Sutra 1.20: 5 Qualities to lead us to Samadhi

At times our practice becomes difficult (both on and off the mat). The transition to Rainier Beach Yoga has been amazing, and I have felt so much love and support from the community. Transitions, even when they are good, can be challenging and push us to change old held patterns. As I currently work on creating new patterns in myself and my practice I turn to the Yoga Sutras for guidance and support.

Sutra 1.20 includes 5 qualities that lead us to samadhi. Samadhi is a word that can be translated to completely still, pristine state of mind, absorption or enlightenment. It is the last limb of the 8 limbs of yoga. Pandit Rajmani Tigunait translates these 5 qualities that lead to samadhi as faith, vigor, retentive power, stillness of mind and intuitive wisdom.

Faith (sraddha) was a big focus of the retreat I led last weekend on Whidbey Island. It is the ability to trust even when you can not see the outcome. A sentence that was repeated many times throughout the weekend was, “It is all ok in the end, and if it isn’t ok it isn’t the end.” This is a profoundly difficult way to approach life when we want certainty, stability and a steady ground beneath us. Faith can hold us when life is uncertain or feels groundless in knowing that this will change. There are many things we can have faith in: yoga, religion, our best friend, our breath, impermanence, etc. What do you have faith in? If we go to therapy, practice yoga or meditate just once our life will most likely not be significantly changed, but if we commit to the process and have faith in it we can hold the possibility of healing (or whatever the “goal” is) even when we can not see that healing yet.

Vigor (virya) is also sometimes translated as strength, and it takes effort to get to our practice, to meditate, to make it to therapy, to journal, draw or do whatever we do that feeds us, nourishes us and makes us feel whole. Frankly, it takes vigor to get out of bed each morning! It is hard work to take care of ourselves and it gets easier and easier with practice (like everything!). Sometimes when I do not want to do the dishes (which is most days) I think of this as a spiritual practice of vigor. I am practicing strengthening my mental muscles when I can meet the work that is in front of me with committment and attention, even if I meet it without a lot of joy. I can tell you from personal experience I am much more joyful in my kitchen when it is clean though. Sometimes doing the work it takes to get to the other side is way more challenging that washing a few dishes though.

Retentive power (smrti) is a natural progression of vigor, and can also be thought of as memory. We all probably have retentive power of brushing our teeth. When we were little ones brushing our teeth probably took a lot of effort and work. Now we are easily committed to the practice of cleaning our teeth. This comes from years and years of committed strength. I once had a meditation teacher compare brushing our teeth to meditation. She said we clean our teeth every morning and night, but we don’t necessarily clean our mind. We can get into the practice of “cleaning our minds” through much effort and strength, which eventually turns into an easier part of our everyday existence like keeping our mouth clean.

Stillness of mind (samadhi) is also translated as contemplation. There are many ways to look at samadhi, and in this sutra samadhi is both the means and the end. We practice stilling the mind in order to still the mind. In meditation we pick our contemplation focus: breath, mantra, lovingkindness, etc. and we allow the mind to rest on that contemplation. In yoga therapy we choose our goals: being kinder to ourselves, allowing ourselves to get comfortable with all our emotions, stopping the war within ourselves and then we put those goals into real time practice. Here is where our faith and our strength begin to show the fruits of our efforts. We have a moment of stillness, or a moment when instead of beating ourselves up we meet our challenge with compassion. These moments happen in seconds at first, and the more we practice these seconds become minutes, then hours, then days.

Intuitive wisdom (prajna) is also translated as discernment. Yesterday in class at Rainier Beach Yogawe were talking about the difference between pain and sensation and when we should back off a pose or when we should challenge ourselves. Of course as the teacher I do not know the answer for anyone in the room other than myself, but I am committed to helping others discover thier own discernment. When our minds are a bit stiller we have an easier time accessing that intuition. How do we still the minds in order to find our own inner wisdom? Faith, strength, remembering and contemplation!

Do you want to learn more about the Yoga Sutras? Read the last few newsletter’s sutra-focused essayshere.

I look forward to seeing you on the mat.


Sutra 1.12 Practice and Non-attachment

I wanted to share a couple of exciting new things coming up before diving into a Sutra:

1. Rainier Beach Yoga will be starting its own newsletter. Sign up here to stay up to date on all things Rainier Beach Yoga, including getting a buy one get one free class!

2. Our first classes will be Tuesday, May 12 and ALL classes that week will be FREE! Make sure to sign up early to save your spot as we are limiting classes to 10 students only.

3. I am excited to bring on 2 work/study positions! One is for an assistant to me and the other is for a cleaner/general tidier of Rainier Beach Yoga. Look at the bottom of this email for more details.

Now, the beloved Sutras. In January I started writing one essay/month on one of the Sutras. So far we have learned about the auspicious beginnings of yoga, what yoga is and what happens when we do yoga. After Patanjali entices us with the outcome of the practice (residing in our true nature) he spends the majority of the text teaching us how to do that.

Sutra 1.12: abhyasavairagyabhyam tannirodhah. “That can be controlled through practice and non-attachment,” Pandit Rajmani Tigunait translates.

“That” is the tendencies of the mind, the ways the mind is pulled this way and that, the way the mind can run the show (many times without us even knowing it!). I always think it is important to give a shout out to the mind here. A lot of traditions give the mind a bad rap, and we have to remember all the amazing things the mind does for us. Through yoga we are not attempting to get rid of or punish the mind. We are trying to train the mind, in the way we might train a puppy or a child. Without discipline our minds can feel out of control, and yoga can be one way to help give the mind some guidance and structure.

Sutra 1.2 states that Yoga is the mastery over the roaming tendencies of the mind. Now Patanjali gives us some insight into how to achieve this: practice and non-attachment.

Abhyasa is practice: the effort we put in. The part of us that wakes up early to meditate, that pauses before we say hurtful words, that helps us stop before doing something that will take us away from our essential nature and helps us move towards something that will connect us to our true nature (learn more about true nature here).

We recently had a wonderful dedication celebration at Rainier Beach Yoga. Our practice to get the space ready included determining how many people were coming and how to prepare the space with the most ease and peace for everyone involved. My practice involved getting help, procuring a tent in case of rain, finding tables for the food. Party planning.

At some point we had over 80 RSVPs, and panic started to arise. We did not have room for 80 people in our little studio. What do we do if there was a thunderstorm (which the weather person said there may be)? What if we did not have enough raffle items? What if I forgot something? What if…? What if…? What if…?

When we overdo abhyasa (practice) it can lead to anxiety, panic and fear. There is a sweet balance of practice and non-attachment.

Non-attachment (vairagya) is just as necessary as practice. Non-attachment helps us be kind to ourselves when we do not make it to our practice, helps us let go of what is not serving us, lets us put our best effort in without being anxious about the results of that effort.

Non-attachment can also be overdone, which can lead to apathy, depression or lethargy. It can come with a sense of nothing matters or why bother.

When I noticed I was getting anxious about the celebration I was able to observe that emotion. I do believe that by being mindful of what is happening in the mind and body we are both practicing and non-attaching in that moment. The practice of watching something move through us without trying to make it go faster or make it go away is a huge practice in non-attachment. I also think that non-attachment comes with a sense of faith.

After the celebration was over and done (which was wonderful, fit most everyone and there were no thunderstorms) I said to my friend, “why do I forget to trust?” I seem to need to learn this lesson over and over. Maybe we all do.

I did all the party planning I could to make the event go as smoothly as possible. If in that moment I could trust I had done all that I could I would have found the balance of practice and non-attachment. Yet sometimes we learn our lessons after the fact, and I have learned this lesson before. I am sure I will learn it again too.

So how do we put these two together in balance? Pandit Rajmani Tigunait offers pairing the breath with the mind. It is a practice of focusing the mind, and it is also an opportunity to lesson attachment to other places the mind wants to go. I am letting go of thinking about the “what if…?” stories in order to think of the breath.

I also appreciate mindfulness moments of pausing. I was at lunch with my friends and family and I told them I was feeling anxious. I got up, went to the restroom and took a few moments to simply be. We can do this anywhere. Try it out now. What do you notice about the mind? The breath? The body? Take about 5-10 breaths to just be with this experience without trying to push anything away or pull anything closer. See what you notice. And when practice or non-attachment feel out of balance do this again and see what you discover. Let me know!

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