Time out with Patanjali

calendar_icon2Happy monthi-versary to me — it’s now just over a month since I started back attending yoga classes after a few months off with injury. I just realised this and can hardly believe it’s been so little time. A real case of time flying. It made me think that I should pause, take stock of the last month, before I find I’m just rushing headlong into more and more. Again. My first injury was really big deal for me so although in many ways I’m keen to put it all behind me, I’m also aware that I’m not completely healed physically yet, and if I want to stay on the path of improvement I’d do well to learn everything I can from the experience.

I’ve been reading back over some blog posts and my journal entries and recalling how much discomfort and fear I was a feeling only a short time ago. I was desperate for things to be ‘normal’ again in my practice. And yet how much did I learn about how to practice yoga given the difficulties I was experiencing? LOADS. And I’m actually pretty proud of that. My teacher and my physio offered me great advice and set me on the right road, but day to day it was just me and my mat… and my resistance band. And a strong will to continue to practice a whole load of yoga in whatever way I could.

Beautiful_sky_with_fireworksSo this post is a small celebration of that time and the way I kept up with my practice in all sorts of ways while my body healed. I won’t say it was a blast. Actually it was pretty horrible most of the time. And I did lose the plot a few times letting fears and frustrations overcome me. I often felt like hurling Patanjali out the window (especially the big fat commentary by Bryant which would have been the most satisfyingly heavy!) but only because I found a lot of difficult truths in the Yoga Sutras if I had the courage to see them.

I guess it’s just as well Patanjali has so little to say about asana!

But he does have plenty to say about the citta vrtti-s (the mental fluctuations that cause us so much grief and suffering) and although the presentation of this stuff for me at least is oddly minimalist and a bit alienating, there’s actually so much that is universal and so relevant. Perhaps the generalising quality of the sutras, and the fact that I really had to chew them over to get any hint of what they might mean for me, was actually a positive thing. The Yoga Sutras is far from being an accessible upbeat self-help book the like of which usually sends me running for the hills! I’m a real newbie to the Yoga Sutras but in case you too are dipping your toes in these deep waters, I found this kind of companion book really helpful on the basic ideas and real life applications:bachman cover

A few of the more obvious things that I tried to work on through the last few months:

  • ahimsa (non-violence and compassion) kind of speaks for itself when you’re waiting for an injury to heal, but I really had to work on the more subtle aspect of ahimsa, treating myself with compassion and love rather than just a physical body that was broken.
  • santosha (contentment) supports ahimsa if I could lower my expectations and not be frustrated by doing that. Reducing my practice down to some basic exercises and simple asanas helped me to find peace in small things.
  • abhyasa (diligent, focused practice) for me was all about getting on the mat every damn day and just doing what I could even — if it wasn’t what I wanted to do.  Discipline is an unglamorous virtue, but is a solid foundation. This too needed a good dose of ahimsa.
  • samskara (past conditioning) made me think about habitual patterns (mental and physical) and how they might have contributed not only to my injury but also how I handled it, and how I can choose to go on with my yoga practice.
  • the kleshas (negative emotions) like raga (clinging to pleasure) and dvesha (aversion to suffering) were always there in my endless nostalgic ‘if onlys’ and anxious ‘what ifs’, but acknowledging them made it a little easier to try to let them go and be more in the present, accepting what is here right now.
  • ishvarapranidhana (whatever it means!) reminded me to let go of tension and striving  and trust that everything would resolve itself somehow if I could just let it, rather than try to control the uncontrollable.

Of course these are all works in progress (always!), but less asana practice gave me some extra time to devote to svadhyaya (in the sense of both scriptural study and self-reflection). Now, mostly in retrospect of course(!), I can find some positive in that. It’s certainly broadened my perspective on what yoga is, it’s made me a whole lot more humble about my practice in this larger picture, and established something of a habit of enquiry whether that means tuning in to my body or my mind, or getting back to the source texts. I think it’s this spirit of enquiry that will gradually make my yoga my yoga. I still feel terribly unsteady in my practice but if I can learn that I don’t really need to get anyplace fast I think it’ll all work out.


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4 thoughts on “Time out with Patanjali

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  1. Great perspective on how we can actually grow in our practice even when we are forced to separate from the physical practice for awhile! Glad you are starting to feel better though!


  2. I was reflecting on this post today. You are very brave to take on the Sutras with a serious mind. It seems most give it a perfunctory glance en route to their teaching certificate.

    In the olden days, one had to learn the Sutras by memorization from their Guru before they could even commence with Asana instruction. When to sutras were “written” it was seen as a great step backwards in the teaching which was an oral tradition.

    Keep practicing and studying. Remember, this is a life long endeavor.

    Blessings to you!


    1. thank you, yogibattle! as always I appreciate your support in my endeavours.

      Your comment about memorisation as part of the oral tradition is really interesting. My educational background has always placed value on personal interpretation rather the memorisation or regurgitation. I wonder what memorising the sutras would really offer? An experiment I don’t think i’ll undertake!

      but ‘brave’? that worries me…


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