The obstacles and their symptoms (tat) can be reduced or prevented (pratisedha) by practicing (abhyasah) focusing on one (eka) method or technique (tattva).
PRACTICAL LIVING Sutra I.30 described the nine obstacles to inner peace (or a state of Yoga), followed by Sutra I.31 explaining the five symptoms that result from the obstacles. In this current sutra, Patanjali states that in order to decrease mental agitation, we need to choose ONE object/idea/method/activity to focus on. The focus on one technique in depth decreases the mental agitation. Too many options agitate the mind. This sutra relates to Sutra I.2, which describes Yoga as the process of (1) choosing something to focus one, (2) focusing on that object and (3) sustaining that focus for a long period of time. This sutra is telling us to avoid doing too many things, but telling us to do something, which reminds us of the concept of practice and detachment (abhyasa-vairagya) seen in Sutra I.12.
If we think about times when we felt heavy, lethargic, dull or depressed (see Sutra I.30), doing something, regardless of how little effort it required, was difficult. On the other hand, when we have been frenetic, agitated and restless (see Sutra I.31) choosing only one thing to do was a struggle. In both of these extremes (either too dull or too hyperactive), we were not in a state of Yoga. If we become aware of our mental states when this happens, it is recommended to choose ONE thing to focus on – something that will bring us some calmness, some clarity. Patanjali does not say what that one thing should be – he leaves it up to each individual to figure that out for him/herself. What brings you calmness? Is it playing the guitar, chanting, journaling, pranayama, going for a walk in nature? Whatever your object of choice, Patanjali suggests that we stick to one object consistently. Choosing several objects at the same time, or choosing several different methods at different times just creates more distraction in the mind. Are you constantly changing jobs, partners or hobbies? A clear modern example of someone who is continuously choosing different objects is one who buys a different “daily deal” for a different Yoga studio every week. This person does not create relationships, community or depth in any place: they are jumping from one place to another, exacerbating the mental mania, the inner distractions that Patanjali has been referring to.
When we discover a new method (a new hobby, therapist, diet…) there is often an excitement similar to one of falling in love with a new partner. By continuously changing methods and partners we might be able to keep this excitement going for some period of time, but we will never find out what Yoga and love are truly about. The purpose of a relationship is to recognize the deepest, purest and most loving part in each other, and the purpose of yoga is to recognize that depth, purity and love in ourselves. Both are experienced by choosing to be dedicated to the same partner or the same method respectively.
Some commentators on the Yoga Sutra-s have used the metaphor of digging wells in search for water: there’s little value in digging shallow wells in several different places. After some reflection, choose ONE spot and dig deep. Even if one encounters a rock, use whatever it takes to overcome obstacle and keep digging. Only by going very deep will we experience the process of concentration and calming the mind.
IN THE YOGA WORLD Patanjali is suggesting that the object in itself is not important. Any idea, object, chant or philosophy is merely used as a symbol to hold onto as aids towards inner calmness. Since we are all different, the object of concentration will vary from one person to another. My teacher may be the perfect guide for me, but may not be for you. We often get caught up thinking that our choices, belief systems, styles of Yoga etc, are the best ones and we judge the choices of others. It is important to understand that just as I have confidence in my object, teacher, Yoga lineage or diet choices, someone else has confidence in their own. We should not disturb others in their faith, nor let ourselves get disturbed from our faith.
In my opinion, this is one of the most fascinating concepts that the Yoga Sutra-s presents: Yoga is respectful of individual differences. Our individual choices are not what make the difference, it’s our attitude of concentration and dedication to that object that will calm the mind. It’s the dedication, with enthusiasm and for a long period of time that will transform us (see Sutra I.14).
INSPIRATIONAL PERSON I have just spent 5 days with a beautiful human being: Ceci. Not only is she in my mind as I replay and reflect on the wonderful moments we spent together, but many of our conversations are applicable to this sutra. Ceci is a focused woman. She chose to raise a family and has been extremely dedicated to it for over 2 decades. In her search for personal fulfillment and a sense of purpose, life has brought her to explore new projects, leading her to start on a completely new path. She shows this stability, this focus, this deep understanding of dedication for ONE thing in many areas of her life. Like many of us, she has learned these throughout the journey. But just spending time with her is a clear example of that: when she is with you, you feel like you are the one she is choosing to focus on – you feel loved. And I did! Thank you Ces, for the profound conversations, the laughter, the hugs, and for teaching me so much through simply being YOU. Love you soooo much!
Do you have any experiences you would like to share? Please interact as much as you like – everyone will learn from your personal experiences!
Thanks and next week we will look at how friendliness and compassion are wonderful options as a practice to cultivate more inner peace!
Pingback: Sutra I.33 – Chapter I, Sutra 33 | weeklysutra
After reflecting on this sutra, I think a good example in my life for this one is that fact that I listen to music at work. My job tends to bring on a tad bit of anxiety because I am not a huge fan of it, but focusing on my music sort of balances it out in a way. This may seem to be a bit contradictory to what yoga is because you’re supposed to choose an object, focus, and sustain, when realistically I’m performing multiple tasks while at work AND listening to my music. But I think that this is ok in my opinion. I’m obviously focusing (somewhat) on my job, but focusing on my music is what makes it all better. It calms me down and i’m better able to focus on my work.
Daniel, if it helps you focus, then it sounds like it’s a tool that works! Like sutra I.39 tells us, choose whatever works for you!
As I am in college and yoga school at the moment, im going to be honest when I say I haven’t had much time for a personal practice. And no, not because ive been partying!! Which truthfully I haven’t frequently. Anyways, have not only had no time for a physical practice, but playing guitar, drawing, singing, and baking too. On the bright side I’ve been keeping up with my diet, making my own cosmetics and such, most of my college work, and getting what is needed to be done in order to graduate from my TT program, that I’m actually very sad to leave ):
Love what you do and do what you love 🙂 . I have been with yoga for a while (since 2010) so yes, i have been faithful. I also love tennis and have played continuously for 8 years. And dancing has been on and off but always a passion to me. Too many things i love but i think i will stick with these 3 for the long haul. I have been at my job for 3 years and love it, so i will stay with it. And a new partner :)? Yeah right, find one and settle for life, maybe i should do that 🙂
Pingback: Sutra II.11 – Chapter II, Sutra 11 | weeklysutra
Even within the areas we choose to focus, there is a world of choice that can overwhelm and distract us. I have pretty consistently chosen to direct my attention to a few areas. But within those fields, to advance and deepen my practices, I must choose and sustain. This is one of the most difficult things! But it’s true that we grow the most when we dig in – to focus and to act. However, it need not be a frenetic, obsessive focus – rather to accept your choices as a given, to accept growth as a given, and to just keep moving at your own pace – you will grow and develop regardless – relax! Just let it happen at its own pace 😉
This sutra just made me realize I am on the right path in my life right now. I have a very close friend who has just been told she has hopefully a month to live. She needs a caregiver and has asked me if I will be that person for her. I have a family and a business to run. I made the choice to take care of my wonderful friend and was worried about everything else in my life falling apart. How can I do it all?? I can’t do it all! I have to focus on my friend. When I sat down with my family they supported my decision completely and said focus on Rene. I sent a message out to my clients and explained my situation to them I was amazed at the overwhelming response love and respect and offers to help. They all said they would wait for me to return to work not to worry. Focusing on my friend without all the other worries has me a better caregiver and helped me open my heart to this journey. It can be scary to let go of all our responsibilities and focus on one, but the joy and peace you feel is unbelieveable.
This sutra is fitting for the world in general as it is now. So many options, so many things you have to do, so many fun things to do and go see, so much activity going on everywhere all the time that focusing on one thing or being in the moment seems so forgotten. I realize that for myself, living in that way is too much for me. I feel like an overstimulated baby and it makes me cranky! I see friends and family go from one fun activity to the next, but because it is so constant and scattered, the enjoyment I think they should be getting out of these experiences isn’t there. For my kids, we pick at most one activity or sport at a time to be involved in. I choose to focus my free time on just a few activities that I know I really enjoy like reading or yoga or playing with the kids. As Bridget mentioned, there are still a lot of options within our focus that can distract us. I say I have book ADD because I will read a little bit of three different books in one sitting. I’m always a work in progress maintaining that focus.
I had spent most of 2014 digging many shallow wells. As 2015 approached I was challenged by my husband to take a step back and throw my focus into one professional avenue. I am a doer, someone who thrives on a huge to-do list. Actually, that was an excuse I told myself when the list got super long….I felt like the more I accomplished in a day, the more successful I was. My family started to feel the result of this and our lives got crazy. Yoga allowed be to take the step back and recognize where I was and where I needed to be to feel whole again.
It is difficult to focus on one thing. I have felt the pressure lately to work a lot, get ready for a presentation, try to squeeze in yoga practice time, have time for family and celebration, spend time with my boyfriend, meet with my study buddy, how can one do this? What I have noticed is I DO feel frazzled, that’s when I make sure I have some time for yoga because it helps me put things in perspective and just breathe. I don’t always have the option of deeply focusing on one thing, but I do have the option to take a little time to focus on yoga and healthy eating, and it is calming.
Taking on new projects seems so exciting and fun! I have to admit that I’ve been digging too many shallow wells. In addition to yoga teacher training, I’ve taken on other classes, projects and certification programs. To get organized and try to complete these projects, I’ve tried several strategies to get organized, all to no avail. This makes perfect sense! I guess it’s time to pick one and dig deep! But which one? I’m so thirsty…
I love trying new things. But when I make the decision to dig my well, I have thought a lot about what that well will look like. If I decide to focus on a job, a relationship, a hobby, I don’t give it up. I’m in it for the long haul. But that being said, I sometimes feel like I have a lot of deep wells that I am digging. I love my family, my friends, and my jobs. Not sure if that is a counter diction to this sutra………
I picked to focus on OM and it is hard. I went a couple weeks thinking of OM the bow and ego/self the arrow and aim for heart. Then to try and just roll the sound, but got caught up in how can I say/hear OM without moving my lips; then, the meaning of it, isn’t really whole lot of meaning for me. But I picked it, so I’m sticking to it. I will focus on body sensations or breathing when I am too caught up in thought, but go back to OM as main focus. Seems telling stories in brain is like a disease that nobody mentions, except here.
Once you’ve tried ‘Om’ for a while and it still isn’t working for you, then pick something else. The beauty of yoga is that it tells us that the actual object is not what is important, it is the connection to the object that really matters. Pick something that brings you to a more peaceful place within. That may be chanting “peace”, going for a walk in nature or sipping coffee quietly in the morning. These teachings are about creating a life that enhances our potential to feel joyful!