Summary of first Patanjali Yoga Sutra Course


The first course on the Patanjali Yoga sutras has been completed and was well received. Those participants showed a keen interest in what the sutras were about and how they could be used in their everyday life. The sutras are short and to the point, leaving no room for misunderstanding but they have to be unpacked to discover the wealth of knowledge that they hold within them. They have to be sounded with precision, acknowledging the Science of Sound, for the correct resonances have to be formed in order for knowledge to arise. This was clearly illustrated by one student who said:  “I really enjoy your teaching style and have gained a great deal from the first two classes. They have given me a deeper understanding and feeling for the sutras than before, they were only words. Thank you for delivering in such a clear and absorbable way C”.


Patanjali codified these teachings 5000 years ago in order that they may be handed down and followed by devotees generations later, it is the Science of Yoga, yogänuçäsanam.  They start at the beginning -atha, and take you step by step towards Self Realisation. He clearly states in sutra two what yoga is – Yogas citta vrtti nirodhah “Yoga is the bringing to rest movements in Consciousness”. For if we do not remove these movements, that cloud our vision, we will never uncovered the Divinity within. Therefore obstacles on the path have to be identified in order to be removed. These obstacles take the form of mental modifications, more commonly known as thoughts, in Sanskrit they are called vrttis. In sutra four – ‘vrtti särüpyam itaratra’ says the main problem being that we identify with these movements, thinking we are these thoughts.


The focus of the group was realising you are not your mind nor your body. Sarvayatra the deep relaxation was used to clarify this point and come to an understanding of what Consciousness is. The cit - the clear screen of awareness that is not affected by anything, yet from which all arises. The connection between the Universal Cit and the citta, in the heart of the individual. Part of the journey was coming to an understanding of the witness awareness  (drastu) that can observe both, then taking this witnessing awareness to view everyday occurrences with a different light. In short making the sutras practical and real, not just words on a page. There was much positive feedback and discussion in regard to the practice. It was a satsang environment where we worked together each contributing and bringing our own unique experiences.


We cannot help thoughts coming and going but we can start to sift the un-necessary ones out. This is done in the light of ahimsa, non harm; never criticising one’s thinking. There is no need for psycho-analysing of them, just let thoughts go, so that our vision is not clouded by these.

This course has been for those who wish to make changes in a subtle way for we are householders who have family commitments. Yoga shows us how to live our lives with vairagya – dispassion. To live in the world but not be of it. This makes actions more effective and rewarding. Instead of turning outwards, we have to reverse that, turning  our attention inwards to our subtle realm. Here we will meet our mental and emotional vrttis and also asmita (our individualness, known as the ego).


Asmita (ego) is one of the five main obstacles to Self Realisation coming in the sutra 2.3  “avidya (ignorance being the predominant one), asmita, raga (liking) dvesa (disliking), abhinivesah (fear of change). These were brought out during the course as appropriate.


Thoughts are just mental modifications, it is the identifying with them that causes the problem. Sutra 4 Vrtti särüpyam itaratra. Saying this is mine (name all the possession that you have that define you; house, car, clothes, friends, job etc.) That is fine but the ignorance occurs when you say this is the real you (asmita) totally ignoring the Divinity that lies within. Our thoughts are coloured by us personally, liking this or disliking that. We seem to be defined as consumers in today’s materialistic world and we become what we buy or cannot buy; this is a very narrow, restrictive and unhealthy outlook, the course encouraged a wider perspective. In the satsang environment of the ashram, participants were able to relax and enjoy the process.


There is no quick fix, change has to happen with understanding and this is my experience, I teach from my own understanding. I incorporate meditation, the Science of Breath, yoga anatomy etc. to throw light on different aspects of the teaching. It can be challenging but very practical; part of the Science of Being and the Art of Living.


I am now on Facebook and intending to put relevant work under Oshadhi Meditation, for which you need to sign into. For any queries contact through email on vanessaegraham@aol.com . These teachings are Universal in application and open to sincere spiritual seekers, please email of your interest.


Feedback received


It has been lovely to meet Vanessa and other ‘yogic’ people and I hope to continue being in contact. Vanessa obviously puts a lot of work into the course and has backed this up with generous sharing of her knowledge with further reading and information. Thank you so much. More please.  M


Work has been incredibly stressful and the last few weeks have been particularly challenging!
The yoga mornings have been a wonderful way to help find some balance in my life and fellowship with like minded people. Iti comes in useful in busy and stressful days too! Thanking you for creating such a sustaining and healing space at the Ashram. S

If you are hesitant about this course, just go along and embrace the day, you will love it. J


Future dates are set for

Saturdays 12th and 26th May and 23rd June 2018 from 10am to 12.30pm

 

 

 


Patanjali's relevance in the 21st century


In today’s world science is the gospel of the multitude which claims to demolish the idea of God. It details what is presented in our physical world but leaves unexplained the subtle realm. As a human incarnation we inhabit three realms - physical, subtle and causal. Those that come to Yoga are blessed to be able to explore and to come to understand both the subtle and causal realms of our existence. 


We have the Patanjali Yoga Sutras which have been tried and tested since they were composed thousand years ago. They are the science of the subtle realm and lay down clear steps for building one’s understanding from the gross world, through the subtle and into the causal. Each sutra is a step which has to be incorporated into one’s being for them to be effective. It is no use treating them lightly when reciting, for they are sacred words and ultimately do what they say.  All words are resonances, resonating in your bhavana (your space of being); for them to work they need correct pronunciation and place of articulation (asya).


When you start to listen to resonance you immediately move away from the physical into the subtle realm. The Patanjali Yoga Sutras are the science of the subtle and should be respected as such. They are the means of ascertaining the Real from the Unreal and take you on the journey of Self discovery. Each step is an aide to this journey, to move you onwards whilst at the same time nourishing and sustaining you on that journey towards the Self.


We are divine beings, yet we can remain ignorant of this fact (avidya – one of the klesas). Ignorance is often described as ‘the cloud of unknowing’, which obscures our vision of the Truth. I also like the image of dust on a mirror, we have to clear the dust off the mirror in order to get a clear reflection. Dust on this journey mainly comes in the form of mental movements (vrttis) in the subtle field of the mind. That is why Patanjali starts with acknowledgement of this C.l.v2 “yogas chitta vrtti nirodha”.  Yoga is a movement away from the surface disturbances of the mind (vrtti) into the deep stillness within (ni-rodha). That which never changes, that which never dies, that which is never affected by the surface waves of the mind – that which is your eternal true essence.


Patanjali has made sure we do not run before we can walk, he has outlined the eightfold Ashtanga Path, which starts with the yama (external observations) then niyamas (internal observations). These need to be put in place for one to be able to absorb the teachings. Next comes asana, where one is seated within. C.2.46 “sthira sukham asanam” – asana is a steady comfortable posture. The body needs to be stilled first before the breath and mind can be stilled.  Yoga can just be taken on a physical level of movement, working towards a healthy and flexible body. This has many benefits but it misses out the point in the context of the Sutras, asanas are practised so that the body can be stilled, in order that it can sit in an upright position to meditate (sitting on a chair is encompassed in this). Stilling the body is a very necessary stage, for if it is not brought to non movement it will disturb the meditative awareness. We can only discover we are not our body by stilling it and coming away from it. That same applies to the mind. Pranayama is used to give the mind something to focus on as well as slowing the breath down, as breath and mind are correlated.


Our mind is attracted by the senses which habitually turn outward. Our whole world seems a playground for the senses in which to sport but Patanjali teaches us otherwise with Pratyahara. The senses are turned inwards and brought to stillness where from this point we can operate our inner vision and hearing. It is not a deadening of the senses but an enlivening of them in pursuit of our inner essence.


Once we have embraced these first five stages which deal with the physical realm then we are ready to move into the subtle - dharana, which is a preparation for meditation. I refer to it as a soft focus rather than concentration which implies strain and effort. This journey is to your comfortable capacity whilst at the same time giving respect to the journey you are on.


An excellent place for a soft focus is where the bridge of the nose meets the upper lip as you can feel the movement of the breath there which carries the pranic force, entering and leaving the body. It is tangible, leaving no doubt and is imminent to awareness. The body needs to be in a comfortable upright position for the prana to flow in the susumna in the spine and through the chakras centres within it.


In deep sleep at night the breath breathes the body unheeded. The breath breathes us from the moment we are born to the moment we die (whilst we remain deluded that it is us doing the breathing). Allowing the breath to breathe the body is natural and if we do not interfere with it, will take us back to our true nature.  It is the Self breathing our body for us.


Recall the image of the chariot and the charioteer. Self rides in the chariot of the body, buddhi our intellect is our charioteer holding the reins of the mind which are leashed to the five senses. This Self is separate from the body and the mind, although it does operate through them.


Going back to the beginning of the Sutras C.1v3 the ‘drashtuh’ is introduced and this is the witnessing Self – the Seer. It is that which witnesses your body and mind yet is beyond both. At the very beginning Patanjali is highlighting the witnessing awareness, as that will be your companion on the journey inwards.

The importance of the separation will be seen when it comes to mental vrttis, thoughts that enter your mental field. When people come to meditation they are looking for the off button to their multitude of thoughts. Be it memories, night/day dreams, reminisces, plans, recounting events, emotions – the list goes on. What has to be taken on board is that they are not real, they might seem real at the time (as with worry or fear) but they are just waves on the surface on your deep lake of inner awareness. They have to be ignored if you wish to dive deep. I question the practice of mindfulness for the last thing you want to give mental modifications is recognition that they are real; if you do not give them your attention they will lessen.


As one travels on this journey, a clearer understanding of these vrttis takes place; identifying habitual patterns of detrimental thinking which disturb your peace and equanimity of mind. Patanjali looks at these in detail in order to understand their impact and work towards their elimination. Subtle sabotaging thoughts can cause havoc but by understanding their cause they can be simply dropped as they are not real.  Instead stay in the moment, with no past or future, for each moment to present itself as it comes with an ease of being.


Hence the scene for meditation is set - having a comfortable upright body, the focal point of the breath breathing the body at the bottom of the nostrils; we have the witnessing Self observing the process in a living breathing body in the moment. Opening out the listening with the desire to hear we open out to the space. This is your field of awareness ‘citta’. The ‘citta’ can be seen like the empty cinema screen; dharana leads to dhyana, a deepening of your awareness without any doing and you rest in this. Mental vrttis may still try to enter but you ignore them, do not give them your attention, which remains at your chosen point of focus (ekagrata). Ultimately dhyana leads to Samadhi which is the last of the eightfold process.


The whole process is a deepening of your understanding of the Self whilst at the same time identifying the obstacles that obscure that vision and remove them. It is a moving away from the gross physical body, working with the breath, stilling the senses and mind at the subtle level. Patanjali is there for guidance in short succinct sutra format ideal for sounding internally and allowing their resonances to do their magic.


Patanjali is just as valuable today as when it was first written. For those wishing to see the relevance and how these teachings can be incorporated in everyday living, Vanessa will be facilitating workshops at the ashram in the New Year. In the six sessions the core teachings of  Patanjali will be explored.

Starting with “Atha yoganusasanam”.  “Now begins the systematic teachings of Yoga (Union)”.  This initial block will introduce the fundamentals which are experiential, therefore practice of them in between sessions is required, to be able to monitor progress and overcome obstacles.


Please contact Vanessa for further details.