisp morning air… far from the cozy comfort of my "usual space". Looking forward to more, and have shared widely. 🙂

  12. Yes, wavering in decision making does indeed breed anxiety and depression. It's a horrible place to be in. I also know this from experience. It's thrilling to hear that my post inspires you to move beyond this, dear Kona. It's also inspiring for me to know that you were able to break past your comfort zone and enjoy the morning sun and fresh air. May you continue resurfacing in this powerful way, just like a rising sun! And thank you so much for sharing. I wish you the best!

  13. Tanya Lee Markul says:

    A pleasure – I LOVE this!! xoxox

  14. ValCarruthers says:

    Just posted to "Popular Lately" on the Elephant Spirituality Homepage.

    Valerie Carruthers
    Please go and "Like" Elephant Spirituality on Facebook

  15. […] back through this journey, I have consistently taught people what I know. To me, it is my greatest satisfaction. It s my […]

  16. Jeet says:

    My inner authority is the inner voice which keeps me steady through life's ups and downs. My inner authority is unwavering, it is a voice of sanity that always has my back, yet never hesitant to admonish me if I need to get back in line when I have digressed. I am usually resistant to outer authority of all forms, but when I do make exceptions, it is with the approval of the inner authority which helps me realize whether submission to outer authority in any given scenario is going to benefit everyone concerned, and not just me, even if it is in the long run, and even at the expense of temporary compromises or what might seem to be apparent personal losses.

  17. I couldn't have said it better myself, Jeet! Precisely! Thank you for that very enlightened perspective. Nothing is stronger that that knowledge that comes to one via personal experience. And it sounds like you've had your fair share when it comes to being aware of authorities in your life; the primary one being your own self. Thank you for sharing this with us.

  18. icyexhale says:

    I love Krishna as best friend parts. Beautiful and artful work with an incredible piece of literature.

  19. Helena says:

    So the relationship to authority could be with God, writing our own life, and the connection to others….Father, Son and Holy Ghost.

  20. Fascinating parallels you drew, Helena. Thank you for sharing them with us here.

  21. Thank you so much! Yes, having Krishna as a best friend is most attractive to me too!

  22. yogaboca says:

    Catherine, the word "authority" generally has negative connotations for most people. Generally people assume "authority" comes form the outside as in the phrase "authority figure." In the 1980's there was a popular expression among youth – 'Question Authority."

    I've been practicing yoga since 1970 and I have never used the word "authority" relative to my yoga practice with the exception of internalizing the belief that GOD is always the highest authority.

    And since I believe that GOD lives inside me as "higher intelligence" – then in reality there is no "outside authority" except to the extent that I believe that GOD is also EVERYTHING AND EVERYWHERE.

    I know this gets a bit tricky. So maybe I am in general agreement with what you are saying and what the GIta is saying. I just never thought to use the word "authority'".

    I will admit that I have internalized the idea that there is an external GOD, watching me from "on high" and who has my best interests at heart – – but who also cuts through my own denial when necessary. I know I feel best when I get up early and run 2 miles –on Monday, Wed. and Friday. I've been doing this without fail for several months now. And I know this simple discipline of doing something extremely good for my body/mind/spirit goes a long way towards keeping me sane.
    However without God's help, I could be sleeping late or generally avoiding this practice entirely.

    On days when I try resisting what I know is right (such as my running regimen) I sometimes find myself in a continuous dialogue with God. I ask a question and He answers it. This may last for 5 minutes or so. So in this case, I look to God's authority – which is really my lower self talking to my higher self. It's quite a powerful practice.

    To me higher intelligence and authority seem very different. Higher intelligence seems fluid and authority seems stagnant – like dogma. Maybe the Gita is saying – let Higher intelligence be the authority.

  23. myriamsofialluria says:

    Wow! What a wonderful introduction to the Gita!! Thank you!!

  24. You are most welcome. Thank YOU for your feedback! 🙂

  25. Thank you for your thoughts. Yes, indeed, I was prompted -in part- to write this article because I wanted to inspire others to change their relationship with the word "authority". I grew up in the eighties myself and had that very button on my backpack! "Question Authority". :)) I think that expression dates back to the sixties. So, indeed, our culture has been given a negative spin on authority.

    In my article I attempted (maybe nor so well), to offer a new way to view authority. As a writer I love researching the way cultures change the sentiments they connect to words, over the generations. I found it interesting to discover that the word "authority" originally had a very positive connotation. It was an empowering word, in Latin, originally. And the same root that the word author comes from! As I mentioned in my post, we can become "authors" of our own lives. Writing the chapters with our higher intelligence makes for a beautiful life!

    I appreciate your sensitivity to the difference between "authority" and "higher intelligence". I love the way you describe the way you enter into dialogues between your "lower" and "higher" selves. It sounds like a powerful practice indeed! In the Gita, the "Higher SElf" is called the Paramatma, described to reside in the deepest core of our hearts. Sanskrit has so many words that honor the subtle differences bwteen all these concepts, related to our experiences in yoga! It is always a thrill for me to learn more and to hear from others the way they practically experience the GIta's wisdom.

    Thank you again for sharing, and I am sorry It took me so long to reply. I am still getting the hang of this blogging thing! 🙂
    Here is my latest post in the series, if you'd like to read it:

  26. Kaffirlily says:

    Inspiring, thank you.