I'm so happy I joined this challenge. Usually, it's all about the photos in these instagram yoga challenges, but this one is totally different. In fact, my recent photos have not been great at all, but I'm not bothered by that; I've already gotten so much out of studying the sutras every day, before I can contribute anything to the (very saturated) world of #igyoga , and we're only 10 days into this challenge.
I knew that taking on this project of daily blogging about the sutras would be a fairly time-consuming endeavour, but I'm so glad that I decided to create this series (which allows me a little more room for reflection than Instagram does); I'm using this as a sort of online journal, and the practice requires a lot of thoughtful contemplation, careful planning, and the commitment to something that's meaningful to me. In the past, I've started more projects than I've finished, but I'm fully committed to continuing this blog project of exploring Patanjali's Yoga Sutras, at least throughout this challenge, for the remainder of the month. (*For posts on Days 1-8 of this challenge, click the 'Exploring the Sutras' category in the right sidebar.*)
Day 9 of the Purple Valley Yoga Challenge studies Sutras 1.30 & 1.31, with Virabhadrasana 1 as the accompanying asana. This particular Warrior was captured (by broken tripod precariously balanced in the grass) during Mister Bowie pup's morning walk. The sky was a bit temperamental, which made for a beautifully moody background. (And edited for enhanced moodiness!)
Vyādhi styāna samśaya pramādālasyāvirati bhrāntidarśanālabdha-bhūmikatvānavasthitatvāni cittaviksepāste'ntarāyāh ~
"Disease, dullness, doubt, carelessness, laziness, sensuality, false perception, failure to reach firm ground and slipping from the ground gained -- these distractions of the mind-stuff are the obstacles."
Dukha daurmanasyāngamejayatva śvāsa praśvāsā viksepa sahabhuvah ~ "Accompaniments to the mental distractions include distress, despair, trembling of the body and disturbed breathing."
*translations by Sri Swami Satchidananda*
Sutra 1.30... it's is essentially a description of my twenties, or the majority of the past 10 years since that profound experience in Goa. During my conversation with Shilpa Joshi in Rishikesh (see the blog for Sutras 1.17 - 1.20 if you're not sure what I'm talking about) I was looking for some sign that I was actually on the right path and not totally deluded in my relationship with yoga. I've been practicing for 10 years, and although I'm not attached to the final destination, for a long time I questioned my purpose and doubted my path, wondering if I was just a charlatan expounding ancient Indian wisdom without any real connection to the yoga nor any business in sharing it with others.
Since that day on the beach in Goa, I have put in thousands of hours of asana practice and meditation, traveling all over the world in pursuit of this yogic knowledge and understanding. And yet, I still have not had any form of samādhi experience in over a decade. Shilpa softly assured me that I'm following my path exactly as it's been laid out for me, and essentially to simply continue on with pure love in my heart.
Sutra 1.30 also provides one of my favourite bits of commentary from Sri Swami Satchidananda in regards to losing footing. He says, "Another obstacle is slipping down from the ground one has gained. This puzzles many people. Beginners, for example, will practice with intense interest; everyday they will feel more and more interested and feel they are progressing steadily. They may even be proud of their progress. All of a sudden one day they will find that they have lost everything and slipped down to rock bottom. It happens to many people. If we know it is a common occurrence on the spiritual path, we won't get disheartened. ... Let us know that this is common in the case of every aspirant. The mind can't function on the same level always -- it has its heights and depths. If there is going to be steady progress always, there will be no challenge, no game in it. Remember: Yoga practice is like an obstacle race; many obstructions are purposely put on the way for us to pass through. They are there to make us understand and express our own capacities."
There you have it, friends. This is your story, and it was never meant to be a steady upward trajectory. The beauty and power of the practice lies in overcoming the obstacles.
These distractions that Patanjali notes in Sutra 1.30 seem to be pretty universal aspects of the human experience - I certainly know them all quite well (some better than others). I think the important practice is to deepen our awareness of these obstacles so that we may eventually move beyond them in this lifetime, toward total surrender to the cosmic will.
In Sri Swami Satchidananda's commentary of Sutra 1.31, he mainly refers to physical strength and the ability to sit for meditation, and advises us to keep our bodies healthy and fit with "right diet, exercise, and proper rest." This is all good advice, but not always within our immediate control...
What I find really interesting is that the effects of the obstacles Patanjali lists are also symptoms of trauma. These qualities or symptoms can arise in varying degrees of intensity, and therefore the challenge of overcoming them to find peace of mind can be incredibly difficult, depending on the extent of trauma one has experienced and the ways in which they relate to it. Although these symptoms are often painful and avoided as much as possible, I think they're also inevitable parts of being human; we are united in love, but also in pain.