विषयवती वा प्रवृत्तिरुत्पन्ना मनसः स्थितिनिबन्धिनी॥३५॥
visayavati va pravrttih-utpanna manasah sthiti-nibandhini
Or (va) inner peace can be created (utpanna) by becoming aware of the senses (visayavati), which helps us maintain steadiness (sthiti) of the mind (manasah).
PRACTICAL LIVING Here Patanjali offers another suggestion in our path to calming the mind and experiencing more clarity and awareness: observe the senses by focusing on one particular object. Our five senses (smell, sight, hearing, taste and touch) continuously shower us with information regarding our surroundings. We can feel the delicate landing of a butterfly on our hand and see its beauty at the same time. We can listen to the soothing sound of the ocean, feel its cleansing powers as we bathe in it and smell and taste its saltiness simultaneously.
Patanjali tells us that the senses can be powerful in different ways: they can help us appreciate the world in a deeper way, or they can agitate us and disconnect us from our internal worlds. Imagine that the 5 senses are 5 horses. Each horse has individual reigns but they are all connected to a chariot. The charioteer is the mind. If the horses take over and the charioteer loses control, the horses will take the charioteer wherever they want to go. This is what happens to many of us, most of the time: we live as slaves to our senses. The senses can bring us momentary pleasure, which is great, but they do not lead us to our internal peace. On the contrary, if we allow them to rule our lives, we end up suffering, grabbing every pleasureful experience we can find, believing that will bring us peace (a new home, a partner, a chocolate cookie, one more drink, the latest iPhone, etc).
Here Patanjali suggests we use the senses as our object of meditation. This can be done is many ways. In all of the following examples, the mind is in charge and uses the senses to bring enjoyment to life – but with awareness. Below are some examples, pick ONE and practice that daily for the next week:
1. If your senses continuously draw you towards shopping, eating, drinking or watching TV, before you automatically engage in that activity, pause. Close the eyes and notice what is happening inside. Meditate, become aware of the sensations occurring just before the action takes place.
2. Choose an object of sensual pleasure to focus on. This can be anything from watching a sunset, eating cold watermelon, making love, listening to your favorite song, or petting your dog. Commit to being aware, to noticing every single sensation while you perform that act – be present. Did your experience change by just committing to being aware?
3. Sit in silence with the eyes closed. Begin to connect with your breath, in and out through the nose. Once you have found a calming rhythm, notice the cool air coming into your nostrils with each inhale and feel the cool air coming our of your nostrils with every exhale. Start with 2 minutes and gradually build up a daily practice of 10 minutes.
IN THE YOGA WORLD Yoga has received a lot of criticism lately for having been undervalued, where only the asana-s (yoga poses) are taught and none of the other tools or the philosophy gets transmitted to students. In my opinion, this is true. However, the concentration that is required to commit to an asana practice and evolve in it also has its value. As a student, we want immediate results. Asana can provide us with those by either removing physical discomfort, boosting the self-esteem when we achieve a pose we were not able to do before, or by simply making us feel better at the end of a practice. With awareness, the physical body can be the object of meditation for person during an asana practice. Being in tune with a specific part of the body in different poses helps the mind focus and remain calm and steady.
Vyasa, an important commentator on the Yoga Sutra-s of Patanjali, mentions that focusing on certain physical points for a long period of time and with consistency leads to extraordinary sensory capacities:
- tip of the nose – supersensory smell
- tip of the tongue – supersensory taste
- palate – supersensory sight
- middle of the tongue – supersensory touch
- root of the tongue – supersensory hearing
The main point here is to find an object that we can commit to regularly. The concentration on that object will evolve, bringing the mind from state of agitation and suffering to one of calmness and steadiness. What will you commit? If in doubt, find a teacher who can guide you.
INSPIRATIONAL PERSON Elena, my dear and lovely cousin is the amazing person that comes to mind this week. Like most of us, her life has been a movement of ups and downs, of easy and super hard times. I grew up with her and she was definitely a child who was lead by her senses (like most children). But seeing her now, decades later, it is beautiful to see how she has come to find more calmness, confidence and peace in her life. Like Desikachar says, we know Yoga is working for you if your relationships are getting better. I see Elena surrounded by amazing people and cultivating rich friendships: her Yoga is working! She is now bringing a little girl into the world – one who is lucky to have her as this wise, ever-growing woman who wants the best for those around her. Thank you Ele for the friendship we’ve been cultivating in the recent past: it adds lot’s of joy to my life! Love you prima!