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The Rational Yoga Sutras...

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Dedicated to Honorable Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi
who has brought back Yoga to the focus of our nation
Yoga Sutras are Rational

Yoga Sutras define a set of practices that are rational. They are neither religious nor spiritual.

Patanjali's yoga sutras are a compilation of older yogic traditions. While there is a lot of debate on who exactly wrote them or when they were compiled, the fundamentals that the Yoga sutras espouse are very clear.

'Yoga' is said to be derived from the word 'Yuj', which means 'Yoking' or 'Uniting'. Yoga sutras are said to Unite or Yoke our 'Mind' 'Body' and 'Consciousness' together.

The consciousness that Yoga Sutras talk about is mostly a single-minded devotion that unites physical and mental planes, that needs to arise when we perform a task and not some mystic being. The Mind they talk about is that controls all our senses and thoughts.

Our body is the Horse, Mind is the Chariot and the Consciousness in it is the rider. If the Mind is not yoked to the body properly, then we won't be able to perform our actions well.

The Eight steps of Yoga

Yoga sutras say there are eight steps to Uniting the body, mind and inner consciousness to perform any action. When the mind and body are united with our inner consciousness, all actions that flow out add peace to us and we are highly successful. This is needed for everyone be it a laborer facing daily life challenges or scientists exploring worlds' problems or a person involved in family issues.

In rational terms Yoga sutras gives us eight steps to give our 100% to anything we do. Over a period the Yoga sutras have fallen into purely spiritual domain and till date are seen in a spiritual context. But then as any other Vedic tradition, they are very rational steps for giving our true 100% in every action we do.

Yoga sutras say there are eight steps one after another in reaching that sychronized state. One needs to start with first step and then move on to next steps. There is no way we can jump to intermediate or final step.

Unfortunately today most people see these eight steps of Yoga sutras as eight different aspects and hence end up teaching some asanas as Yoga or Pranayama as Yoga. In fact several people combine Aerobics into Asanas, remove the mind and consciousness part out and brew thier own concoction and pass it as Yoga. Some mix their personal religious preferences into Yoga.

Yoga sutras are neither religious nor spiritual. They are very rational steps provided by our ancestors to perform any action with our 100%. Hence I would strongly recommend climbing up the steps one after another.

The first step: Yama (Instantaneous Self-Control)

Yama is the first step in Yoga. Yama means Controller. Yam means to control or govern oneself. The Yama step can be practiced by anyone anywhere. It is simple self-control and self-governance.

Ahimsa or non-violence while facing violence is Yama. Controlling ourself and speaking hard truth in place of an easy lie is Yama. Not coveting one that belongs to others, though we can, is Yama. Maintaining Celibacy before getting married is Yama. Not hoarding up things that we like or that are scarce, though we can do, is Yama.

As one can see, Yama is instantaneous self-control that anyone can exercise in their daily life. This is the first step.

The second step: Niyama (Continuous Self-Control)

Niyama means practices with which we restrain ourselves. They are procedures that we follow daily as a fixed routine with which we control our body and mind.

For eg. taking bath daily is a Niyama. Doing Sandhyavandanam at a specific time is a Niyama. Doing a regular exercise at a fixed time is a Niyama.

Being happy with any work we do is a Niyama. Working Hard as part of our daily living is Niyama. Reciting/Repeating our regular pattern of life is a Niyama.

Dedicating the fruits of our actions to God, not worrying about results, but performing actions to the best of abilities again and again is Niyama.

As one can see, Niyamas are continuous self-control that one needs to exercise in their daily life. This is the second step.

The third step: Asana (Seating /Body and Mind Control)

These Asanas are most commonly known as Yoga. Many people think that Yoga means some Asanas. They are wrong. Yoga does not mean Asanas alone. Asanas are a step in Yoga.

Modern Yoga-asanas have been reduced to low-speed Aerobic exercises. But Asanas mean Seating. What do we seat..? Asanas are physical postures that seat our mind in the place where our body is. That is the key.

For eg. in Padmasana posture, the kundalini becomes on a straight line with Sahasrar Chakra, which makes it easy to invoke our consciousness. As we seat in the Lotus posture, we must focus on the consciousness within. It is easy to do this in this Asana. Try it and feel it.

There is no use in Padmasana, if we sit in the posture, but do not focus on the consciousness within. Padmasana is not a physical exercise.

Similarly Surya Namaskara is a set of Asanas. In each Asana the mind is placed where the body is. As we fold the hands together in a salutatory gesture, our thoughts must focus either on Surya or on our internal consciousness. In every Asana that follows our mind should follow the posture of the body and focus on it.

Asanas provide a great practice for harmonizing body and mind. This is the benefit of Asanas.

If one has practiced Yama and Niyama, then Asanas come easy. After practicing Yama, Niyama and Asanas only, a person is ready to move on to next step.

The fourth step: Pranayama : Breath Control

Pranayama calls for controlling breathe in a specific way, harmonizing it with our mind. It is about slowly breathing, a meditative thought synchronized to breathing, pulling down the blood pressure and ensuring our thought, breathe and our consciousness remain synchronized.

It is done by reciting the seven vyahrities and Gayatri mantra while breathing in, holding it for a moment and breathing out reciting mantra pushpam.

When we breathe in, we say we want the savitr that manifests in the seven worlds to manifest and inspire us. When we breathe out, we say light is the essence of immortality and the initiator in the three worlds of this Universe. The importance here is not the mantras themselves, but slow breathing with a meditative thought. We can structure the meditative thought that goes with our breathing to anything we want (this is my view).

Essentially we meditate on these thoughts with slow breathing. As the breathing per minute comes down, the blood pressure falls down. Our mind listens to our thought, it gets synchronized.

A person without self-control and without asanas can also do Pranayama. But it won't be easy. Pranayama with synchronizes breathing with meditation requires a lot of self-control and stable physical posturing. Hence a person who practices self-control and asanas is better equipped to do an effective Pranayama.

The fifth step: Pratyahara: Controlling the Senses

Pratyahara means withdrawal or drawing back. The attempt here is to control our senses such as hearing, sight, touch, smell etc. Pranayama itself could be used as a tool, but one needs to practice switching off and switching on senses such as hearing, smell, sight and touch at will.

Pratyahara is not a spiritual requirement. Soldiers in a battle, Astronauts in spaceships, Engineers working in critical installations, Surgeons while performing surgery should et al practice the controlling of their sensory perceptions. For them pratyahara is mandatory.

Even in our day to day life, we lose a lot of opportunities because we are unable to control our senses.

For pratyahara, Pranayama is a pre-requisite, according to the Yoga Sutras.

The sixth step: Dharana: Concentration defined as Holding the Control of body, mind and senses

DhArana is the step in which a person 'holds' the control of senses, body and mind. In a way it is 'concentration' and 'focus'. In a way it is 'consistency' of the control. It is done by focusing on something specific.

Yoga Sutras say

deśabandhaścittasya dhāraṇā
DhArana is binding/fixing thoughts on a specific region

One who can control the senses, mind and body only can hold it continuously. Hence Pratyahara is a pre-requisite for DhArana.

Most times, in spiritual world, Dharana is simply interpreted as 'concentration' and focus on God. It may be true in a way. The reality is the concentration and focus on 'anything' requires consistent control of senses, body and mind.

A person cannot achieve Concentration by any specific practice. It can only be achieved after going through Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama and Pratyahara.

Simply put DhArana is developing ability to do our work with 100% concentration and focus.

The seventh step: Dhyana : Single Minded with unchanged conviction

DhyAna means focused thought or reflection. DhyA simply means thinking (dhi is thought or consciousness). DhyAna means thinking or reflecting with our consciousness. How can we invoke this consciousness..?

Yoga sutra says

tatra pratyayaikatānatā dhyānam
There unchanged (anata) pratyaya(firm conviction) eka (one/singularity) is dhyAnam.

DhyAna comes on top of DhArna. Binding/fixing our thoughts on a region or issue is DhArna. There the single-mindedness with unchanged conviction is DhyAnam.

Thus if we perform an action holding the control of Body, Mind and Senses and on top of it be single-minded with unchanged conviction, we will be invoking our consciousness.

Any action must be performed with DhyAna, which means we perform it with body, mind and our consciousness. Consciousness here is our unchanging single-minded conviction. If an action is performed with DhyAna then its success is guaranteed. More important it adds peace to us.

In Ganapati Mantra 'Shukla ambara dharam .." we say 'Dhyayeth Sarva vigna upa Santhaye'. It means Let us perform all our actions with thoughts that reflect our consciousness so that it adds to our peace.

Simply put DhyAna ia developing ability to do our work 100% concentration invoking our consciousness, with single-minded unchanging conviction. DhyAna refers to those actions that typically last shorter periods of time, typically hours or days.

The eighth step: SamAdhi: Ultimate Union or Ultimate equipoise

Sama adhi means performing actions with excessive balance or equipoise. SamAdhi is also used to indicate an Union, Union of Body, mind and consciousness.

While DhyAna is about ability to do 100% concentration invoking consciousness for shorter periods of time, SamAdhi is about the ability to do it continuously over long periods, typically months, years or decades.

Yoga Sutras say

tad eva artha mātra nirbhāsaṃ svarūpa śūnyam iva samādhiḥ
When it becomes that the Purpose/goal/aim alone illuminates, physical self do not matter, it is samadhih.

Thus when a person is engulfed by a goal/aim and nothing matters including the physical self, then the person is in Sama adhi with the task being performed.

There are two kinds of SamAdhi.

Asamprajnata Samadhi
which means an Ultimate balance or Ultimate Union with which we are not in contact. Asamprajnata Samadhi, in a spiritual domain, is interpreted as being oneness with absolute, which is not in contact with us.

In rational terms, it is simply complete focused thinking/reflection invoking our inner consciousness on something that we are not in contact with. For eg theoretical study of dark matter or origins of Universe etc requires Asamprajnata Samadhi. People who do it give their 100%, immersed in it 100% over years or decades.

Samprajnata Samadhi
means Ultimate balance or Ultimate Union with those in contact. In a spiritual domain is interpreted as seeking oneness by questioning things around us, by interacting with those in our contact. In rational terms, it is simply complete focused thinking/reflection invoking our inner consciousness on a practical or observational aspect.

Samyama: Complete Control

DhArana is doing work with 100% Concenration of body, mind and senses. DhyAna is doing it with our inner consciousness for shorter periods of time. SamAdhi is doing our work with inner consciousness for long periods of time. These three can be put to use in various spheres of our life. This is exactly what Yoga sutras say.

Yoga sutras say

trayam ekatra saṃyamaḥ
These three together give complete control
tad jayāt prajñālokaḥ
That conquers the world of consciousness/wisdom/intelligence
tasya bhūmiṣu viniyogaḥ
of those distributed in this Earth

As one could see, the Yoga sutras do not indeed refer to any spirituality of any kind. They refer to a rational way to conquer the intelligence of this world by focused, concentrated actions.

How do we go forward..?

What our Prime Minister Narendara Modi has done is bring back light on Yoga to the society at large and in particular kids. As one could see above Yoga is a rational set of practices to conquers the intelligence of the world. There is nothing religious or spiritual about it.

But we should not limit Yoga to Yogasana and Pranayama, which is what is being done now. I am also totally against passing Yoga as a physical exercise to 'get rid of gas'. That is such a stupid statement, it insults the Yoga Sutras.

I request our honorable PM to start practices associated with Yama and Niyama in nursery, elementary school education. The Yama and Niyama practices can be modern and not religious. But they should instill a sense of discipline and order in our kids, that would lead to instantaneous and continuous self-control. They should stress on Non-violence, Cleanliness, Happiness etc as I explained in the section on Yama and Niyama. Currently our kids lack it big time.

In Elementary and High-school education we should introduce Asanas and Pranayama.

In Under-grad courses we should introduce practices for Pratyahara, DhArana and DhyAna. The practices can be modern and scientific. But the goal should be to teach youngsters how to control senses, body, mind, develop concentration and perform tasks single-mindedly with unflinching devotion (that brings up the inner consciousness) as in DhyAna.

The current approach may be a starting approach, but is highly insufficient if stopped with it.

A Yogic University

I would request our Honorable PM to initiate an University to study Yoga sutras, scientifically analayze the impact of Asanas, develop modern practices and programs towards PratyahAra, DhArana and DhyAna.

These need to be done using modern scientific approach and tools with verifiable, peer-reviewable data and analysis. Science may or may not recognize a consciousness within ourselves. Yoga recognizes it. But this difference need not be a blocker for using scientific tools and methods.

Such a modern scientific approach to enhance our Yoga sutras would be a standing legacy, even for our Prime Minister. It would also be a step in rightly re-discovering ourselves in a more rational way.


Any follower of my writings know that I am not a political fan of our Prime Minister. But the focus that he has brought on an important rational tradition of ours is extremely commendable. Since he has the understanding of our traditions, he has done it. We should support it. We should help him to steer clear this initiative of any religious color. This does not inhibit me in being a critique of several of his policies, when I feel so.

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