To quote Eckhart Tolle, “Not to be able to stop thinking is a dreadful affliction, but we don’t realize this because almost everybody is suffering from it, so it’s considered normal. This incessant mental noise prevents you from finding that realm of inner stillness that is inseparable from being. It also creates a false mind-made self that casts a shadow of fear and suffering.”
To put things in proper perspective takes real intelligence (Buddhi – to be awake; to understand; to know), not more mind chatter. Then it is possible to realize that thought is only a tiny aspect of our intelligence. Tolle goes on to say: “All the things that truly matter – beauty, love, creativity, joy, inner peace – arise from beyond the mind.”
The obsessive thinking mind and yoga practice – a bad mix
When the ego-self (established by the thinking mind) is the one performing asana, the mind is actively engaged in self-criticism, comparing your performance with others, thereby judging yourself and those around you. Your mind becomes restless, agitated and engaged in internal conflict while your body is engaged in performing asanas. This internal conflict causes you to be emotionally reactive to whatever is happening at any given moment during your practice and you are engaged in the posture of ego which is contrary to the purpose of yoga – the deconstruction of the ego.
In the Yoga Sutras (1:2) Patajali defines the purpose yoga by saying, “Yoga means stopping the mental modifications.” (chitta vritti nirodah). There is no exact English translation, but roughly translated these Sanskrit words mean…chitta = stuff of the mind, vṛitti = modification (altering perception) and nirodaḥ = to control (find tranquility).
Basically this means that whatever form of yoga you are practicing, the highest priority and the fundamental purpose for the practice is to eliminate mental agitations and emotional reactions. Whenever performing yoga asanas, it is necessary to change from an ego-driven posture that is externally placing the body in a so-called “yoga asana,” while internally, the mind is engaged in conflict. This equates to practicing conflict and calling it yoga. So it stands to reason that in order to convert this ego driven posture into true yoga asana, you need to remove the ego-mind (which is continually engaged by external motivation).
Whenever a student of yoga is able to connect with the part of themselves that is aware beyond any ego-conditioned perception, they have an opportunity to change their reactions to external circumstances. These “knee-jerk” reactions are automatic and unconscious, arising out of the past (or the anticipated future) and can only be dismantled in the present moment. Even though these unconscious reactions tend to happen automatically, there is a part of us that is conscious and can become a witness, thus changing the reaction. When we are able to change our reaction, we can change from our very core and that will change us from the inside, instead of simply altering our external conditions. This is your divine potential, your inherent “Self”. Accessing this Self (or divine potential) has nothing to do with what we’re doing, but how (or from where) we are doing what we’re doing.
Five kinds of thoughts
According to Patanjali, there are only five kinds of thoughts. Although there are countless thought impressions that come into the field of the mind (chitta), which form the source and substance of the barrier (or veil) covering the true Self (Divine consciousness), they all fall into one or more of these five categories. In other words; while there may be many individual thought impressions, there are not countless types of thoughts to deal with, but only these five. This can help students and practitioners of yoga greatly in seeing the underlying simplicity of the science of Yoga, without getting lost in the apparent multiplicity in both the gross and subtle realms. These five thought impressions are:
Do you ever wonder why we wake up some days and seem to breeze through the entire day without sensing any stress, frustration or anxiety, when on another day stress and anxiety seem to be inescapable? Is it something we ate or drank? Is it possible we’re the victims of random events that launch us into states of unhappiness and stress without our consent? Do we even have a choice in the matter?
Seekers from all walks of life, including the ancient yogis, have been asking this question for time immemorial. Why do some events seem to disturb us while others do not? Why is it that the same event on one day seems to pass without a second thought, while on another day it seems to represent the very source of our suffering? Furthermore, and perhaps most importantly, what can I do about this, if anything at all?
From where does stress actually arise?
It is common for most of us to perceive stress and anxiety as coming from a source outside ourselves. At one time or another we’ve all been stuck in traffic, barely creeping along on the highway, and all we can think about is how the traffic is driving us a little crazy. This is a prime example of an outside source we can use to blame for our internal state.
We all tend to have a set criteria for what we assume will make us happy. For one person it may be losing weight, for another it may be finding the ideal partner, for yet another it’s gaining the approval of our peers, or having lots of money, the list is endless. But there is always a hidden or underlying theme to our criteria for happiness that is quite often the root of the very suffering we are trying our best to avoid. Inherent in the desire to be rich is the fear of being poor and implicit in the desire to have a partner is the dread of being alone. In our desire to be thin, it’s implied that if we’re overweight, it’s not okay to be happy.
When we become attached to the idea that life needs to be arranged in a certain way in order for us to be truly happy, we have already sown the seeds of our potential unhappiness. You get the idea…
We are all programmed by our past experiences, our culture, our families, our teachers etc., all of which determine the unconscious (or subconscious) “rules” by which we decide whether we can allow ourselves to be happy and stress-free (or not). If these “rules” are fulfilled, then, and only then de we feel we are within the parameters of being allowed to feel happy, and so it appears that we are. But if these “rules for happiness,” which each one of us has set for ourselves, are not met, we prevent the possibility of allowing ourselves to be happy.
So, in reality it is each of us, not life itself that determines our level of happiness. It’s how our life circumstances “measure up to our criteria” that actually determines our level of happiness. Essentially, each of us decides whether we can be happy or not by the conditions we set for that happiness. It’s not life’s circumstances, or any particular person or event that determines our level of happiness; each of us must decide this for ourselves.
This doesn’t mean that we are forbidden to have preferences. The problem is when we are trapped by becoming so attached to our preferences that we can’t let go of them and allow life to present itself as it will. It’s important to realize that life has no allegiance to our established criteria or to any of us as individuals. It shows up just like it is meant to do, like the rain, and then the sun breaks through the clouds. The events that constitute life have moved by their own ways and means long before we were born and will continue long after we’re gone.
Ironically, the things that happen are not personal, but we take them personally. After all, we are the ones who decided that reality should be different than it is.
The Way of Yoga
The way that yoga suggests comes down to being free from the need for anything to show up differently than it does in order to for us to be happy. Whenever anything we do has a prior condition of “in order to,” we are attempting to “manage” reality. Yoga philosophy dictates that we sincerely devote our lives to letting go of any conditions we have about how life needs to unfold. We practice relaxing, releasing into the moment no matter what is taking place. When confronted with situations where we would normally react, we begin to catch ourselves and say, “Can I relax with this?” “And how about this?” We don’t have to be perfect, we can treat it like a game we play with ourselves and watch what happens; by and by we’ll notice that just by putting our attention on this intention we’ll be able to relax with more and more things happening in our life.
The physical practice of yoga asana is useful here in two ways. First, the practice is intended to put demands on our body and mind in a scientific way so that we can more easily observe our habitual tendency to try to manage life or reality
Sooner or later everyone asks the question “what is the ego?”, and the general definition is usually something like this: “the ‘I’ or self of any person; a person as thinking, feeling, and willing, and distinguishing itself from the selves of others and from objects of its thought.”
But yoga goes a little further and sees it as reflected consciousness; a part of the soul’s pure consciousness that reflects in the mind and functions as the subjective knower, establishing the dichotomy of the observer and the observed, the experience and the experiencer. Therefore the ego is a fictitious character established by the mind, and the mind is simply a subtle form of energy (it has no consciousness of its own). The mind however, acts “as if” it’s a conscious entity, because of soul’s consciousness reflecting on it, or working within it.
Only a very small part of the sun’s light, when reflected from the moon’s surface, makes the moon appear as if it generates a light of its own. We may say “by the light of the moon”, but that light in reality is actually the sun’s light reflecting from the moon’s surface. Similarly, only a small part of soul’s pure consciousness, when working in the mind, identifies itself with the mind and its limitations, and thus feels itself limited. So then, the ego is not only reflected consciousness but also limited consciousness. Limited consciousness naturally equates to limited intelligence, limited understanding and limited ability of perception. Our eyes are not all-seeing and have a limited vision. From the eye’s limited perspective the earth seems flat; but the truth is, the earth is round. Since we see only a small portion of the earth’s circular surface (the horizon) it appears to us as flat, but when seen from a jetliner at 36,000 feet our perspective is expanded and we begin to appreciate the “roundness” of the earth’s horizon. This correlates to the ego’s limited ability to perceive things in the bigger perspective, so instead of seeing the whole (or undivided “oneness”) it sees everything in parts and falsely identifies each part as being separate and independent of the other parts.
The ego is the self or ‘I’ in our mind around which all our thoughts, feelings and experiences seem to revolve. The ego-self is the author, writing the script for all our thinking, feeling and desires. It is the subjective enjoyer and the “experiencer” of all our activities and the results of those activities. Whenever we say “I think, I feel, I see, I love, I enjoy, I hate, I fear, etc.” we are referring to our ego-self. This ‘I’ with which we are so familiar is our limited duplicate ‘I’ not our true ‘I’. It is this false (reflected or duplicated) ‘I’ that experiences all our pleasures and pain, all our joys and suffering. Our real ‘I’ – the Self (with a capital “S”) is the Soul in us that lies behind the ego. This limited ego-consciousness needs to be withdrawn from the mind and dissolved in the Self (like a baby salt doll thrown into the sea) or else have its effects annihilated by non-identification and non-attachment with the physical body and the thinking mind.
Yoga and meditation practice both teach us to slowly and steadily drop this identification and all its attachments. As the ego-self is gradually and progressively trained through yoga and meditation to drop its attachments, it becomes free and spontaneously withdraws inwards. Step-by-step, in deep prolonged meditation the ego-consciousness first withdraws from the body and then it withdraws from the mind. As it begins disconnecting itself from the activities of the mind and withdraws inwards it becomes aware of its original source and its oneness with that source. This process continues until the ego has expanded itself to the point of complete annihilation in the Soul (again, like the salt baby in the sea). Once the duplicate or reflected ‘I’ has merged with the real ‘I’ this is called Self-realization, samadhi or illumination, and this merging (union) is the object and true goal of all yoga and meditation practice.
“The I-ness or egoism (asmita), which arises from the ignorance, occurs due to the mistake of taking the intellect (buddhi, which knows, decides, judges, and discriminates) to itself be pure consciousness (purusha).”Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra 2:6
And, we’ll end this article with a quote from Krishnananda… “The ego is trying to practice yoga. Oh, what a pity! The ego cannot practice yoga, because the ego is to be destroyed in yoga. So how can it practice yoga? Here we have a strange difficulty, and it has to be overcome with a strange technique; that is yoga itself. Yoga is achieved by yoga itself; there is no other means.”
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras (Raja Yoga) posit the Purusha and Prakritiwhich basically categorize the sutras as a dualistic philosophy, representing both the manifest (Purusha) and the un-manifest (Prakriti). Whereas the philosophy of Advaita (literally non-dualism), is the premier and oldest of the Vedanta schools of Indian philosophy and was expounded by Adi Shankara (aka, Shankaracharya) historically, the most important teacher of the Advaita school of Vedanta.
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras
According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra’s, the nature of the problem (of Union) is that the individual is identified with his body, senses and mind which are seemingly mixed because of five klesas (aka obstacles, colorings or impurities) among which the primary one is Avidya (ignorance). The sense of ego-I established in a body/mind complex, accompanied by longing and attachment to life, are products of the klesha “Avidya.” In order to remove Avidya, one must know reality (as it is), which according to Patanjali is to separate Purusha (the individual) from Prakriti (the entirety of the cosmos, including mind, senses and elements). In other words, to reach liberation, the aspirant needs to realize (by discrimination and practice) that he is a pure and isolated spiritual entity (purusha) completely distinct from the changing (and as yet un-manifest) processes of nature (prakriti) presenting themselves in his physical body, senses and mind. According to Patanjali, Purusha and Prakriti are both real and independent, although he does say that Prakriti exists for the sake of Purusa.
So, if Purusha and Prakriti are both real and independent of each other, how can they be reconciled through the practice of yoga (union)? Normally Purusha and Prakriti are seen as one and the same, united from time immemorial. But, if through yoga the two are separated, the Purusha will recognize its original, divine glory, and on becoming liberated, reunites with the Atman, Brahman (or Self). So, the practice of yoga, especially the “Eight Limbs of Yoga,” found in chapter II of the Yoga Sutras, is a step-by-step scientific method of separating Purusha and Prakriti attaining this liberation. The Eight Limbs are commonly known as Ashtanga Yoga practice, literally defined – (ashta)-limb, (anga) practice.
Advaita is a Sanskrit word that means ‘not two.’ Advaitists insist on ‘not two’ rather than ‘only one.’ Osho explains: “The danger in saying ‘one’ is that it gives rise to the idea of two.”
Sri Shankaracharya defines the fundamental tenet of Advaita Vedanta as follows:
“Brahman is the Reality, the universe is an illusion,
The living being is Brahman alone, none else.”
His statement, although it presents the core teaching found in all the Upanishads, has evoked much criticism. Most people are naturally unable to accept the world in which they live and the things they directly perceive and experience throughout their lives as illusion.
But a spiritual aspirant may ask, “Is there a higher state to which I can wake up, so that this illusory, waking world will disappear, just like a dream world?”
The answer is a resounding “yes.” But ironically, what that higher state is no one can describe precisely. This is because non-dualism does not allow for the dichotomy of an experience and one who experiences. The experiencer is lost in the process.
The modern day teachings of Advaita Vedanta, especially as revealed by Sri Ramana Maharshi focused on the practice of Self-inquiry, called Atma-vichara in Sanskrit, which is the most important meditation practice in the Vedantic tradition. It is the main practice of the yoga of knowledge (Jnana Yoga), which itself is traditionally regarded as the highest of the yogas because it can take one most directly to liberation.
Sri Ramana seemed to teach and practice transcendence devoid of any Ashtanga Yoga overtones, except pranayama. When asked about pranayama Sri Ramana said: “This vichara brings about the desired result. For one not so advanced as to engage in it, regulation of breath is prescribed for making the mind quiescent. Quiescence lasts only so long as the breath is controlled.” And when asked; What is the need then for pranayama?
He replied: “Pranayama is meant for one who cannot directly control the thoughts. It serves as a brake to a car. But one should not stop with it but must proceed to pratyahara, dharana and dhyan. After the fruition of dhyana, the mind will come under control even in the absence of pranayama. The asanas (postures) help pranayama, which helps dhyana in its turn, and peace of mind results. Here is the purpose of Hatha Yoga.”
It is significant that there is really nothing much within the Eight Limbs of Yoga practice which is anti-thetical to Advaita Vedanta; in fact, the Yogic path actually seems to fit quite nicely with Advaitic metaphysics. In samadhi, the eighth and highest limb, the mind loses ego-awareness and becomes one with the object of meditation, but this non-dualistic experience is only “temporary” in Yoga (savikalpa Samadhi), since the ultimate goal of Patanjali’s yoga system is the discrimination of pure consciousness from all those objects it identifies with. But this experience accords very well with the Advaitic aim of “realizing the whole universe as the Self.” (nirvikalpa Samadhi).
Most students of yoga have heard of Patanjali, but if they haven’t, then it’s only a matter of time before they do. Patanjali was an Indian sage who distilled the essence of India’s spiritual/philosophical traditions, which included centuries of philosophies and practices, and condensed this knowledge into 196 “Yoga Sutras”. With these concise sutras (aka aphorisms), Patanjali codified India’s sixth philosophical system called Yoga (the other 5 being Samkhya, Nyaya, Vaisheshika, Purva Mimamsa and Vedanta) and subsequently became known as the father of Classical Yoga or as it’s commonly referred to today, Ashtanga yoga. In addition to Ashtanga Yoga, the Yoga Sutras are also sometimes referred to as Raja Yoga, or the Royal Yoga.
While Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are thought to be as old as 400 BCE, archaeological evidence and other ancient texts suggest that the methods described in the Yoga Sutras may have been practiced as early as 3000 BCE. Oral tradition asserts that the period may be even earlier.
The word ‘sutras’ is derived from the word ‘suture’, which conveys that the sentences are short, compact and stitched together. Every sutra contains a deep meaning and can stand on its own as well as be taken in context with the rest. A good analogy often used to describe the yoga sutras is a pearl necklace, where each pearl (each sutra) is complete in itself but takes its full expression when strung together with the others, like a necklace.
The condensed form of the Yoga Sutras has yet another purpose: they can be easily memorized, and that’s exactly what has happened: they’ve been memorized and chanted in Indian ashrams for well over 2000 years and that continues today.
When studied from the most basic level, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras will give us insights into the human mind, how it works and how it affects the way we perceive our circumstances, our experiences and how we feel about them. Patanjali felt our problem was our perception of the world and how it is limited to our senses and our thoughts about them. So, he suggests that in order for us to experience the enlightenment we seek and establish the freedom and liberation we desire, we need to dedicate some of our time to taking our attention away from the outside world we live in, and turn within. Most of us already know this to a certain degree; we realize that when our lives get too hectic we can get overwhelmed and our spiritual maturity is sacrificed as a result.
On a much deeper level, what Patanjali is suggesting is that when we turn our focus from the external world back to our inner selves, the path itself will slowly draw us toward the goal, increasingly unveiling the “Light of the Soul.”
Even though yoga students come from an assortment of backgrounds it is still important for each of them to know that yoga is universal and regardless of your religious orientation or whether you are a ‘believer’ or not, your practice will reflect precisely what you need at any given time. If you are inclined toward the Divine (God, the Absolute or whatever name you choose), practicing yoga will make you feel more in tune with the sanctity of life. On the other hand, if you don’t relate to such concepts, your yoga practice is likely to give you more strength and stamina to achieve what you want in life, and in all probability, you’ll slowly develop a sense of awe and an “attitude of gratitude” toward all of life.
Returning to the concept of yoga being a path toward discovering the Light of the Soul, Patanjali says that the path of yoga can help us to realize that the creative force that keeps the universe humming behind the scenes is identical to the force that keeps us going. Consciousness is what makes us aware of, and able to, express this. It can be a difficult concept to grasp but its essence is captured beautifully by Yann Martel in his novel, “Life of Pi:” “That which sustains the universe beyond thought and language, and that which is at the core of us and struggles for expression, is the same thing.The finite within the infinite, the infinite within the finite.”
Yoga even goes a step further, for as we all have heard the word Yoga means literally to yoke or unite, and means that we have the inherent potential to actually unite our soul or Individual Consciousness (life force/creative power) with Universal Consciousness (universe’s life force/creative power).
Now this is a lofty goal indeed, and patience dictates we take first things first and learn how we “turn our attention inward?” The answer to this question is Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras’ main contribution towards the goal. His sutras give us a scientific method, a set of practices and techniques to experiment with and that will slowly sharpen our awareness of our body, mind and breath. Gradually, the subtler aspects of our being start to reveal themselves.
An Overview of the Yoga Sutras and their application for students/practitioners of Yoga
Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras consist of four chapters (or books) and the most relevant to a beginning yoga practitioner today is the second chapter called Sadhana pada meaning spiritual path or spiritual practice. Central to this chapter is the description of the well known “Eightfold Path,” sometimes called “Eight Limbs of Yoga” (see link below). There are no English words that can translate perfectly these concepts which were originally written in the Sanskrit language and each word of each sutra leaves place for interpretation. The sutras need to be “decoded” so to speak, and then reviewed until they begin to make sense. Different commentaries written on the sutras must be analyzed and compared. And this can be a laborious task since in the 1980’s and 90’s, a period when yoga was rapidly gaining in popularity, many individual commentaries started to emerge and now we can find hundreds of them written by Yogis, Swamis, scholars, pandits and philosophers, all from varying perspectives and some of them more relevant than others to our contemporary life. The internet is loaded with examples of these commentaries; just do a “Google search” for Patanjali or the Yoga Sutras and explore them for yourself and see how they apply to you, your practice and your life.
If we consider Eightfold Path the core of Yoga practice, then these eight steps will indicate a logical (and scientific) pathway that leads to the attainment of physical, ethical, emotional, mental and psycho-spiritual health. Remember, Yoga does not seek to change the student or practitioner; rather, it allows the natural state of total health and integration in each of us to evolve and become a reality.
It is often quite confusing for those interested in beginning a regular yoga practice to choose from all the yoga studios online. Which style of yoga would be best suited for them, can be a major concern. Before they figure out which class they’d be most interested in taking, they need to know what the differences are. Discounting Bikrams, which is controversial (besides, all Bikrams is hot yoga, but all hot yoga is not Bikrams), the differences between the other styles aren’t so clear. Hatha and Ashtanga yoga may appear to the novice as the same style, but yet they are often found to be very different when put into actual practice.
Let’s start with Intensity
Hatha yoga is often used as an umbrella term that encompasses all styles of physical yoga practice, including Ashtanga, but yoga studios that typically promote the slower, gentler yoga classes are known as Hatha yoga. These less challenging classes are generally considered more appropriate for beginners. Even though Hatha classes are commonly taught at a relatively low intensity level, it is still best to speak with each individual instructor beforehand to decide if the class is right for you. Some yoga instructors teach Hatha yoga classes at a more strenuous level than others. Some studios assign a numerical value to the difficulty level, such as 1, 2 or 3, with level 3 being the most demanding class.
Flow (or pace)
In Sanskrit the word for flow is “Vinyasa” and this determines the difference between Hatha yoga and Ashtanga yoga in terms of the class’s structure. Whenever you see the word Vinyasa or flow added onto the end of the class or studio name, this probably means that you will be moving from Asana (posture) to asana without stopping (or in a flow). This is usually the way Ashtanga yoga is taught. Hatha yoga, on the other hand typically goes into one asana, holds the pose, and then comes out of it after a determined amount of time. With Hatha yoga there isn’t any transition between each asana as there is in Ashtanaga yoga classes.
Primary Objectives of Hatha Yoga
Hatha yoga practice focuses on perfecting the asanas and doing pranayama (breath control), to increase the flow of prana (life force) through the nadis (channels throughout the body through which the prana flows). Prana is similar to the concept of chi (or Qi). Pranayama is the scientific practice of first controlling and then directing the prana through breathing exercises. Hatha works to balance increase this flow of energy. Asana and pranayama practice are part of Ashtanga yoga as well, but they are only two of the “Eight Limbs” (aka branches or objectives) of Ashtanga.
So basically, when you join a Hatha class it means that you will get an easy, gradual introduction to the most basic yoga asanas and then strive to perfect them. It’s unlikely you’ll work up a sweat in a Hatha yoga class, but you probably will end up leaving the class feeling taller, looser, and more relaxed. Posture is also usually improved.
Primary Objective of Ashtanga Yoga
A student or practitioner of Ashtanga yoga not only works on asanas and pranayama but also all the other six limbs which are; yama (the do not’s), niyama (the do’s), pratyahara (withdrawal of senses), dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and Samadhi (bliss or effortless meditatio). The Yamas & Niyamas are yoga’s ten ethical guidelines and are the foundation of skillful living. Pratyahara is a means of withdrawing all sensory perceptions. Dharana, dhyana and samadhi are connected, being successive stages which lead to enlightenment.
Today, Ashtanga yoga is based on ancient yoga teachings that were popularized and brought to the West by K. Pattabhi Jois in the 1970s. It’s a more rigorous style of yoga that follows a specific sequence of postures similar to Vinyasa yoga (both styles links every movement to a breath). Ashtanga performs the exact same asanas in the exact same ordered sequence. This can a hot, physically demanding practice and you will break a sweat.
Hatha Yoga has become the most popular style of Yoga in the United States. It focuses on the physical well-being of a person and teaches that the body is the vehicle of the spirit. There are lot of different Yoga Styles that have their roots Hatha Yoga, but all these styles strive to balance the mind, the body, and the spirit through the asanas, although the emphasis sometimes varies. Some put the emphasis on the strict alignment of the body while others focus on the coordination of breath and asana.
Ashtanga yoga may be the perfect yoga for those who want a serious workout. Students and participants move through a series of flows, sequencing from one asana to another in order to increase strength, flexibility and stamina. This is not for beginners or anyone who taks a casual approach to fitness. Ashtanga Yoga Practice involves performing challenging sequence of poses with Ujjayi Breathing and vinyasas (a flow of postures). “Power Yoga” is based on Ashtanga.
This post begins a three part series discussing the advantages and benefits of a plant-based diet:
Part 1 – The philosophical and ethical reasons to eat a plant-based diet instead of consuming animal products.
Part 2 – Reasons why everyone should consider eating a plant-based diet.
Part 3 – Some unexpected benefits of eating A plant-based diet
We begin with Part 1 – As yogis, yoginis and students of yoga begin to seek liberation, they strive to perfect their actions and in so doing they quickly come to realize that every action is preceded by a thought. To perfect an action, thoughts must first be perfected. So, you might ask, what are perfect thoughts? Perfect thoughts are ones that are devoid of selfish motives; they’re free of anger, greed, hate, jealousy, etc.
Adopting a compassionate vegetarian diet is a good place to start if you truly intend to move toward a transcendental reality and have a lighter impact on the planet. Not everyone practices yoga asana (poses) every day, but everyone eats. And therefore everyone has the opportunity to practice compassion three times a day when they sit down to eat. This is one of the main reasons so many yoga practitioners and students choose make the change and become vegetarians.
This article is focused primarily on ethical vegetarians and foremost in the list of reasons they eat only plant-based food is in order to show compassion toward animals and other sentient beings which in turn benefits the entire planet. There are those who say they are vegetarians but still consume milk products, eggs, and fish. These are actually not strict vegetarians but “lacto-ovo” vegetarians (milk & eggs) and “pescatarians” (includes fish) and ethical vegetarians do not consume any dairy products, eggs, or fish because these are not plant-based and eating them causes great suffering to other beings and the planet. Vegans are ethical vegetarians who endeavor to extend their ethics to include not just what they eat but everything they use: including (but not limited to) food, clothing, medicine, fuel, and entertainment. When using the term vegetarianism in this article, keep in mind that refers to ethical vegetarianism or veganism.
Many, if not most meat eaters defend their food choices by claiming that it is natural, because in a natural, wild state animals eat one another. Whenever people bring this up as a rationale for eating meat, they need to be reminded that the animals that end up on their table aren’t those who eat one another in the wild. The animals that are exploited for food aren’t the lions, tigers, and bears of the world. We eat the passive ones, the vegan animals that, when given free choice, would never even think of eating the flesh of other animals, although sadly, they are forced to do just that on today’s factory farms where they are fed “enriched feed” containing dead, rendered animal parts.
The majority of Americans believe a plant-based (or vegan) diet is difficult to follow. But what does difficult mean when compared to suffering and eventually dying from heart disease caused by an animal diet high in saturated fats and cholesterol? Even so, many people will still choose to go through invasive bypass surgery or have a breast, colon section, or kidney removed. And/or they may opt to take powerful pharmaceutical drugs for the rest of their lives rather than change their diets – all because they mistakenly think veganism is drastic and extreme. Do these who choose to eat meat ever consider how difficult it is for the animals who suffer degrading confinement and cruel slaughter, dying for their dining convenience and the satisfaction of their appetites?
When yoga practitioners and students begin following the yamas prescribed in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, they begin to realize that suffering is inevitable only to those who are unenlightened (or turn a blind eye) about the truth, which exists to connect us all. Real responsibility means realizing that our own actions bring about the situation we live in and that is reflected in the first yama “Ahimsa” (non-harming). Yoga practice has the potential to heal the one common disease that we are all suffering from; the disease of disconnection. War, destruction of the environment, extinction of species, and even domestic violence, all of these originate as a result of the disease of disconnection. Others can only be abused and exploited by those who are disconnected from them and have no idea about the potent consequences inherent in their own actions. When someone feels connected, they know it’s them, as well as other living things, who will suffer from the anguish they inflict.
Eating meat and consuming animal products is a long-standing (and generally accepted) habit in American culture. Many Western yoga practitioners will argue that they have to eat meat and that they need the protein to keep up the strength required for a physically challenging asana practice. Ironically, Sri K. Pattabhi
Ever wonder what makes life a joyful experience for some, while it’s a sad, often frustration filled journey for others? Is it due to their basic disposition? Is it fate or luck? Could it be Karma? These somehow seem like excuses. You are supposed to be happy, it’s your birthright – inherently you’re supposed to be full of joy and wonder. And yet for some of us, somehow, somewhere during the course of our lives, things got out of control and we are spiraled into the monotony of everyday life and find our lives filled with conflict and suffering. We are then left with the never ending pursuit of happiness, as if it exists somewhere else.
If this is indeed the case, how do we get out of this rut? How do we find our way back to that joyful and peaceful state? Well, as the old saying goes – “When you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”
Here are five useful tips which you may find helpful on your journey to reclaim your birthright; fundamental, inherent happiness.
1st – Understand Your Problem:
The first thing you need to do is understand the root cause of your frustration and distress. Inquire as to why you are so restless and discontented? Why is so hard to return to your default state of happiness? Take a moment to pause and examine this very moment in your life and investigate your situation honestly and openly. If you do this, it is likely you’ll discover time is the root cause.
Whenever you think in terms of time, those very thoughts will bring the issue of “becoming,” into your psyche. Perhaps you are unhappy and bored with your life because you believed in an ideal or a goal to be achieved sometime in the near or distant future, and you think this will make you happy when you finally achieve it. This seeking tends to destroy the natural beauty of your life, just the way it is, right here and right now. It sabotages the wonder of the present moment and of a simple, ordinary life.
So by dropping all your ideals for a while, and just attending to your life exactly the way it is, will help you realize that happiness and joy are are as present as the nose on your face.
2nd – Learn to Live Your Passion:
One of the most important things to do in order to live a joyful, happy life is to discover your true passion and live it, passionately. If you are able do this, you will break free from the restricting clutches of society, and you’ll be immersed in doing what you really love without concern about the secular, materialistic world.
Your orientation will shift from result based to doing based, and the actions themselves will be the reward; then you will have something that can’t be lost and no one can take away from you. This unique “something” comes from deep within you.
If only all parents could learn this most important lesson. One of their biggest responsibilities is to help their child discover what it is that he or she loves to do and then provide them with the opportunity and the tools to do that without concern for success or even survival.
3rd – Establish a Basic Trust in Life:
Our faith and our trust in life will constantly be challenged and over time (if we allow it), our life will slowly be eroded away by endless failures and continuous problems, and we will be forced to strive rather than thrive. Without the establishment of a basic trust our life will be filled with worry and anxiety. How easily we can become obsessed with self-security and preservation, forcing us to rely on specific conditions for our happiness, rather than simply experiencing the joy of “being.” So instead of trusting in life and going with the flow, we become the products of fear and worry and as a result are unable to find true peace within.
When we dump burden of self-interest, a sense of great freedom and joy arise within spontaneously.
4th – Put a Stop to Isolation and Perpetual Self-Interest:
All our continual thinking about ourselves and our endless selfish activity isolates us even more from the “whole” of life. It’s like progressively building more and more walls around ourselves until we eventually find ourselves utterly alone, cut-off from the world; lonely miserable and unhappy. Change this approach by simply dropping your endless self-interest and choosing instead to live in a connected way. By uniting with all aspects of life you’ll come closer and closer to being “one” with the great play of life, and by connecting with awareness and intelligence, to both nature and all others, this will bring you to happiness.
5th – Start Meditating:
All the tips given above for being happy are really only a part of meditation. They are all based on living a meditative life. Mediation is a process which generally starts in time and then gradually transcends it. Meditation withdraws our consciousness from the superficiality of isolation (separateness), self-interest and limitation and offers it to the Spirit.
You can resurrect your inherent happiness with daily meditation, until it become habitual and seamless; so if you really want to be happy, if you really want to be at peace, then meditation is the way.
As teachers of Yoga it is important to remember that we forever remain humble students of the science. Yoga truly is a lifelong endeavor. Much more than teaching asana, the responsibilities of a Yoga teacher are many since we are in a position to greatly influence others’ lives.
The following list of ethics has been compiled to guide both the student and teacher of Yoga in their efforts to evolve spiritually:
1. Setting a good example – we must devote ourselves to practicing what we preach; not just “talking the talk” but also “walking the talk.” We need to live as close as possible to the yogic lifestyle that we recommend for our students and also the lifestyle that is prescribed by our teachers. Authenticity, both with ourselves and with our students, will not only gain their respect but will facilitate the proper atmosphere for instruction and learning.
2. Remaining students of Yoga forever – this allows us the opportunity to continuously give our students something more and to cultivate our own personal growth along with the growth of our students.
3. Conducting ourselves professionally and with integrity at all times – due to the inevitable closeness of relationships within the student/teacher dynamic, people share some of the most sensitive parts of themselves with you and their vulnerability needs to be protected. Group and individual discussions that are shared in confidence with you must not be divulged to others under any circumstances, other than an emergency.
4. Accurately relating the training that we received – not exaggerating our accomplishments (or minimizing them), but giving an accurate and honest account of what we have learned so far and who we learned it from. This honest approach empowers students to find someone who can deal with their particular or unique strengths as their teacher.
5. Treating all others will respect – this includes but is not limited to our students. Respecting the time and energy of others, giving credit where credit is due and building up the world’s “kindness reserves,” works wonders in creating an atmosphere of mutual trust.
6. Not condemning or speaking ill of any yogic path, or their teachings – striving instead to attract students based on their recognition of our own inner (and radiant) light. We as teachers need to realize that students will only find their ideal teacher when they are ready, and this may mean that sometimes we may not be the perfect teacher for them. When we have honestly assessed our own strengths, and the response from each student, we have to be ready (if need be) to graciously refer a student to another teacher who may be better suited to help them with their specific situation and/or challenges.
7. No discrimination – shown towards students as a result of their cultural background, religion, sex or gender. Remaining aware of the ultimate “oneness” we all share, this is to be reflected through every contact we have with each and every one of our students.
8. We will not allow ourselves to be an intermediary between any of the higher states of consciousness and those of our students – rather than act as a crutch for students to lean on so they may feel stronger, we’ll help them to find their own inner strength.
9. Remaining mindful of where each student is at – not expecting that everyone is starting from the same point; mentally, emotionally, physically or spiritually. Never looking down on others spiritual progression (or lack of it) we realize that this is a non-linear path. When we remove our egos from our teaching we must be prepared for the possibility that some students will take quantum leaps beyond us and then we should learn from them.
10. Resist the urge to “wow” others – it is not the point of a yoga class to attempt to impress others with your amazing physical feats (or deep philosophical wisdom) unless they specifically ask you to do so, and are completely open to it. Rather than push, we must lead through example.
11. Strive to maintain cleanliness – observing Saucha, which also means keeping different energies distinct, affects any environment where we teach, so making the space as comfortable and inviting to the student as possible is essential.
12. Remaining fully “present” when we lead a class or student – Arriving early enough to prepare ourselves for the instruction that lies ahead, this way we do not let our “mental business” interfere with the energy of the class. We first focus on calming our own minds before attempting to calm the minds of our students.
13. Always allow for physical restrictions or limitations – by offering a variety of modifications so that anyone can feel comfortable, thereby benefitting from participating in our class.
14. Realize that the teacher/student bond may be misinterpreted as a sexual attraction – an honorable amount of time (approximately 8 months to a year or more is generally recommended) should be reserved between being someone’s teacher and participating in a romantic relationship with them.
15. Enacting “tough love” – when someone is acting outside of the ethical boundaries that yoga establishes, it is our responsibility as their teacher to communicate the truth even when it may be difficult to do so. Of course, tact and a gentle attitude is the right approach.
16. Our truth may not be everyone’s truth – since we are all students of Yoga we realize the possibly that our truth may be somewhat distorted through our own egoic filters, so we allow (even encourage) our students to discover their own truth, and this may not always be in line with the class we teach. We must resist feeling angry or resentful if we ‘lose’ a student. If their path requires a different teacher we should honestly and lovingly give them our blessing on their choice to find an alternative.
17. As a full time Yoga teacher we are honored to make money from doing a fortuitous job – but since this is our primary means of sustaining ourselves financially we must continue to remind ourselves to put our practice and its teachings above the gain of monetary good at all times. In the words of Sri Krishna Pattabhi Jois: “Yoga is possible for anybody who really wants it. Yoga is universal…. But don’t approach yoga with a business mind looking for worldly gain.”
18. And lastly; remember that asana is only one small part of the entire yogic science. In his “Astadala Yogamala,” B.K.S. Iyengar wrote: “Yoga, an ancient but perfect science, deals with the evolution of humanity. This evolution includes all aspects of one’s being, from bodily health to self-realization. Yoga means union – the union of body with consciousness and consciousness with the soul. Yoga cultivates the ways of maintaining a balanced attitude in day-to-day life and endows skill in the performance of one’s actions.”
Remember, above all, the responsibility to teach the “all” of yoga to your students only as they are ready and willing to receive these teachings.
Directly following Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (book II) which describes Kriya Yoga, he explains the five main reasons we are bound, these are known as the Kleshas: 
1. Ignorance (Avidya)
2. Ego (Asmita)
3. Attachment to Pleasure (Raga)
4. Aversion to Pain (Dvesa)
5. Fear of Death (Abhinivesah)
These five afflictions are often depicted as a tree. Avidya is the trunk of the tree, and the other four Kleshas sprout from it. The Samkhya emphasis on viveka, knowing the real nature of the universe, is echoed in Classical Yoga’s emphasis on avidya, or ignorance, as the main affliction we suffer. Destroy avidya and all the other afflictions go away.
Asmita is the ego. The problem with ego is not the fact that we have one; it is useful and even necessary to have an ego in order to function and live. The problem arises when the ego believes it is the Self. If all we do is in service of the little self, our life will be sorrowful. When we serve our higher Self, liberation becomes possible.
According to Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra there are five Kleshas (aka afflictions, colorings) described (Book II-3); those Kleshas, like clever sorcerers, can knock you off balance, sidetracking from your quest for spiritual evolution.
1. Avidya (Ignorance): The inability to see things for what they really are.
Yoga Sutra (Book II-4):“Ignorance is the breeding place for all the others whether they are dormant or attenuated, partially overcome or fully operative.”
(Book II-5):“Ignorance is taking the non-eternal for the eternal, the impure for the pure, evil for good and non-self as self.”
Vidya means spiritual knowledge. The prefix ‘A’ changes the word into its opposite; without (or absence of something). Thus Avidya means the absence of spiritual or Self knowledge.
The following is an excerpt from Gregor Maehle’s commentary on Yoga Sutra II.24: “… Ignorance is the belief system that results from false knowledge (viparyaya). This false knowledge makes us believe that we are the body, that are our emotions and thoughts. Viparyaya is defined in sutra I.8 as wrong knowledge without foundation in reality. Reality is that which is permanent. Returning to the metaphor of the TV screen, we can note that, however many pictures are displayed on the screen; none will ever stick to it. New pictures will always replace them. Once the film is over, the screen will be empty. The only thing permanent here is the screen, which means the screen is the reality, whereas the pictures are only fleeting images superimposed on the screen. Although there exists a certain proximity between screen and images, both will remain forever separate. The screen won’t take on the quality of the images, nor will it altar them.
“Similar is the case with the seer and the seen. There is a certain proximity between our true nature as the immutable consciousness and the constantly changing seen, which is the body, emotions, thoughts, and so on. However, in reality they touch as little as do a screen and the images displayed on it.”
2. Asmita (Ego): The sense of “I-am-ness” or the tendency to identify with your ego.
Yoga Sutra (Book II-6):“Egoism is the identification of the power that knows with the instruments of knowing.”
The problem with ego is not the fact that we have one; it is useful, even necessary to have an ego in order to function and live. The problem arises when the ego believes it is the Self. If all we do is in service of the little self, our life will be sorrowful. Only when we recognize and serve our higher “Self” does liberation become possible.
From a spiritual perspective; identification with the ego denotes considering oneself to be distinct and/or separate from others (and the Divine) due to identification with the physical body and impressions (Samskaras) in various centers of the subtle (energetic) body. In other words, the ego-self is allowed to lead our life by us maintaining the false notion that our existence is limited to our five senses, our mind and intellect, and identifying with them to various degrees.
Gregor Maehle refers to the ego in yoga the following way: “In yoga we first learn to observe the body. Once this observation is established, we know that we are not the body but an observing agent independent of the body. Otherwise we could not observe the body. The next step is that we start observing our thoughts. Eventually, from being established in that observation, we know that we are not our thoughts, since we can detach ourselves and observe them like the thoughts of a stranger. Who are we, then, if we are not the body and not the mind (manas, the thinking principle)? The agent that claims ownership of body and mind is called ahamkara — ego. Its function, which is the erroneous commingling or mixing of seer (pure consciousness) and seeing (the mind), is called egoity or I-am-ness (asmita).”
3. Raga (Attachment to Pleasure): raja is wanting, craving, passionate attachment to beings and things. It’s the flame of desire that causes addiction to pleasure and even negative emotions.
Yoga Sutra (Book II-7):“Attachment is that magnetic pattern which clusters in pleasure and pulls one towards such experience.”
Raja can take the form of possessiveness, ownership, liking, attraction etc. It also indicates attachment to people, things, and ideas. The sense that “This is ours,” “This is mine.” It’s the most common cause of quarrels, violent conflicts, and even war. In a broader scale it’s often expressed as race, nationality; my country, my money.
In the book “Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy,” Gregor Maehle writes that: “…desire, (raga), and with it all addictions, is a clear form of misapprehension or ignorance (avidya). A drug addict might say ‘I just can’t help it; I need the drug!’ In this statement, the needing of the drug, which is the hankering after a remembered pleasure, is consciously connected with the faculty of I.”
Raga and the following Klesha (Dvesa) are often considered opposite sides of the same coin.
4. Dvesha (Aversion to Pain): The aversion to pain, this aversion emerges from previous experiences of pain and suffering. It can create a quicksand like cycle of misery and self-hatred that sucks you under and suffocates your will to evolve spiritually.
Yoga Sutra (Book II-8):“Aversion is the magnetic pattern which clusters in misery and pushes one from such experience.”
Oftentimes we can easily become subconsciously driven to avoid previously painful experiences. Our desire to protect ourselves limits our options in life, clouding our ability to see and think clearly. We tend to mistake the person, situation or object that caused us pain with the painful experience itself. When this happens we end up going to great lengths to avoid situations that we are afraid of; regardless of whether they are physical, emotional, or spiritual. Fear and hatred are the inevitable downfalls of excessive aversion.
*Note on both Raja and Dvesha: These excessive ‘attachments’ and ‘aversions’ that are being examined here are very different from the intelligent, careful and well-considered choices we are also capable of making when our perspective changes through the practice of Pratipaksha Bhavanam (a method recommended by Patanjali that helps us catch these destructive and distracting thoughts, and redirects our minds back toward the Yogic path). By cultivating opposite perspectives (by actively cultivating thoughts of the opposite nature) whenever a destructive thought arises, we increasingly expose ourselves to new, uplifting options. It can even be as simple as formulating the opposite thought.
The path of Yoga is one that helps us become aware of our unconscious thoughts and actions; gradually moving toward a life full of consciously chosen thoughts and actions. Each posture and each breath enables us to discover a fresh opportunity to distinguish between skillful, conscious decision making and subconsciously driven motivations of fear and desire.
5. Abhinivesha (Fear of Death): The fear of death (or a clinging to life).
Abhinevesha is the last of the five Kleshas. Georg Feuerstein says of this Klesha: “It is the impulse towards individuated existence and as such is a primary source of suffering.”
Yoga Sutra (Book II-9):“Flowing by its own energy, established even in the wise and in the foolish, is the unending desire for life.”
Many believe that this fear is not limited to physical death; it is the fear of the cessation of the “ego-I” narrative (Asmita) that we as individuals are “creating” during our lifes’ experience. We cling to this “ego-I” narrative because of ignorance (Avidya) of the impermanence of the mind body experience by perpetrating the misperception of ego (Asmita) as being who we are. This subsequently dilutes our focus and interferes with our ability to experience the spiritual freedom that is the goal of Yoga.
Gregor Maehle’s commentary regarding Abhinevesha: “…Vyasa deduces from the fact that all beings are afraid of death that they have experienced death and thus life before. The intensity to which all beings cling to life can only be explained through accepting that we have all experienced death as a process to be avoided at all costs.
“Shankara elaborates on Vyasa‘s argument thus: ‘Unless happiness (pleasure) had been experienced no one would pray for it. Without past experience of pain, there would be no desire to avoid it. Similarly, though the pangs of death have not been (in this life) experienced by a man either directly or by inference, the fact of his lust for life points to experience of death previously, just as there can be no experience of birth unless there has been birth.’”
Final thoughts: If this article seems like deep philosophical stuff, it’s because it is. Keep in mind that yogic philosophy developed over thousands of years of time. During most of that time there were some outstanding thinkers and philosophers in India that had nothing else to do but contemplate these larger questions concerning life and death and where we as humans beings fit into the equation.
When you are able to make peace with everyone in your life every day, then there should be no attachment, no regret, and no unfinished business. To quote the motivational speaker, Zig Zigler: “Live every day like it is your last, and one day you will be right.”