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Yoga sutras and gunas

The system of Yoga is best described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras. The sutras contain a whole philosophical description of yoga with 196 sutras, divided into four chapters. Each chapter contains a wealth of ideas and wisdom to guide the aspirant towards full knowledge of his/her own real nature. This knowledge leads to the experience of perfect freedom, beyond common understanding.

Patanjali assumed human form, experienced our sorrows and joys, and learned to transcend them. In the Yoga Sütras he described the ways of overcoming the afflictions of the body and the fluctuations of the mind: the obstacles to spiritual development.

In sutra 1.2, Patanjali defines yoga: Citta vrtti nirodha to describe that the mind is composed of thought modifications and activity. We seek complete cessation of this through yoga, in order to reach our natural and true nature (Sat-chit-ananda).

Purusa is the higher or pure consciousness; Prakriti is the ordinary human mind as it manifests in the world. Purusa remains the same; Prakriti is always changing. Hatha yoga helps us bring the imbalanced mind of Prakrti into quiescence by balancing the three gunas.

The gunas are:

  • Rajas (intense, dynamic change experienced as anxiety, agitation and nervousness)
  • Tamas (dullness, slow, heavy, resistance experienced as dullness, fatigue, hesitation, lethargy, doubt and depression)
  • Sattva (balanced, harmonious, clear, sustaining, experienced as true nature when Prakriti is closest to Purusa).

Parsvottanasana (Image © Yoga Robin®)

My yoga practice has given me powerful spectrums of joys and sorrows that have moved through my body to fruition and finally to freedom to transcend my weaknesses. Yoga has shown me that the truth is not found in the mind or patterns of behavior, but in surrender to my higher power. I have faced my Rajas and Tamas head on, the source of my Prakrti imbalance, in order to come to a pure state of Sattva. I do this daily.

I uniquely speak to myself through expression of thoughts and feelings in a raw poetic form that proves to be powerful and magical. Yoga stirs up the dust inside me, leaving me with clarity and undeniable truth that I never question. The practice is about training the cells in my mind-body to react more peacefully, and about training the subtle body to naturally desire equanimity.

It helps to remember sutra 2.46 Sthira-sukham-asanam as it seeks the balance between firmness and softness. These opposing, yet complementary qualities, seek refuge in my own yoga practice postures (asanam) in the form of adhering to the present sensations moving through my body by accessing my strength while stable and motionless (sthira), while not overdoing things by staying comfortable, at ease, happy and relaxed (sukha). Suffering and frustration take me away from sthira and sukham

I respect Ashtanga yoga as a ritual and moving meditation, yet I adapt while accepting my limits in the process of letting go of holding patterns and samskaras. Firmness through physical stability and mental stillness complements softening into physical possibility without force.

"It is attention without tension, loosening up without slackness" (T.K.V. Desikachar).

Firmness and softness are physical and mental, coming together as a whole. When reaching a state of equilibrium, this is sattva.

In sutra 3.56, Patanjali leaves us with a glimpse of freedom (kaivalya) once we realize the inherent separation between Prakriti and Purusa.

The final sutra 4.34 defines freedom as being at hand when each transformation is witnessed at the moment of inception as irrelevant to pure awareness. In other words, it stands alone, grounded in its very nature. Patanjali said,  

“When you are inspired by some great purpose, some extraordinary project, all your thoughts break their bonds: Your mind transcends limitations, your consciousness expands in every direction, and you find yourself in a new, great, and wonderful world. Dormant forces, faculties and talents become alive, and you discover yourself to be a greater person by far than you ever dreamed yourself to be.“