Yoga off the Mat: Method

This is the third part of my Yoga off the Mat series. Read part one, Yoga off the Mat: Contemplation, here and part two, Yoga off the Mat: Concentration, here.

In today’s post, I’ll be sharing some ideas and practices written about in 2.1 to 2.29 of Patanjali’s yoga sutras.

In this second chapter of the sutras, Patanjali introduces methods on how to reduce both gross and subtle colourings which veil the true self. These are things we need to minimise to continue our mastery of the fluctuations of the mind (the whole point of yoga!).

Let’s begin with reducing the gross colourings which are called kleshas. The five kleshas are the causes of our suffering and include:

  • Ignorance (avidya)
  • Ego (asmita)
  • Attraction (raga)
  • Aversion (dwesha)
  • Fear of death (abhinivesha)

Spiritual homework: Grab your notebook and write each of the five kleshas at the top of a new page. Under each klesha start writing down the thoughts you have which could fit into that category. Be honest and transparent. And do this without judgement! Once you’ve begun this process you’ll move onto the next step: reducing the gross colourings!

“Real knowledge is to know the extent of one’s ignorance.” ~ Confucius

Putting philosophy into practice

To reduce the gross colourings of the mind, we use what it called kriya yoga. There are three parts to kriya yoga:

Tapas: Training the senses or discipline
Svadhyaya: Study of the self through spiritual texts
Ishvara Pranidhana: Surrender or faith (letting go of coloured thoughts)

We will be talking more about these three principles in next month’s post.

Once the gross colourings are dealt with through kriya yoga, or at least weakened enough, they are brought back to ‘the seed’. The seed form is of potential only and, with practice, these seeds can be burned away so they may not grow again within our minds.

Once we’ve worked through these more obvious thoughts, we turn our attention to the subtle thoughts. We do so by following the eight-limbed path of yoga (more on this next month too).

The key to breaking down our unhealthy thought patterns is ‘discriminative knowledge’.

Razor-like attention is our best tool for discrimination and the first five rungs of the yogic path sharpen this metaphorical razor. They are all about honing the edge of the blade, and then the finer sharpened tool is the last three rungs. Collectively the final three levels are known as samyama.

The eight limbs or rungs of yoga are:

  • Yamas: restraints
  • Niyamas: observances
  • Asana: posture
  • Pranayama: harnessing of prana
  • Pratyahara: withdrawal of the senses

The final three rungs are collectively known as samyama:

  • Dharana: concentration
  • Dhyana: meditation
  • Samadhi: oneness

Why do we hone our razor-like attention and develop attention as the tool for discriminative knowledge?

Put simply, we do so to separate the seer and the seen, to break the alliance of karma and to move past ignorance.

“Knowledge is of no value unless you put it into practice.” ~ Anton Chekhov

Discrimination in this context allows us a subtler level of introspection. A focused or one-pointed attention on examining and exploring our thoughts. It is in this reflective process which we discern and remove the colouring of our thoughts and move closer to our true nature.