In the Yoga Sūtras, Patañjali discusses the goals, practice, and benefits of yoga. In this foundational text that consists of 196 sūtras (concise sentences), Patañjali first defines yoga as a blissful state of freedom in which we experience expanded awareness and yet have a vastly improved ability to focus with clarity and accuracy. After describing the many different types of this experience, referred to as samādhi, and letting us know how more frequent experiences of samādhi can help us enjoy freedom from various types of painful responses to challenging experiences in life, Patañjali describes what we need to do in the way of preparation and practice in order to experience this fourth state of consciousness (different from waking, dreaming, and deep sleep) on a more regular basis and eventually permanently.
In Sūtra I.20, Patañjali lists several prerequisites that are necessary in order to attain the most advanced of the many types of samādhi. We are fairly familiar with the first of these prerequisites as it is the name upon which several classes practiced at TYC is based – Śraddhā – the confidence that we have in the project of yoga; the giving of our heart and mind to the journey of growth, implied by this project.
The second prerequisite for making samādhi a living reality is vīrya – sustained and energetic dedication. It is good to have a goal toward which we aspire; it is certainly praiseworthy to want to make the most of life and experience life in a way in which we are making use of more of our full potential. But we know that intentions are not enough. We must dedicate ourselves to practices that allow us to work gradually toward making the goal a reality. It is not enough to simply tell ourselves that we will be relaxed, or try to convince ourselves that we are free and happy, or attempt to avoid situations in life that bring us pain.
Rather than any type of attempt at making of moods, yoga is a scientifically- based system in which we engage in time-tested practices in order to fundamentally change how we think and feel, based upon how our body functions. We experience the state of inner freedom and happiness because our nervous system is operating more optimally.
So how do we engage as yogins with increased vīrya? This is the subject of the second of the four chapters of the Yoga Sūtra: Sādhana-Pādaḥ. Sādhana means practice. Pādaḥ means chapter (and yes, it also means foot).
Very importantly, though, Patañjali does not simply advocate repetitive brute effort. He emphasizes this in the very first sutra of the second chapter in which he discusses the types of practice that lead to samādhi. Patañjali states that we achieve the goal of yoga by means of action (kriyā). He then lists the fundamental ingredients of kriyā yoga: discipline, study, and dedication to higher purpose / more advanced guide.
Patañjali lists discipline as the first, and most important, of the three aspects of practice. We know that we can have the loftiest of ideas or the most auspicious intentions, but if we do not make use of discipline in making these ideas or intentions come to life, they will lie dormant and useless. We can read books and listen to inspiring teachers, but until we employ dedicated effort to embody what we want, such information will be of little value.
Next, Patañjali emphasizes the importance of study. If we merely act repeatedly with the knowledge that we currently have, our practice will not grow deeper. We know that if we understand a craft with which we are engaged more thoroughly, we will be able to act with greater skill and creativity. We will not merely follow by rote what has been handed down to us, but will become more engaged, able to refine and improve our skills. In each year that we have had advanced studies (Adhikara) and teacher training, students have been amazed by how much such study can deepen and improve our various yoga practices.
Finally, Patañjali underscores the value of dedication to higher principles and/or more advanced experts in the path of yoga. This is similar to the notion of study, but makes clear that we will make the most progress only if we have auspicious motives and the assistance of competent guides who have traveled further along the road of yoga in various ways. This does not mean that we must have particular spiritual beliefs; nor does it require that we have a guru. Rather, we must determine thoughtfully what is meaningful to us; what is worth our time and effort. We then become increasingly open to any growth opportunities, whether in the form of an advanced study program (such as Adhikara), or a book that has helped others, or simply being open to the lessons that challenging experiences in life have to offer.
With increasing frequency, we are finding that scientific research and experience agree: There are significantly positive effects from the group practice of meditation. Especially as we begin the practice of meditation, we find that meditating in a group enhances our experiences and maximizes benefits.
If you are not able to participate in our full class on Thursdays, you can always join us (no fee) for our group chant, pranayama, and meditation. Just arrive at 7:10. We would like to develop a community of regular meditators. Our regular class, which includes some Tantric Yoga Philosophy (7 minutes) along with a mixed-level practice (65 minutes), begins at 6 pm.