And, what are exactly the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali?
The word sutra stands for string or thread. The Sutras are a collection of linked verses in the same way that beads are linked in a string. Around 200 – 300 B.C.E the sage Maharishi Patanjali compiled the knowledge about Yoga in 195 Sutras. Each verse is written with the least words possible and is full of meaning. They are so dense in meaning that many commentators wrote books trying to extract and explain all the teachings behind them. The Sutras are organized in four chapters or padas (legs):
Samadhi Pada (on concentration, blissful state): In this chapter Patanjali explains the path of Raja Yoga for the best category of students.
Sadhana Pada (on practice): Patanjali wrote this chapter for moderate and mild students. For them he recommends the practice of Kriya Yoga and Asthanga Yoga.
Vibhuti Pada (on supernatural powers): The Sage speaks about the last three steps of Asthanga Yoga (Dharna, Dhyana and Samadhi) and the powers obtained along the way that can distract the yogi from his ultimate goal.
Kaivalya Pada (on liberation or Moksha): This chapter is centerd in liberation from the past actions or karmas and the cycle of birth and death.
So, what is Yoga according to the Yoga Sutras?
In the second sutra, Patanjali defines Yoga with the sentence:
“yogah citta vrtti nirodah”
Yoga is the complete restraint or stoppage (nirodah) of the modifications (vrttis) affecting the personality complex (citta).
What is the personality complex (citta) then?
Simply speaking, we can translate citta as the mind, but it is more accurate to speak of “personality complex”. It integrates the following constituents:
The ego, I-sense or identity (Ahamkara)
The mind (Manas)
The 5 organs of perception (Jnanendriyas): eyes-vision, ears-hearing, nose-smell, tongue-taste, skin-touch.
The 5 organs of action (Karmendriyas): hands, legs, mouth-speech, reproductive organs and excretory organs.
The 5 forces of life/bioenergies (Pranas).
Excuse me, which are the 5 pranas?
The 5 types of bioenergy are:
Prana: It goes in and down. Associated to inhalation, swallowing, the sensory part of the body, the reasoning and memory, the central and peripheral nerves. It is located avobe the diaphragm.
Udana: It flows up and out. Associated to exhalation, vomiting, crying, singing, communication, the removal of the memories. It is centered in the throat.
Vyana: Circulation of blood and lymph. Associated also to the actions of the joints and the blood pressure. It is centered in the heart.
Samana: Related to digestion, peristalsis and HCl acid balance. It is centered in the stomach and small intestine area.
Apana: It goes down and out. It is associated to excretion and secretion, urine, feces, menstruation, ejaculation, production of sperms and ovules. It is located in the pelvic cavity.
Are there all the cittas from the same kind?
According to Vyasa, the famous comentator, Patanjali classified the mind in 5 major types in relation with the practice of Yoga. These are the 5 types or 5 citta bhumis:
Ksipta citta: The restless mind. This kind of mind is very unsteady, unable to focus or concentrate.
Mudha citta: The infatuated mind. It is materialistic, dull, too attached to comfort and sensual pleasures to pursue spiritual development.
Viksipta citta: The distracted mind. This kind is occasionally steady, alternating periods of focus and concentration with periods of distraction.
Ekagra citta: One pointed. Able to keep steadily focused.
Niruddha citta: The restrained mind. The superior step to ekagra. This kind of mind is able, not only to focus but to control all the mental modifications.
From the last 5 types, only ekagra and niruddha are considered fit for Yoga.
Wait a minute, does that mean that I cannot practice Yoga if I don't have a niruddha or ekagra mind?
No, it means that reaching the highest goal of Yoga (Samadhi) is only accessible for the minds in the most advanced states of spiritual development (ekagra and niroddha) but, for the common man (Ksipta, Mudha, Viksipta), Yoga helps to develop a calmer, more balanced state of mind. With practice and discipline, the mind will also evolve to states closer to ekagra.
Ok, I know about the citta but what about the vrttis?
The vrttis, mental modifications or “thoughts” (roughly speaking) are of two natures:
Not painful (aklishta).
So all the 5 types of vrttis listed below can be considered either aklishta or klishta attending to its effect in the mind.
The 5 types enunciated by Patanjali are:
Right Knowledge (Pramana): They are considered sattvic. According to the Yoga Sutras, right knowledge can be obtained by three methods:
Direct Perception or experience (Pratyaksha).
Logical inference (Anumana).
Valid testimony, authority (Agamah).
Wrong Knowledge (Viparyayah). Considered rajasic.
Imagination (Vikalpa). Also rajasic.
Deep Sleep (Nidra). It refers to the deep sleep without dreaming, since dreams are categorized as wrong knowledge. Tamasic by nature.
Memories (Smrti). Also tamasic.
With this last vrtti, the memories, it is very easy to understand how each one can be either klishta or aklishta. In a human's life, lots of memories are collected. Some of them are a cause of pain and suffering while others are good or just neutral.
So, having learnt about the citta and the vrttis, how the perfect control or niroddha is attained?
Patanjali in the first chapter of the Yoga Sutras speaks of two main techniques to achieve the “citta vrtti niroddha”. For the best category of students, following this two principles is enough to success:
Abhyasa: This is repeated effort, perseverance, discipline and also faith.
Vairagya: Meaning practising non-attachment, desirelesness (related to things that don't bring the practitioner closer to his goal).
Later in this first chapter, Patanjali also speaks of an alternative way: Ishvara Pranidhana, which mean sincere devotion and surrendering to God (Ishvara).
How is Ishvara (Higher reality/ God) described in the Yoga Sutras?
Patanjali defines it as Purusha Vishesha (special Purusha) that:
It is One, not multiple.
It is not attached to the Prkrti (matter) and the Trigunas.
It is not linked to karmas (past actions) and desires.
It is perfect, eternal and the source of all knowledge.
It is simbolized by the mantra (sanskrit sound and word) Aum or Om.
Patanjali explains that by japa, repetitive reflection about the meaning of Aum, the state of perfect restraint of the mind (niroddha) can also be attained.
So, Abhyasa and Vairagya, or Ishvarapranidha. That's it? Aren't there any obstacles in the practice of Yoga?
Patanjali classified 9 mind distractions for the mind (citta Vikshepah) also known as 9 Antarayah (obstacles). Those are:
Vyadhi or disease.
Styana or incompetence, dullness of the mind.
Shamshaya or doubt (about being able to succeed).
Pramada or lack of enthusiasm.
Alasya or laziness.
Avirati or sensory cravings.
Branti darshana or false perception, a kind of ignorance.
Alabdhabhumikatva or inability to get into a yogic state.
Anavasthitatvani or inability to maintain a yogic state.
He also speaks about other difficulties that can be a consequence of the previous ones and usually come along with them. Those are the 5 companions or 5 Saha Bhuvah:
Dukha or pain.
Daurmanasya or frustration.
Angamejayatva or tremor in the limbs of the body.
Svasa or irregular inhalation.
Prasvasah or irregular exhalation.
Are there any techniques to overcome these distractions (vikshepas, antarayas)?
Patanjali insists in perseverance and habituation (abhyasa) to overcome these obstacles and have a calmer and more balanced mind. He also speaks about 4 attitudes that help to create a sattvic, balanced state of mind. Those are the 4 embellishments or Parikarmas:
Maitri or friendliness towards the sukhi (those who are happy).
Karuna or compassion towards the dukhi (those who suffer).
Mudita or goodwill towards the punya (those who are virtuous).
Upeksha or indifference towards the apunya (those who are not virtuous).
What about the mild and moderate students? What are the methods for them to attain citta vrtti nirodah?
In the second chapter of his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali speaks of the Kriya Yoga, the path of the spiritual action. Based in Tapa, Swadhaya and Ishvarapranidhana (Austerities, Self Knowledge and Surrender to a Higher Reality), it allows the mild student to gradually reduce the structural defects or impurities of the mind (Kleshas).
On the other hand, for the beginners or lowest category of students, the sage describes the Asthanga Yoga or the Eight Fold Path.
So, which are the structural impurities of the mind (Kleshas)?
Acording to Maharishi Patanjali, Kleshas are the pain causing tendencies of our mind.
Kleshas are also the origin of the klishta mental modifications (klishta vrttis).
This 5 structural defects are:
Avidya or Ignorance. It means considering:
The impermanent (Anitya) as permanent (Nitya).
The impure (ashuci) as pure (shuci).
The pain (dukha) as pleasure (sukha).
The non Self (anatmasu), as the Self (atma).
Avidya is the most important of the 5 Kleshas since it is in the root of the other 4.
Asmita or excess of ego, egoism.
Raga or attachment to the things that gives us pleasure.
Dvesa or aversion, hatred, jealousy; to the things that deprive us from pleasure and give us pain.
Abhinivesha or fear of death, excessive attachment to the worldly life.
And which are the 8 parts of Asthanga Yoga, what is the Eight Fold Path?
The 8 limbs are:
Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara
Dharana, Dhyana, Samadhi
The first 2 folds are also known as Disciplinary Yoga and comprise the “Don'ts”(Yamas) and "Do's" (Niyamas) regarding ethical rules and self-discipline. Yamas and Niyamas are the foundations of the Asthanga Yoga.
The 5 Yamas described by Patanjali are:
Ahimsa or non-violence, either in the physical and psychological aspect.
Satya or not lying, being truthful.
Asteya or not stealing. Including not taking others' credit for oneself.
Brahmacharya or sensual moderation. Avoiding excesses in sensual pleasures as sex, food, sleep, etc.
Aparigraha or non-covetousness. Not being possessive and greedy.
The 5 Niyamas explained in the Yoga Sutras are:
Sauch or cleanliness. Meaning both physical outer and inner cleanliness. It implies also cleanliness of thoughts.
Santosh or feeling of contentment.
Tapa or austerities. Includes discipline and efforts to achieve a higher goal.
Svadhyaya or self study and self knowledge.
Ishvarapranidhana or acceptance of a Higher Reality / God.
The third step is Asanas or yogic poses. They are supposed to be steady and comfortable (sthira sukham asanam).
The forth is Pranayama or control of the bio-energy (prana). It includes the management of the breath.
The fifth is Pratyahara or managing of the senses. Withdrawing them from the outer world to focus on the inner world.
This fold is considered a bridge between the previous steps of external yoga (Bahiranga Yoga) and the inner yoga (Antaranga Yoga).
The last three steps are also called Samyama.
Sixth is Dharana or concentration. Confining the mind within a limited object or area. At this step this flow of attention is still intermittent.
The seventh step is Dhyana or meditation. The flow of concentration has become continuous at this step.
The last step is Samadhi, total concentration or blissful state.
Mmm, I am confused, I thought that Asthanga Yoga was a system based in sequences of asanas...?
That is Asthanga Vinyasa Yoga, a practice of sequences of asanas and paranayamas made popular in the 20th Century by Pattabhi Jois. This school became popular in the West and hence the confusion with the Eight Fold Path (Asthanga Yoga) described in the Yoga Sutras more than 2000 years ago.