Sutra 1.3: Your Essential Nature

I have been sharing a Yoga Sutra each month this year, and last month I shared what yoga was (at least according to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali): “Complete mastery over the roaming tendencies of the mind is yoga,” Pandit Rajmani Tigunait translates. If you want to read that essay go here.

The next Sutra dives into what happens when we have achieved that complete mastery. The third Sutra Pandit Rajmani Tigunait translates, “Then the Seer becomes established in its essential nature.” I think of these first 3 sutras as the advertisement and enticement to start the practice. Do you want complete mastery over the mind? Do you want to rest in your essential nature? Then read on! The whole rest of the text is the teaching on how to do this.

What is the Seer, and what is our essential nature, though? This past weekend I spent time at the NW Yoga Conference studying with one of my teachers,Richard Miller. He shared this practice with us that I would now like to share with you.

Take a moment and feel the space behind you. Feel in front of you. Feel to the right side, and to the left side. Feel the space above you, and below you. Just rest in that awareness for a moment or two. What do you feel when you are aware of the space around you? What do you notice?

I feel spacious, expansive, calm, and present. Within that spaciousness other sensations definitely arise: a thought, a worry, a memory, a pain, a pleasure. That spacious awareness can be the observer or Seer of our mind and body movements. That spacious awareness is our essential nature.

Another practice. Pick a sensation in your body. It might be a tension in your shoulder or a softening of your forehead. Just watch your physical experience for some time. Bring it into your awareness. Now ask yourself what that awareness feels like? First we dive into the physical experience, and then we expand out into the experience of awareness itself.

What did you notice? I picked a tingling sensation in my foot. When I went to awareness I noticed a sensation of expansion. Awareness almost felt like a large container that could hold all the movements of my body, mind, and heart. 

One more entry point. Imagine you have been hiking to the top of a mountain, and you come onto the peak where the most majestic scene comes into view. You can see in all directions, and you are surrounded by other mountain tops. The sun is shining on your face. Maybe an eagle flies overhead. Imagine yourself in this place. What do you notice? It may feel similar to the other practices. It may feel different. This too can be a way to access the Seer and our essential nature.

Maybe you felt something. Maybe you got confused. Maybe you got frustrated. Maybe you felt peace. Feeling awareness can be quite subtle and not an easy practice, which is why the rest of the Sutras tell us how to get there!

Do you want to learn how? Stay tuned next month!

We have all had moments of resting in what the Sutras calls our essential nature, but we typically get drawn back into a more contracted state. A state of fear, worry, uncertainty. The practice of yoga can lead us to be able to hold that fear, worry, and uncertainty within the “container” of spacious awareness, consciousness, and our essential nature. According to this Sutra, we can merge with the experience of our essential nature and that can be our norm, rather than the state of fear, contraction, and uncertainty. I can tell you, after 12 years of practice, I have not merged with this state, but I sure have a lot less fear and uncertainty than I did before I started the practice.

I look forward to seeing you on or off the mat.