Saturday, February 27, 2010


-Sri Dharma Mittra

-Sri K. Pattabhi Jois


"When that practice is done for a long time, without a break, and with sincere devotion, then the practice becomes a firmly rooted, stable and solid foundation."

-Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1.14

I love it when the sages agree, although I remember being skeptical many years ago, when David Swenson told us to measure our practice in decades rather than years.

But after 10 years of regular ashtanga practice, I began to understand what he meant. The physical practice became so much easier. I had some control over the body, which seemed ready to absorb the non-posture yoga practices Dharma Mittra taught us in his trainings.

This week, I realized that practice should be measured in lifetimes (if at all), while reading Edwin Bryant's new translation of the Yoga Sutras (Edwin, a Krishna devotee, is and professor at Rutger's University, led the Gita and Sutra study portions of our 500-hour training with Dharma. He is an amazing scholar and speaker, and this book is a must-have for serious students of yoga). I used to think that once you attained some sort of nirvana or lower samadhi, you were at the goal and no longer needed to practice (and by practice, I mean postures, self-control, Yamas, meditation - the whole nine yards... er, eight limbs). Not true!

Here is Edwin's commentary on the aforementioned sutra:

"First, in order to become unshakable, practice must be performed nairantarya, without interruption. One cannot take breaks from one's practice whenever one feels like it or the mind dictates and expect to attain the goal of yoga, which is to quell such whimsical vrittis [fluctuations]. One cannot attain success in a few months or even after many years of practice unless one is exceptionally dedicated. Indeed, the Gita speaks of the yogi maintaining the yatna, effort, of the last sutra, for many births: 'Through effort and restraint, cleansed of all impurities, the yogi who has cultivated perfection over several lives, eventually attains the supreme destination' (VI.45). Practice is at the very least a lifelong commitment, to be undertaken, Patanjali goes on to say, satkara-asevitah, with respect and devotion. One is, after all, pursuing the ultimate goal of life -- realization of the innermost self - and cannot expect to attain this in a halfhearted or frivolous fashion, or in a random manner.

"Vyasa states that the practice of yoga becomes successful, that is, firmly established, when accompanied by austerity, celibacy, knowledge and faith. Under these conditions, it is not immediately overwhelmed by the ingrained habits of the mind. Vacaspati Misra calls these habits, which are samskaras that impel the mind outward into the sensual realm "highway robbers." He acknowledges that the sattvic nature of the mind -- tranquility and calmness -- is often overcome by rajas [activity] and tamas [inertia], but if one maintains one's practice, then eventually the mind becomes steadfast and concentrated. If one gives up one's practice, however, one's mind immediately becomes overwhelmed again. Hence this verse indicates that the practice of yoga has to be cultivated uninterruptedly and with devotion for a long period of time....

"...Nonetheless, however accomplished a yogi may become, if he or she abandons the practice of yoga under the notion of being enlightened or of having arrived at a point beyond the need of practice, it may be only a matter of time before past samskaras, including those of past sensual indulgences, now unimpeded by practice, begin to surface... There is no flower bed, however perfected, that can counteract the relentless emergence of weeds if left unattended.As Patanjali will discuss later in the text, as long as one is embodied, samskaras remain latent, and therefore potential, in the citta [mind]. Hence one can read this sutra as indicating that since the practices of yoga must be uninterrupted, one would be wise to politely avoid yogis or gurus who claim to have attained a state of enlightenment such that they have transcended the need for the practice and renunciation prescribed by Patanjali here."


  1. Interesting post. The longer I practice (and I should note that I've only been practicing for 3 1/2 years), the more I've come to realize what a long-term committment that yoga is. I really hope I'm still practicing after the 10-year mark. It just seems to far away right now.

    I was thinking the other day about Frank Herbert's 'Dune' (one of my favorite books) and how the story was based on the idea that people and societies framed their goals in terms of centuries and generations insted of months or years. Since reading the book...and the rest of the series (yes, I'm a total sci-fi nerd), I often think about how my life would be different if my goals weren't so short term.

    A lot of times with yoga, I'll have short-term goals related to physical postures...or even my sitting practice. Maybe over time it'll become easier to think about my practice in the terms of decades insted of, well, next week's practice. I sure hope so.

    Thanks for the post. :)

  2. Your post couldn't have come at a more perfect time for me. After moving away from my studio and teachers in Chicago I've struggled to resume a regular yoga practice for the past two years. I've let it slide out of my life and I don't have any excuses. Just this weekend I managed to make it to two classes and realized that I let yoga go when I needed it most, during the tough times in life. I felt so at home in my practice I almost cried, and I now realize what I'm missing by not doing yoga regularly. This post of yours seems meant to be. Thank you for reminding us of the importance of a regular practice and how life changing it can be.

  3. Thank you for your comments!

    Practice really is everything. Without it, where would we be?

  4. *nice*

    Thank you for putting so much good stuff out here.