Sutra II.1 – Chapter II, Sutra 1

तपःस्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि क्रियायोगः I


The yoga of action (kriyayogah) involves the eagerness to act (tapah), self-reflection (svadhyaya) and letting go (isvarapranidhana).

PRACTICAL LIVING     According to several commentators of the Yoga Sutra-s, the first chapter was dedicated to those people with a stable mind, who are deeply involved in the Yoga path and simply need occasional reminders of the obstacles the mind may encounter and tools to deal with those obstacles. This second chapter, however, is dedicated to those of us who experience the ups and downs of daily living, the drama of relationships, careers and lifestyle, and the attachment to people, ideas and things. In other words, the second chapter is dedicated to many (if not most) of us. It is a practical and hands-on chapter, hence its name: sadhana, which means practice. Patanjali gives us clear instructions to help us achieve the state of Yoga: a clearer and calmer mind that is able to choose, focus and sustain (see Sutra I.2).

Chapter II begins with the concept of the yoga of action (kriyayogah). The yoga of action is a useful model for those of us desiring to change. So, if your uncle Bob is suffering from depression and obesity but he still has Twinkies for every meal, does not leave the couch and refuses any help, then he is not ready for the yoga of action. Kriyayogah suggests that if we want to change (which most of us studying Yoga do), then we can look at the three following concepts:

i. tapah: to purify the body, thoughts and emotions. This step requires action, and often a contrary action (something different from what we’ve been doing before). In order to change, we need to act, to do something. This ‘doing’ sometimes gets misunderstood in our society, which praises doing as much as possible. Patanjali’s ‘doing’ refers to acting in a way that will lead us to a calmer, a more joyful and peaceful place (which sometimes means ‘doing’ less). Transformation requires action, trying out and committing to different activities, behaviors and thoughts. But what if I’ve been doing a lot and I’m not getting the results that I want? Keep reading…

ii. svadhyaya: self-reflection. Taking action is not enough. We need to take a close look at our intentions and goals and question their value. Once we’ve established that, then studying the way we behave, speak and think need continuous attention. Self-reflection allows us to re-route when we’ve been doing the same thing over and over again and expecting different results (the definition of insanity according to Einstein or Franklin or someone…). Svadhyaya is a key step in the journey of yoga. However, since the mind is often clouded, unable to see clearly, it is suggested that we seek the help of someone else – traditionally a yoga teacher. This person should be someone we trust to look at us and guide us in a clearer direction. Like Robert Birnberg says, it is someone who points out the spinach in our teeth when we cannot see it for ourselves.

iii. isvarapranidhana: letting go of the results. It could be said that to a large extent, we have control over our actions and our self-reflection. There is, however, a huge part of life that we have no control over. We don’t know what will happen to us when we leave our homes everyday. We could meet a neighbor who gives us great news, or spill coffee on our white clothes, or see a friend on the bus that we haven’t seen in years…This is perhaps the hardest step for most of us. We have a need to control and know everything – it makes us feel safe. Patanjali will later talk about the concept of attachment and fear. Therefore, this step is perhaps the hardest one for most of us to practice. It requires trusting life. It requires a faith that we will be okay. It requires us to let go of our expectations of how we think things should be. It requires us to live in the grey area as opposed to on the extremes of black or white, right or wrong, good or bad. And this is hard, very hard. How much of our time is spent judging others? I challenge all of us to practice letting go of our deep seated judgments whenever we catch ourselves judging ourselves or others. This is why Patanjali and many other ancient texts emphasize the idea of surrender, of letting go and going with the flow – because it ultimately leads us to be lighter and freer people.

IN THE YOGA WORLD     Kriya yoga, the yoga of action, is a simple place for students to start their journey. These are steps that can be followed on a daily basis and are a yoga practice themselves. We often think of asana (yoga poses) as a yoga practice, but Patanjali begins with day-to-day behaviors. This prepares us for deeper and more subtle practices.

i. tapas: discipline. We have seen the importance of commitment in Sutra I.1. Transformation requires discipline. Self-reflection helps us choose something to do, something to focus on. Tapas, or discipline, helps us stick to that choice.

ii. svadhyaya: traditionally reflection involved the studying of sacred texts, chanting of mantras and examining the concepts offered in the scriptures, leading to growth. The more often you encounter a topic, the more you understand it. Together with a teacher, the student would turn inward and become more aware of the sources of suffering, the activities of the mind and gradually change the way they acted to calm the mind and live more joyfully.

iii. isvarapranidhana: in Samkhya philosophy, this means trusting the deepest part of us – purusha (see History). To those people with faith, this means surrendering to God. Surrendering to the Supreme, having complete faith that we will be taken care of, that whatever we have no control over that happens to us, we are able to deal with and is simply part of our journey. This means we are not the ultimate masters of our life – there is something out there bigger than us.

INSPIRATIONAL PERSON     This sutra could only be dedicated to a beautiful woman I actually refer to as ‘Ms. SUTRA II.1-ALLIEKriya Yoga’. Allie has been inspiring me for about two years. Her entire life revolves around action, self-reflection and letting go. She has applied these concepts to her life with a level of courage that is rare to see. She is brave, funny, vibrant and wise. Her commitment to Yoga and transformation awes me. Her humbleness is a lesson in itself. I have been teaching her Yoga, but I am not sure she knows how much her life teaches me. I saw her two days ago and after some reflection, she has decided to take time off to not do much – that is her tapas – doing less. Allie, you are a magnificent example of this sutra – of every single step. Thank you for being you! Love you lady!

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 see why we need to practice kriya yoga!


9 thoughts on “Sutra II.1 – Chapter II, Sutra 1

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