Bringing Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras to Life

Sep 11th, 2017

Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras consist of 195 sutras and are considered the most important text for any serious yoga practitioner. Yoga Sutras as I learnt from my yoga philosophy teacher, James Boag, is the manual of enlightenment – a practice manual. Everything that Patanjali explains in yoga sutras can be experienced by the self and put to test.
1.30 vyadhi styana samshaya pramada alasya avirati bhrantidarshana alabdha-bhumikatva anavasthitatva chitta vikshepa te antarayah

Patanjali tells us that on the path of Yoga we will encounter obstacles. He tells us to expect that. It will happen. He then tells us what these obstacles will be and how we can get past them.

In this sutra he tells us that there are nine obstacles that we are likely to encounter:

1. Illness. Experiencing pain, injuries is not an uncommon occurrence as we go through our asana practice. A state of dis-ease can come upon the body during the course of practice.

2. Apathy. Feeling of apathy, languorousness, lethargy is the second obstacle that we may encounter.

3. Doubt. We could doubt that we are not as good at our practice as others. We may doubt that the method, style or technique we are following is not doing us any good and perhaps we need to try something else. Or we may just doubt our teacher. Doubts will retard our progress on the path. It is a state of indecision that takes us away from the present moment and does not allow us to practice wholeheartedly. Sri Sri Ravi Shanker makes an interesting observation as he points out that we have a tendency to always doubt something that is good, never doubting the negative. One may never doubt one’s depression (Am I really depressed?) but one tends to doubt one’s happiness (Am I really so well loved?)

4. Carelessness. This can also hinder our practice. We tend to fall out of discipline sometimes. We may know that something is not good for us and yet we do it, like eating the wrong food or indulging in an excess that we know is going to hurt us later.

5. Laziness. We may be active people in our daily lives but when it comes to practicing asanas or pranayam we may feel lazy and want to skip it. Patanjali tells us it is natural to feel like this on the path of practice. We need to understand that there is no need to be shocked, surprised or feel guilty about these feelings arising in us.

6. Careless with senses. It refers to our tendency to be obsessed with sensual objects and not let them go. Once again it seems that the heart, mind and body may all want different things creating chaos and disharmony in our being. When our desire for pleasure becomes obsessive because our senses are running the show our practice will get disturbed. My teacher explains that senses are like devta (divine resources) so should not be used carelessly. We need to train senses with love, respect and skill.

7. Hallucination or False Perception. It is likely that in our practice we may suddenly get a vision. An example is that in meditation one may have an intuition that someone is at the door and true enough it is so. Many get excited feeling that they may have channelled divine guidance and that it may keep happening. It is a mixture of some truth and some falsehood. It is called Yoga Maya and many get trapped in it because they are not fully purified or in absolute harmony. There are residues of desires, hatreds and fears and that may give ideas that can also cause suffering.

8. Non attainment of any state. We may feel stuck that despite the practice we are not getting to any peace, tranquillity or Samadhi. However it does not mean one has to stop the practice

9. Instability. Some days we practice and feel very calm but the feeling does not stay very long and we may feel dejected. This obstacle is common too. We will face it in our practice.

We must understand that we will encounter these obstacles and it does not mean that something is wrong with us. It is a natural occurrence. These obstacles are like gifts in unusual wrapping because as we learn to recognize them and get past them, we begin to move closer to a state of yoga. These obstacles teach us how to stay in a state of yoga despite change and external influences.

Today when I am attacked by the thought of “What’s the point of all this?”, “Is it really worth it?”, I will quickly remind myself that I am progressing. It is in the natural progress that this obstacle has shown up. I will draw comfort in knowing that as I stay focused on my practice, all obstacles will dissolve.

1.31 duhkha daurmanasya angamejayatva shvasa prashvasah vikshepa sahabhuva

Now Patanjali tells us what we will experience when any of these nine obstacles are present. We may experience any of these four states: sadness, bitterness, lack of coordination of the body or uncomfortable shaky breathing. So how will we get past these obstacles and their accompanying effects?

Patanjali explains that in the following sutras. Today when I experience difficulties in practicing, I will take a few deep breaths and not fight the obstacle. I will only collect myself together and show up for my practice even if it is the shortest and not so fulfilling practice that I must experience for that day! It is reassuring to know that this is normal and has happened to all on the path of yoga. I will remember that IT HAPPENS and all I have to do is allow it to pass and not get attached to it. I will refrain from labelling myself as lazy, ignorant, unsteady, careless or a failure. I just am and these are constructs of the mind that I can observe and let them pass.

1.32 tat pratisedha artham eka tattva abhyasah

So Patanjali tells us the obstacles and immediately tells us the remedy.

It means cultivating one pointedess in practice and sticking with it even when one is bored and restless. Often we can reach a point of boredom with practice and start dwelling on choices. This only creates more confusion. Jumping from one practice to the other only creates more division. A divided mind causes misery and a one pointed mind can bring joy. Sri Sri Ravi Shanker says that the boredom we experience can take us to a peak that will bring clarity.

“Ek Tattva” means attending to one principle. This one principle could be God, Guru or Self. It could be anything but we need to practice just one of those things. There lies the possibility of getting past all obstacles. One can attend to one principle also only if one has a certain calmness and subtleness in the mind. Otherwise even that does not seem possible. This is the skill in life – holding on to one principle and seeing that principle in everything.

In our world of diversity nothing looks the same, no two people appear the same, by cultivating one pointedness we will be able to see that one thing in everything.

In one pointedness, it becomes possible to see that one principle in everybody. You will see God / Self/ Guru (your chosen principle) in all!

Today I will remember that it is up to me to define my personal practice after having dwelled on choices that life offers. My personal practice is a daily ritual that I practice to experience God, Self or Guru and then as I go through my day I stay open to seeing God, Guru or Self in circumstances and people surrounding me. My daily one pointed practice is my way of perceiving blessing in everything.

1.33 maitri karuna mudita upekshanam sukha duhka punya apunya vishayanam bhavanatah chitta prasadanam

So how do we cultivate habituating to one truth?

In order to cultivate integrity, Patanjali tells us to behave in four specific ways in the world. By doing this, we will be able to bring balance and clarity in the mental sphere and harmonise our fragmented being. What Patanjali lists in this sutra is not optional. It is a “must do” in daily life. In the sutras after this, he gives us a choice of practices that we can cultivate to reach a state of yoga.

Patanjali tells us to be friendly with those who are happy and compassionate with those who are unhappy, or suffering. Sri Sri Ravi Shanker emphasises that it is compassion that Patanjali suggests and not pity. In pity one may tend to aggravate an unhappy person’s suffering by reinforcing their belief that nature has been unkind to them.

Next, he tells us that in life we may meet people who are doing wonderful things, such people we must meet with joy and not envy. We must feel that we are doing the good job with them.

When we meet people who are doing bad or wrong things, we must just ignore them and not let it make home in your mind. We must choose to stay centred in the face of potentially disturbing things.

When we behave in this way our mind becomes pleasant and gracious making the practice of one pointedness easy.

Today if I feel any unpleasant feeling arising in me or feel unsure on how to respond, I will closely look at the external influence that is causing this feeling to rise in me. I will then remember this sutra and bring clarity. With that clarity, I will choose to respond and not react. This promise I need to make to move on the path of yoga.


Personal study with Sanskrit Scholar and Yoga Teacher James Boag (
The Essential Yoga Sutras by Michael Roach and Christie Mc Neally
Patanjali Yoga Sutras by H.H. Sri Sri
Ravi Shankar
Yoga: Science of the Soul by Osho
The Wisdom of Yoga Sutras by Ravi Ravindra
Traditional Yoga and Meditation of the Himalayan Masters (www.

Asana Journal

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