After practicing yoga for over thirty years down in the big smoke we felt called to move back into nature into an environment ideal to go deeper into the higher limbs of yoga practice. The Vedas suggest that when one comes to the middle of ones life (around 50) to change ones mode of life and spend more time on spiritual practice in nature. This mode of life is called vanaprashtha (forest dweller). This same mode of life is suggested in many yogic texts. We took that quite literally and live now on a mountaintop surrounded by ancient rainforest. Living in nature inspires our practice greatly, which we can then share when we come back into the cities to teach workshops or retreats.

This blog will give you updates of what we are currently working on and it will give us the opportunity to stay in contact with the many people and students we have worked with throughout the last few decades. Of course if you want to post any questions, your mountaintop yogis will do their best to answer them. To sign up for our newsletter please go to http://www.8limbs.com/contact-us/

Samadhi, Conditioning and Finding ones Life’s Purpose

A video in which Gregor talks about the relationship between asana, pranayama and meditation on one hand, and objective and objectless samadhi on the other. He puts this in context with the panchakosha doctrine of the Upanishads and the concepts of conditioning and subconscious imprint as described in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra. Discussed is also the influence of mind and ego on transformative states and the difference between the two samadhis and their importance for finding ones life’s purpose. To watch please click here.

Bound Half Lotus Forward Bend

Today unfortunately many students hurt their knees when performing postures and as the main culprit often the lotus and half-lotus postures are singled out. These postures, however, are completely safe as long as two things are observed:
  1. they are attempted only if the student is well-prepared through the performance of other postures in which she is to become proficient first (ideally assessed by a capable teacher).
  2. When lotus and half-lotus postures are performed scrupulous attention is paid to minor details concerning the way in which the leg is placed in and taken out of half-lotus.
I had more or less destroyed both of my knees during landscaping and furniture removal. Through following these instructions I managed to completely heal my knees despite coming from a very poor knee-background. Today I am the only member of my genetic family that never had to resort to knee surgery. (Disclaimer: Certain conditions such as a full-thickness tear of the meniscus may require surgery.) Following is a passage from my text Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Philosophy, which in the almost 12 years since publication has become a classic. It is my belief that by following these instructions you will derive similar benefit. Ardha Baddha Padma Pashimottanasana  Ardha Baddha Padma Pashimottanasana starts a new cycle of postures that combine forward bending with hip rotation. The Primary Series mainly consists of these two themes. The postures are grounding and rooting, and they form the basis of the more exhilarating themes of backbending, leg-behind-head and arm balances, which form the subject of the intermediate and advanced series. From a yogic point of view the foundation must be properly prepared before we advance to a more complex practice.

Rotation pattern

The next five postures establish the rotation pattern of the femur for the Primary Series. Sown here, this seed can eventually fructify in the performance of such complex postures as Mulabandhasana (the most extreme medial rotation) and Kandasana (the most extreme lateral rotation). The rotation pattern is as follows: _    Ardha Baddha Padma Pashimottanasana – medial rotation _    Triang Mukha Ekapada Pashimottanasana – lateral rotation _    Janushirshasana A – medial rotation _    Janushirshasana B – lateral rotation _    Janushirshasana C – medial rotation These femur rotations refer to the action performed after one has arrived in the posture. To get into the posture the action is the opposite. When the rotation pattern is performed in this way, the more challenging postures in the series, such as Marichyasana D and Baddha Konasana, become easily accessible. Inhaling, jump through to sitting and straighten the legs. An experienced practitioner would go into the posture in one breath. For the sake of precision and safety we will break this rather complex movement down into various phases, identical to the standing half lotus (Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana). Phase 1 Sitting in Dandasana, flex the right knee joint completely until your right heel touches the right buttock. If this is not possible, resort to daily practice of Virasana and Supta Virasana. (See Ardha Baddha Padmottanasana.) Phase 2 From here abduct the right thigh until the right knee touches the floor. Establish a 90° angle between the thighs. Pointing and inverting the right foot, draw the right heel into the right groin, or as close to it as possible. You are now in the position for Janushirshasana A. Transiting through this posture on the way into half lotus prepares the adductor muscle group. Keeping the foot pointed and inverted, draw the knee far out to the right to further stretch the adductors. Tight adductors constitute the main obstacle to lotus and half-lotus postures. This method gives beginners maximum opening. It is not recommended that beginners pull the foot into position without first releasing the adductors. This movement can be repeated several times to produce the desired effect.  Phase 3 Draw the heel in towards the navel. Transiting via the navel on the way into half lotus will ensure that the knee joint remains sealed. Phase 4 Now draw the right foot across to the left groin. Reach your right arm around your back to bind the right big toe. The palm faces downward. The palm facing up would lead to excessive inward rotation of the humerus and, with it, hunching of the shoulder. An inability to bind is often due to stiffness in the right shoulder because of a short pectoralis minor muscle. In this case reach the right arm far up and out to the right side. Spin the arm inward so that the palm faces backwards. Reach far behind, lowering the hand. Abduct and depress the shoulder girdle to avoid jutting the shoulder forward. As you proceed, release the muscle that draws the shoulder forward (pectoralis minor). If you still cannot reach the toe, work intelligently in Parshvottanasana, Prasarita Padottanasana C, Urdhva Dhanurasana and Upward and Downward Dog. These postures reduce tightness in the shoulders.
 
  If you are unable to bind your big toe, you are not ready to fold forward in this posture. If the foot is situated on the thigh rather than in the groin, bending forward can strain ligaments and/or damage cartilage. Instead, continue to work on opening the hips. Sit upright and keep drawing the foot upward with the left hand while you work the extended left leg. Be patient. Many of the other postures will aid the loosening of your hip joints and adductors. Then you will be able to perform the posture safely. If you managed to bind the right foot, gently place the knee out to the side and down towards the floor. The left hand reaches forward and takes the outside of the left foot. Inhaling, lift the chest and straighten the left arm. Square your hips and shoulders to the straight leg. Exhaling, fold forward. The straight left leg works in the same way as the legs in Pashimottanasana. To place the right foot into the left groin we performed outward (lateral) rotation of the thigh. To work in the posture, we now medially rotate the thigh. To aid medial rotation, keep the right foot pointed and inverted. The muscles that inwardly rotate – two hamstrings (semimembranous, semitendinous) an adductor (gracilis), an abductor (gluteus minimus) and a hip flexor cum abductor (tensor fascia latae) – all have the tendency to suck the thigh into the hip. This can lead to a build-up of tension in the knee. To counteract this, let the femur reach outward and away from the hip. This action releases the adductors, and its importance cannot be overemphasised.
Figure 11: Internal rotators
Continue to gently draw the knee down to the floor and out to the side. The ideal angle between the two thighs is around 40°, depending on the ratio between tibia and femur length of each individual. The heel of the foot sits in the navel during the entire posture. Only then the purpose of this posture, the purification of liver and spleen, can be fulfilled. Square your shoulders to the front leg and keep them at an even distance from the floor. Draw your elbows out to the side, away from each other. The sit bones ground; the buttocks spread. The crown of the head reaches towards the feet while the shoulder blades draw towards the hips. Hold for five breaths. Inhaling, lift the chest and straighten the left arm. Exhaling, take the leg out of half lotus by repeating the above steps in reverse order and then place the hands on the floor. Jump back, go through your vinyasa and perform the posture on the left. This is a modified excerpt from my 2006 text Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Philosophy.

Why neither asana nor meditation are enough

I.31 The obstacles to yoga surface as anxiety and depression and unsteadiness of body and breathing pattern. From those symptoms we can gauge that the various obstacles, some of which were listed in sutra I.30, are present. The obstacles don’t just stop at intercepting our yoga practice, but they manifest as various forms of suffering and frustration in our day-to-day life. They also – and this is very important for the physical side of yoga – manifest as unsteadiness of the body and its breathing patterns. The presence of obstacles can be deduced if one has physical difficulties in sitting peacefully in meditation or in performing pranayama exercises. Vyasa states in his commentary on the Yoga Sutra that these difficulties are not present in one of concentrated mind (ekagra chitta). The connection between mental obstacles and physical manifestation is mutual. If the mind is distracted, the life force (prana) will be scattered, which results in unsteady breathing and posture. Since thoughts and prana move together, we can steady the thoughts by smoothing the flow of the prana or we can correct the body and breath through meditation. For many people the first way is much easier, since meditation is difficult if the mind is distracted. The focus on asana and pranayama (breathing exercises) will, however, not only alleviate the symptoms of a distracted mind, it will also exercise the mind in concentration and, most importantly, it will make the flow of prana even. This in turn will still the mind. From the yogic viewpoint, it is not helpful for a beginner to start with meditation (dhyana). According to Patanjali meditation is higher yoga, and if the mind is not prepared – if it is neither single-pointed (ekagra) nor suspended (nirodha) – meditation will lead nowhere. If body and mind are prepared through the outer limbs of yoga, meditation will be successful. Frequently experienced in meditation is the ‘white-wall effect’ – daydreaming and wafting. Such meditation is detrimental, since it increases the grip of tamas and rajas. In meditation the mind needs to be bright and luminous and the intellect sharp, otherwise meditation will lead at best to the ‘bodyless’ and ‘absorbed in prakrti’ states that were discussed in sutra I.19. A Tibetan lama told me once that incorrect meditation could lead to reincarnation as a fish. He also suggested studying the facial expressions of fishes, to recognise those of certain meditators. Pattabhi Jois has stated that meditation, if performed wrongly, cannot be corrected. As the teacher cannot from the outside assess whether the student is meditating correctly or not, the correct performance of asana and pranayama must be studied first. Since they are visible, external exercises they can be corrected, and correct performance leads to correct meditation, he says. However some people are by birth or habit in a state of the single-pointed (ekagra) mind. (The yogi would say this was a result of effort performed in previous incarnations.) In Shankara’s opinion these people would be wasting their time if it were insisted they perform asana and pranayama. Cases as these, however, are considered so rare that for the purpose of this exposition we can ignore them. For the rest of us mere-mortals, a (relatively) quick road to attaining transformative states leads via a combined effort of asana, pranayama and meditation. Notice that this present sutra states that obstacles surface on the mental (mind), respiratory (prana/breath) and physical (body) levels. A trauma or strongly negative experience will not just disturb your mind. It will also be imprinted in your tissue and your respiratory strata. That’s why attempts to think positively are often met with only limited success. Have you ever noticed how even exulted meditative experiences can quickly decay into tamasic (dull) or rajasic (frantic) states of mind? This is because your predominant conditioning (vasana) consisting of millions of subconscious imprints (samskaras) does not simply go away by you thinking good thoughts or superimposing a layer of meditative experiences onto it. Consider the fact that in your DNA and tissue even the experiences of your most remote ancestors, single-cell organisms (protozoas) are stored, not to mention of our reptilian, mammalian and primate ancestry. It will take some work to undo all of that so that our decisions are not fear-based anymore like that of a protozoa. If our yogic work focuses only on one strata (such as body or mind) the predominant conditioning will simply reboot from the stratas that you have not cleansed. This is what Patanjali states in this sutra. Since conditioning and our past crystalize in body, breath and mind all these stratas need to be included in the process of yoga. Compare this to sutra II.28 where Patanjali says that “practicing all the limbs of yoga removes the impurities so that the light of knowledge and discernment shines”. The gist of these stanzas is that neither asana nor meditation alone by themselves will do the trick. Apart from many ancillaries yoga uses asana to purify the body, pranayama to purify the pranic sheath and yogic meditation to address the mind. Notice also how this approach reverberates the panchakosha model of the Taittiriya Upanishad. In order to access our deeper layers, which contain our lives purpose and transformative states, we need to first purify the three outer layers. In the language of the Taittiriya these are called anamaya kosha (body), pranamaya kosha (pranic sheath) and manomaya kosha (mind). Both the Taittiriya Upanishad and the Yoga Sutra agree that it is not enough to simply change ones body or ones mind, but that body, breath and mind need to undergo a concerted course of cultivation consisting of asana, pranayama and yogic meditation. This is a modified excerpt from my 2006 text Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Philosophy.

Forward Bending/ Pashimottanasana

I still find that the basics of forward bending are often poorly understood. Especially the importance of sacrum nutation and active release in forward bending are frequently ignored. Let’s have another look at Pashimottanasana: Sitting in Dandasana with legs straight in front of you, exhaling, reach for the big toes. The low back must be kept flat. To round the back in a seated forward bend is the equivalent of bending down from a standing position to lift a heavy object off the floor while rounding the back and keeping the legs straight. To avoid the danger of disc bulge and prolapse it is necessary to keep the low back straight in any weight-bearing situation. This includes all forward bending postures and also leg-behind-head postures like Ekapada Shirshasana. In postures where gravity is the only load, such as Karnapidasana and Bujapidasana, the spine can be safely flexed. Without resorting to bending your back and/or the use of a strap, you have two options if you are too stiff to reach the big toes in Pashimottanasana. One is to bend the knees and take the toes. This enables the pelvis to tilt forward, which is the imperative first stage of a forward bend. Keeping the iliac crests (upper front of the hip bones) in close proximity to the thighs, work on slowly straightening out the legs. Press out through the base of the feet and, at the same time, reach the sit bones away from the feet. The pubic bone slips down between the thighs. The other option is to take hold of the shins, ankles or whatever you can reach. With a firm grip, slowly work your way forward as the hamstrings lengthen. Some students will find their hamstrings so stiff that the pelvis tilts posteriorly when sitting on the floor with legs straight. This means that gravity is working against you. In this case, it is advisable to elevate the sit bones by sitting on a folded blanket. This helps to bring the pelvis upright, enabling proper alignment of the spine. Whichever approach you choose, with the inhalation lift the chest and straighten the arms. Exhaling, fold forward at the hip joints, maintaining the lift created previously. Rather then collapsing the head down towards the knees, lift the heart forward towards the toes. The work of Uddiyana Bandha is important here to support the low back. Do not breathe excessively into the belly, as is often done in forward bending, but encourage the ribcage to participate in the breathing process. The inhalation is used to reach the heart forward, whereas the exhalation is utilised by surrendering deeper into the posture. If this instruction leads to the student ‘bouncing’ up and down, we can conclude that Uddiyana Bandha is not engaged sufficiently. Let these movements be motivated from deep within, working the posture from the inside outwards. The kneecaps are permanently lifted in all forward-bending postures. As explained in Padangushtasana, the antagonist of each muscle to be stretched needs to be engaged. The muscle group being stretched here is the hamstrings; their antagonist is the quadriceps. For beginners it is often impossible to keep the kneecaps pulled up due to an inability to access the quadriceps. It may seem as if we need to grow a new nerve connection to this muscle. This learned coordination is possible through concentration and perseverance. The teacher may gently press their thumbs into both thighs to ‘awaken’ the quadriceps. In all forward bends it is important to release and spread the buttocks. The buttocks are often tightened in a fear response to the stretch felt. Tightening the buttocks, however, draws us up out of the forward bend since the gluteus maximus muscle is a hip extensor. The ligaments of the sacroiliac joints (sacrum/pelvis joints) can also be strained. Focus on releasing the buttocks, allowing them to spread, and lengthen through the low back. This is eccentric lengthening of the quadratus lumborum muscle. Eccentric lengthening means that the muscle is active, as we need it to keep the back straight, but at the same time it becomes longer as we elongate the waist. In other words the muscles lengthen against resistance. It is important to create additional space between the hipbone and the lowest rib because a shortened, contracted waist is an obstacle in all forward bending, backbending and leg-behind-head postures. The shoulders move away from the ears in Pashimottanasana. Contracting the trapezius and levator scapulae muscles hunches the shoulders around the ears and blocks the flow of energy to the cervical spine. Excessive contracting of the neck muscles can lead to a red face in forward or back bending, which indicates a constriction of the blood flow to the head. Use the anchoring of the hands to counteract this, by drawing the shoulder blades down the back, which is called depressing the shoulder girdle (latissimus dorsi), and by drawing them out to the side, called abduction of the scapulae (serratus anterior). Pashimottanasana is another great posture to demonstrate the principle of simultaneous expansion in opposing directions. The feet, the heart and the crown of the head are reaching forward to elongate the spine. The shoulder blades, the sit bones and the head of the femurs are extending backwards. The elbows and the shoulder blades reach out wide to the sides. The muscles hug the body, compressing prana into the core. The core remains open, receptive and bright. Its luminescence permeates the whole of the posture and shines forth. The paradox of active release  This is an important understanding that needs to be grasped in order to master the art of working deeply and harmoniously in all postures. Active release derives its effectiveness from the following principle: To enter a posture we use prime muscle groups that perform particular actions. Once in the posture, we must release those muscle groups and engage their antagonists to work harmoniously and more deeply into the posture. For example, to go into a backbend we engage the trunk extensors (erector spinae, quadratus lumborum). Ultimately, however, these muscles limit backbending. They shorten the back and pinch the spinous processes of the vertebrae together. Once we have arrived in a backbend we need to release the trunk extensors and instead engage the trunk flexors (abdominal muscles). This lengthens the back, creates space between the spinous processes and deepens the backbend. The same principle is applied in hip rotations such as Ardha Baddha Padma Pashimottanasana and Baddha Konasana. We laterally rotate the femur to go into hip rotations, but when in the posture we release the lateral rotators by medially rotating the femur. This action takes us much deeper into the posture. In all forward bends such as Pashimottanasana we engage the hip flexors, particularly the psoas and rectus femoris, to go into the posture. Once the hip joint is flexed to about 160° we won’t be able to close the joint any further because the bulging hip flexors are in the way. To illustrate, try out the following: Standing, bend the knee joint by merely contracting the hamstrings and the calf muscles. You will not be able to close the joint completely because the very muscles that perform the action also prevent its completion. Now use your hand to draw your heel to your buttock. At the same time resist your hand by gently attempting to straighten your leg. This slight leg extension, performed by the antagonists of the prime movers, will release and flatten out the leg flexors so that the joint can now be completely closed. In the case of Pashimottanasana the principle of active release is applied by drawing the heels down into the floor. This engages the hamstrings and enables the psoas and rectus femoris to release. Once they are released the front of the hip joint can be fully closed and the forward bend completed. This action does not mean the kneecaps will be released. The quadriceps, which pulls up the kneecaps, has four heads, rectus femoris being only one of them. If rectus femoris (the only two-joint muscle in the group) is released, the other three heads (vastus lateralis, medialis and intermedius) can still pull up the kneecap and work to extend the leg. Surrender is most important in Pashimottanasana. This posture is not about conquering the hamstrings but about letting go. To breathe into and release the hamstrings can be very upsetting. We store many powerful emotions such as suppressed anger, competitiveness and fear of inadequacy in our hamstring muscles. All suppressed emotions are potentially crippling to our health: they are toxic and have an impact on our personality. It is essential that, if strong emotions do arise when we breathe awareness into the hamstrings, we acknowledge whatever we feel and then let go of it. Breathing through a posture requires that the stretch be kept at a manageable intensity. If the stretch is too strong we will harden and numb ourselves further. One needs to stretch with compassion and intelligence. Otherwise, instead of letting go of our old unconscious conditioning, we will superimpose yet another layer of abuse. Another very important action often misunderstood is that of nutation (i.e. forward bowing or bending) of the sacrum. Unless the sacrum is nutated the low back is unlikely to be completely flat in Pashimottanasana. If we nutate the sacrum the forward bend will come from low down, which enables us the keep the spine straight rather than ending up in a forward hunched, apanic (i.e. depressing the vital force downwards) position. There is no muscle directly attached to the sacrum that can nutate it. Nutation occurs through the simultaneous application of three actions:
  1. internal rotation of the thighbones. If we make no effort to internally rotate the thighbones the feet tend to fall outwards, which makes us escape the stretch of the inner hamstrings that usually are the tightest.
  2. Tilting the anterior superior iliac spines towards each other. This movement closes or narrows the pelvis at the top.
  3. Correspondingly broaden your sit bones, let them flare out to the side. This movement widens the pelvis at the lower end.
All three movements combined will bring about nutation of the sacrum, which enables you to flatten your low back completely and depending how far you are bending forward, even inducing some lumbar lordosis. Notice that this movement also needs to be applied in back bending and Padmasana (lotus posture). Rightly executed Pashimottanasana will actually prepare us for backbends and Padmasana by teaching us to induce sacral nutation. While in back bending it is essential to keep the back arch functional and thus the sacrum and low back safe, in Padmasana sacrum nutation quickly induces ecstatic states (if combined with pranayama and yogic meditation. I have described the respective methods in two other books). Repeat the posture by holding the outsides of the feet and finally by reaching around and interlocking the fingers or clasping the wrists. Bend your legs more if necessary. These three variations of Pashimottanasana stretch the inside, outside and centre of the hamstrings, which coincide with the three separate muscles of the group: semitendinosus, semimembranosus, and biceps femoris. This post is a modified excerpt from my 2006 text Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Philosophy.  

How Does One Become Firmly Established in Practice?

Yoga Sutra I.14: One becomes firmly established in practice only after attending to it for a long time, without interruption and with an attitude of devotion. We might practise for a while and then all at once find our past conditioning overwhelms our practice efforts. We may suddenly develop anger, greed, pride, lust and envy, and wonder how that can be after all this yoga. How can we avoid succumbing to such impulses? Patanjali suggests it is by being firmly established in practice. This cannot happen all of a sudden: we are bound to have a yoyo practice at first. We may make good progress one moment and the next moment find ourselves back in our old conditioning. To really become established one needs to practise for a long time, without interruption and in a devoted way. What does a long time mean? A year is not a long time. A decade is more to the point. Several decades would be realistic. The ancient rishis are usually depicted with long beards, and they are said to have reached freedom from bondage after a lifetime of study and practice. True, some teachers have reached incredible wisdom at a young age: Shankaracharya composed the Brahma Sutra Bhasya when he was twelve. That this is not the normal course of events is reflected in the fact that both teachers are considered in their respective cultures to be of divine origin. The average yogi cannot expect to be established in truth through a few years of practice. A ‘long time’ means we make a commitment to practise, however long it takes, and are not perturbed by any setbacks. The Bhagavad Gita explains that all actions are performed by the Divine only, and so the fruits or results of those actions belong only to the Supreme Being. If I can admit that the one practising is not I, then I will not expect results. According to Patanjali, it is prakrti (nature) that practises, and we are only looking on. The Bhagavad Gita has it that the Divine operates prakrti (creative force/ nature), and so performs all actions. In both approaches, if we give up the idea of ever getting anywhere with our yoga, then we have arrived at the destination, the present moment, now. However long the practice may take does not matter any more, since we have arrived already. To practise without interruption means to do one’s formal practice daily. Some really clever people have said, ‘Yes, but if you are tired, exhausted and don’t have the time or energy to do your practice, doing it will have a detrimental effect anyway.’ This is a reasonable thought, but we should ask ourselves why we are exhausted and have no energy and time. Possibly we spend too much time running after money, or our social life takes up too much energy. Alternatively, we might have eaten too late or too much the day before or have not rested enough. Swami Hariharananda Aranya says that uninterrupted practice means constant practice. He is not referring to one’s formal practice but to mindfulness and watchfulness. The last of Patanjali’s three parameters for establishment in practice is to practise with an attitude of devotion. An example of practising with a bad attitude is to practise because one thinks one has to, for whatever reason, but actually hates what one does. This could be because: We think we have to get our frame into shape, so that others desire us. We think that, when we exercise postures more proficiently than others, we are superior to them. (The same can be said about practising meditation and samadhi.) We practise because we want to get any type of advantage over others, be it physically, mentally or spiritually. To practise with devotion is to remain grateful for being able to practise at all. It is great good fortune to have come across yoga in our lifetime. Many people have never heard about it or are never properly introduced to it; others live in a war-torn country or in economic crisis, both of which make yoga practice difficult. Again, if our body is crippled or our mind is deranged, yoga will be more difficult. It is good to keep these points in perspective. If none of them applies to us, we are in a fortunate position and need only to sustain a practice and an enthusiastic attitude towards it. Practising with devotion also means that our practice is performed with an attitude of prayer. Asana practice truly should be prayer-in-motion. Once we become aware of the fact that our life is nothing but a cosmic intelligence enacting itself through. With this awareness then we can surrender to the breath and find that the breath moves us and that we enact neither breath nor movement.  We will find then the truth of the above quote in the Bhagavad Gita, “All actions are performed by My Creative Force. Only a fool believes to be the doer.” At this point our practice will become effortless. This is a modified excerpt from my 2006 text Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Philosophy.

Karandavasana

In this article I have described Karandavasana in a way that it can be learned without a teacher lifting us up from the floor. While this may provide good exercise for the teacher I don’t think that it does much towards the student being able to perform the posture themselves. The key is to no not let it get to the point were you fall down to the floor and then can’t lift up anymore. Instead of that stop right before you would loose your composure, hold it there for a few breaths and then pull up before you fall down. By practising this daily this “point of no return” can then be gradually lowered. This means that we need to step-by-step lower the point from which we can still pull up without help. Karandavasana is the most difficult posture in the series, however, progress is possible if its phases are precisely isolated. It is essential that we isolate the movements of the hip joints from the movements of the spine and the movements of the shoulder joints to succeed in this difficult posture. We will also learn the importance of being able to revert each phase of this posture before going on to the next. As with all complex postures, here also the key is to completely break the posture down into its constituents and isolate the respective phases of the movement.

Phase I Placing the right leg correctly

Exhaling, while balancing on your forearms, place first your right leg into half-lotus. You will need sufficiently flexible hip joints, which we acquired through the practice of such postures as Baddhakonasana and Garbha Pindasana and strong lateral (external) rotators of the hip, which we acquired in Janushirshasana B and Triang Mukha Ekapada Pashimottanasana, being all part of the Primary Series. Also performing the prescribed femur rotations in Supta Vajrasana while holding on to your toes with fervour will have prepared you for this moment. You need to strongly externally rotate your femur to get into lotus without the aid of your hands. If you find you cannot get your right foot in far enough towards your left groin you may use momentum, to swipe your right foot over the left thigh. Once your right leg is in half-lotus, bend your left leg and draw the left knee towards you chest/abdomen. This will bring your legs into a similar position as they are when performing Marichyasana D, only here you are upside down. The bent left leg will help to draw the right leg deeper into half-lotus. When you cannot get any further alternately abduct and adduct the right thigh (which means to move the knee away from the centre line of your body and again back towards the midline), while continuing to flex the right knee. This will make the right foot slide over the left thigh and since you continue to flex the left thigh, the right leg will now slip deeper towards the left groin. Continue to flex the left hip to draw the left knee further towards your chest, until your right foot is firmly placed into the left groin. If your right foot does not slide up into the half-lotus position consider the same situation as in Garbha Pindasana regarding traction. The solution that worked for you there is likely to work for you here. To repeat, if you have a papery skin type (vata skin) you may find the wearing of long tights beneficial. If you have a thick watery skin (kapha skin type) you will be better of to wear shorts and sprinkle water on your thighs and feet before you perform the posture. If your skin is rather oily (pitta skin type), you could consider an oil based lubricant or emulsion. If you use this option, make sure though that you do not use too much lubricant or make your skin too slippery. You will need some amount of traction to safely perform the subsequent phases of Karandavasana.

Phase II Placing the left leg correctly

Proceed only with the next phase if your right leg is in a stable position, deeply in half-lotus. Remember that when you sit on the floor to perform Padmasana, you would never place the second leg into position before the first one is properly secured, so we will not resort to this while balancing on our arms either. Doing otherwise might endanger the knees joint of the leg that is on top. Place now the left leg into lotus by strongly externally rotating the left femur. For most students it will be helpful to swipe the leg into position using momentum, especially if you have strong bulging thighs. Once your left leg is in position, alternately adduct and abduct both thighs. Every time when you move your knees together strongly internally rotate your thighbones (similarly to the femur movement performed in Supta Vajrasana in vinyasa 9. This will annul the previous external rotation and move your legs deeply into lotus. Both feet will need to be high up in the groins with the heels close together and the femurs almost parallel to move through the next phase of Karandavasana. If you are new to this posture, I suggest that you stay here for five breaths then extend your legs slowly back up into Pincha Mayurasana and then exit as described under the heading of that posture. Do this for some time before you go on to the next phase. In these first two phases we dealt only with movements of the hip joints.  

Phase III Legs horizontal

If you are a seasoned practitioner, then slowly flex your hip joints until your folded legs are parallel to the floor and your knees are in height of your sit bones. In order to do so you need to extend your low back into the same position, which you hold in Urdhva Dandasana, the variation of headstand where you legs are parallel to the floor. Holding Urdhva Dandasana for a long time is a good training for Karandavasana. Similar to Urdhva Dandasana, so also in this phase of Karandavasana you need to draw your sit bones over the back of the head. The defining moment of this phase is that you have a distinct back bend in your low back. Balance here for five breaths or for longer if you want to build strength. Then slowly lift your knees up to the ceiling, swipe you legs out of Padmasana and exit the posture in the same way as Pincha Mayurasana. In this phase we added back extension to the movement of the hip joints.

Phase IV

If Phase III and the proper execution of its exit has become easy for you, then you are ready for the next step. Characteristic for phase IV is that we completely annul the back bend that we created in Phase III by dropping the knees further down. You may go as far as touching the thighs to your ribcage but do not go further yet. Focus on stabilizing the shoulder blades using the latissimus dorsi, lower trapezius and rhomboid muscles. Keep your humeri (arm bones) still completely flexed and resist to lower down further. Stay here for five breaths and then transit backwards through the previous phases and out of Pincha Mayurasana. If you cannot lift back up out of Phase IV then do not go any further but take the time to learn it. The further you lower down the harder will it be to come back up. You need to imprint into your body the memory that you can lift up and then you slowly extend the limit from which point you can lift up at. In this phase we flexed the hip joints to the maximum and returned the low back to neutral from extension.

Phase V flexing the back

Once you can hold and lift out of Phase IV, start to flex your trunk until your thighs are almost vertical. Your knees will rest now on your chest. If this is not the case powerfully flex your hip joints and suck your knees into your chest. Do not drop down further. Resist the temptation and stay here for five breaths before you lift back up out of the pose. If you can’t hold this phase and just drop down to rest on your arms, chances are you won’t be able to come back up. In this phase we only flexed the spine. The hip joints were fully flexed in the previous phase and the shoulder joints will be extended in the subsequent phase.

Phase VI extending the humeri

In this final phase of the descent we only add the extension of the shoulder joint. Perform this action very slowly. Suck your knees up into your armpits rather than letting them drop down to your elbows. You will need very strong abdominal muscles to isometrically maintain your curled trunk, which we luckily acquired by passionately performing Navasana in the Primary Series. You also need to isometrically[1] continue the flexion of your hip joints. You will be able to draw your knees up into your arm pits only then when you have completed isotonic[2] flexion of the hip joint and flexion of the trunk in the previous phases. We may call this the secret of successful execution of Karandavasana. Make sure that you lower down in slow motion. To land heavily on your arms is not conducive to healthy knee joints. It would be the equivalent to receiving a kick against your knees from the front when sitting in Padmasana. To collapse to the floor and disgracefully place with a thud ones derriere on the planetary surface, will supply a significant impact to your spine and more importantly what is attached to it’s other end, your brain. Having therefore landed gently on our knees and in a controlled fashion, we stay in Karandavasana for five breaths and gaze towards the nose. Sustain the sucking of your knees up into your armpits while in the state of the asana.

Phase VII Lifting back up

Inhaling, strongly suck your thighs into your chest and at the same time flex your arm bones. To do so, imagine that you would lift a heavy weight over your head. Focus on stabilizing your shoulder blades, which means to draw them towards the hip engaging latissimus dorsi and lower trapezius. Combine this action with drawing the shoulder blades in towards the spine by engaging the rhomboids and sucking the medial border of the scapulae into the posterior surface of the ribcage by engaging subscapularis and serratus anterior. Only when all of those actions are performed satisfactorily can the deltoid, triceps and pectoralis major raise the heavy weight of the trunk effectively here. Do not try yet to swing your legs up. This will move a large portion of your weight, i.e. your legs, away from the axis around which you have to lift, i.e. your shoulder joint and thus increase the total weight you will need to lift. If you have the tendency to loose your balance, i.e. falling towards the foot end of your mat, shift more weight into your hands. Continue to draw your knees into your chest by isometrically flexing your hip joints until your thighs are vertical to the floor. This is an exact reversion of phase VI. Continue to suck the thighs into your chest and start to extend your back now until it is in a neutral position. This is a reversion of phase V. Continue to extend your back by lifting your sit bones over the back of your head. Stop hip flexion and just slightly lift your legs off your ribcage. This movement reverts phase IV. In the next phase we will encounter a change of weight distribution and it is here that many students loose balance and fall out of the posture. As we slowly extend the hip joints and lift the thighs towards a horizontal position, we need to create an arch in our low back and let the sit bones travel over the back of the head to balance the weight of the legs. This annuls phase III. Continuing the inhalation, we extend the knees up to the ceiling and return the spine back to neutral. From here straighten your legs out of lotus and transit out of the posture as described under Pincha Mayurasana. This is a modified excerpt from my 2009 text Ashtanga Yoga The Intermediate Series.

I.12 The Suspension of Thought Waves is through Practice and Disidentification.

After the initial definition of yoga in sutra I.2, all terms involved (yoga, mind, fluctuations) have been defined in sutras I.2 – 11, apart from ‘suspension’ [of thought waves], which is treated in this sutra. Patanjali says here that the mind waves will cease through the application of the combined means of practice and disidentification. The important word here is ‘and’, since the application of only one of the two leads into extremes of the mind. If we practise only, then we tend to develop beliefs like ‘Our practice is the only correct practice’, ‘Only Ashtanga Yoga is the correct yoga’, ‘Only Mysore style is the correct form for a yoga class’, ‘Only the God that I worship is the true God’, ‘Capitalism is the only proper economic system’ and ‘Democracy is the only proper political system’. All these statements have in common the belief that there is one truth that excludes all others. In yoga we call this a solar attitude. It is dominant when the prana flows through the solar energy channel (pingala), which begins at the right nostril. We may also call it a tendency to fundamentalism. It prevents us from recognising that a position different from our own valid view could also be right. It is a trap of the mind, which believes to have figured out reality by imposing a particular extreme reality tunnel on it. We fall into the opposite trap, however, if we do not practise but only apply disidentification. We develop beliefs like ‘All paths lead to the same goal’, ‘It’s all yoga’, ‘Everything is holy and sacred’, ‘Everybody has to live their own truth’, Everybody has to do their own thing’, ‘All statements, philosophies and religions are valid’. All these statements have in common the belief that there are many truths, which cancel out the one truth. In yoga we call this a lunar attitude, dominant when prana flows in the lunar (ida) channel, which starts at the left nostril. A lunar attitude makes us surrender our tools before we use them, and we therefore won’t be able to change ourselves. According to the lunar attitude, I don’t have to change because I am okay as I am; in fact everybody is okay. The lunar extreme makes it impossible for us to recognise wrong views, and especially it disables us for rejecting views and values – which might be okay in general, but they aren’t the right ones for us. If everybody is okay, why does fifty per cent of mankind live in poverty? Why did we live for thousands of years in permanent warfare? Why are our prisons and mental wards full and why does planet Earth shake itself as if in an attempt to shake off mankind gone mad? We can call the lunar attitude relativism. Since everything is true only from a certain angle, we won’t have to worry about anything really. Relativism is a trap of the mind, which believes to have figured out reality by imposing on it an extreme reality tunnel. Reality according to yoga is not to be found in either extreme of the mind. It is to be found resting in the centre, unchallenged by the extremes of the mind. The centre has many names in yoga, such as Brahman, purusha and hrdaya, the heart. One of the names is sushumna, the central energy channel. When the prana flows in the central energy channel, the mind is free of solar and lunar extremes, which means that the thought waves are suspended. To reach this state, Patanjali suggests the combined application of practice and disidentification. This is paradoxical, since the two are in some ways opposed. They need to be, otherwise the mind could figure out what is going on, and then that would be just another simulation of reality and not the truth. Different to the original edition of my 2006 commentary on Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra I have here translated ‘vairagya’ not as detachment but as disidentification. This is due to T. Krishnamacharya’s statement that detachment is unsuitable for householders (grhastha), i.e. the vast majority of us. He said that for householders it was incorrect to detach themselves from their spouse, children, i.e. from ones duties towards society and from the Divine. This is a modified excerpt from my 2006 text Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Philosophy.

The Secret of Vinyasas

The secret to being able to jump through in a vinyasa is not in the ability to jump but in the ability to brake! Everyone can jump. In fact you hold yourself back from jumping if you do not have the strength to brake your jump. Your body inherently knows if you do or do not have that strength and will even override your conscious attempts to jump in order to protect you. Luckily! How brilliant is that?! Being able to brake means that you need adequate upper body strength to control the force and momentum of your entire body weight being propelled towards yours hands. Additionally, it requires substantial strength to control the transit as you descend your body towards the floor. The same forces are at play when we drop back into a backbend from standing. Supposing you have adequate flexibility to arch backwards the drop back – theoretically – should be easy as you have gravity working with you. However, this is precisely the problem! We need to control our descent against gravity to break our fall. The muscles in the front of our legs and trunk work hard to prevent us from dropping back. Dropping back is an exercise of braking. Similarly when you learn to snow ski… you’re standing on two metal blades on icy snow on a downhill slope… no wonder that skiing is about learning to brake! And in the exactly the same way, when we jump through to siting in a vinyasa, the strength required is to brake so we don’t fall. We jump and we then need to control our descent against gravity. And it requires much more effort and strength for muscles to work against gravity. What It Takes So what does it take to brake and control our transit through a vinyasa? For such a complex movement pattern it is of little help to isolate individual muscles and define what does what when. For example when you jump, whilst pushing the floor away (to not land on your face), you pull yourself up into the jump, extending the shoulder joint; to brake you have to change the movement at the shoulder joint to flexion, whilst simultaneously working the extensor muscles eccentrically to land. This may be helpful information but is not what we focus on when we actually do the movement. More important is to understand what is needed and to practice integrated movements that help us achieve that strength and control. To brake a jump from Downward Dog we need the muscles of our upper body to be strong. I have taught many groups of beginner yoga students. Doing a vinyasa for the very first time, invariably males find them easy and most of the females struggle. Males also usually have stronger upper body muscles than their female counterparts unless those females have done a lot of work with their upper body, e.g., swimming, climbing, gymnastics or playing on their hands. These activities especially develop the big players of the upper body: the lats (latissimus dorsi), the pecs (pectoralis major) and serratus anterior and especially teach us how to integrate our upper limbs into our trunk and core. Curling into a Ball Another important aspect of a vinyasa is being able to flex your trunk and curl up into a ball. Functionally our abdominal muscles tend to work in upper and lower portions. When we bend our upper body over our limbs as in a sit-up we’re mostly demanding the upper abdominals to work. When we lift our legs up toward our trunk the lower abdominals stabilise the pelvis so that the hip flexor muscles can work effectively. Vinyasas require both our upper and lower abdominals to work strongly together so we can concave the trunk and lift the legs. Of course our hip flexors also need work strongly to keep our legs hugged up to the chest. The Path Perhaps less obvious is the path you need to take when jumping through to sitting. Note in the collage how Gregor jumps his hips high in the first picture. You need to imagine you are jumping up into a pike (a half handstand). If you take a low path your hips will already be so close to the floor it will be impossible to cheat gravity. The jump-back-from-sitting part of a vinyasa will reveal the degree of strength and integration you do or, alas, do not yet have. Connecting the Dots It is not enough to have strong upper body, abdominal and hip flexor muscles. Of utmost importance is that we can integrate our limbs into our core and work our body as a cohesive whole. One simple way to develop your upper body strength and connect your arms to your spine and core is by hanging from your hands. This action enhances engagement of the all important latissimus dorsi and lower trapezius muscles and is difficult, actually impossible to replicate within an asana practice. Their connections to the spine and thoracolumbar fascia connect the arms back into our core. Even if you don’t have the strength to lift your body from here, engage your upper limbs as if you were attempting to. To incorporate the abdominals and hip flexors try lifting your knees and feet up toward your hands. This powerful action will definitely enhance your vinyasa! Lifting into Lolasana (middle picture of Gregor) is another great preparation to build the strength and integration necessary to clear the floor in a vinyasa. Be careful to not round your shoulders and use your pectoralis minor instead of your serratus anterior. If you have no ‘lift-off’ try propping your hands up on a pair of yoga blocks to give you the feel of what you need to engage. These are especially helpful for the lift-off phase of jumping back. Practice your swing here transiting from sitting to Chaturanga Dandasana or Plank Pose. The secret of vinyasas is that there is no secret. No magic trick. The fact of vinyasas is that they require a lot of strength and a little co-ordination. It may be difficult to believe that many students are concerned if they are good enough to participate in our trainings because they cannot do ‘good’ vinyasas. This saddens me because I realise that students equate physical prowess to yogic competence. Some people are naturally talented in asana, others work hard to achieve it, but a sincere, open heart and mind are much more important on the path of yoga. Always with you on the mat… Hari OM Monica

Pincha Mayurasana

Overview: With Pincha Mayurasana starts the strength section of the Intermediate Series of Ashtanga Yoga. This first posture focuses on stabilizing of the shoulderblades (scapula). Counterindication: In case of an existing shoulder injury, jumping out of the posture (vinyasa nine) may need to be modified. Practice: Inhaling, hop forward, landing your knees next to your hands. Exhaling place your forearms on the floor. Ensure that your hands are close to the front of the mat to ensure that upon exiting the posture your feet will still land on the mat. Make sure that your elbows are shoulder width apart and keep your forearms parallel throughout the performance of the Pincha Mayurasana. As beginners to the posture will have the tendency to place the elbows too far we suggest to initially check the stance in the same fashion as done in Shirshasana (headstand). Place your hands around the opposite elbows and make sure that your knuckles and fingers are outside of your elbows. Maintaining this precise distance between your elbows, now place your forearms parallel to each other and ground your hands down firmly, spreading your fingers. During the ensuing movement make sure that neither your wrists move towards each other, nor your elbows move further apart. Straighten your legs now and, walking your feet in towards your elbows as close as possible, lift your hips high over your elbows in the process. The further you can walk in, the less momentum you will need to get up into the pose making it easier to fade out that momentum and come to a point of balance on your forearms. Inhaling, lift your head and gaze towards a point between your fingertips. If you find it difficult to focus on a spot on your mat consider placing a small object in your chosen location or mark a spot on your mat. For those whose balance is unstable this will be a welcome aid. Fixing your gaze to a spot makes it much easier to establish your balance. Proceed now to kick up into the full posture one leg at a time. Students with extremely long hamstring muscles may be able to perform the movement without momentum, viz while keeping the left foot on the floor, extending the right leg up and eventually over the head and then through a mere pivoting action, lift the second leg up bringing both legs together. In general this cannot be recommended. One usually needs to twist the pelvis too much to achieve this transition and especially when done always on the same side a muscular imbalance may result in pelvic obliquity. It is therefore better to learn to kick up with straight legs, one leg after the other (scissor kick). Extend your straight right leg up into the air as high as possible without twisting your pelvis. Bend your left leg and, inhaling, push off the floor with your leg and raise the now straight left leg up until both legs meet. If you don’t make it all the way up, lift your gaze slightly. The more you lift your gaze, the more you will extend your back and neck and subsequently the higher you will lift up. If you raise your gaze too much you may drop over into a backbend. In the beginning when learning the posture, the teacher should be present to spot the student and prevent the student from overshooting the mark. Within a short time the student will have stored the memory of how much force is needed to reach the exact position will be able to perform the movement without the help of the teacher. It is also not advisable to use a wall for this purpose, as is the case with using a wall for headstand or handstand. With the safety of the wall to catch them student may not attempt and thereby learn to use only the amount of force necessary to reach the balance position. The wall is an inert, tamasic object and cannot give you feedback whether you are using too much force when kicking up. This way fine-tuning never occurs and one will become dependent on the wall like on a crutch. Students usually will become independent from the teacher from within a week to a month when learning this and similar postures. When employing a wall this independence often never occurs. Once you have learned kicking up on one side, change sides and practice kicking the other leg up first. Even if you kick up with momentum rather than resorting to flexibility, the constant use of the same leg may lay the foundation for a muscular imbalance in the pelvis. Finding one side much harder than the other obviously points towards an already existing imbalance that needs to be rectified by giving preference to your weaker side. Once you can kick up on both sides, you may practise swinging both legs up at the same time. To make this more accessible start by bending both legs during transit. Once that has become easy practise it keeping both legs straight and together in transit. This difficult movement, however, requires copious amounts of hamstring flexibility. Once you are up in Pincha Mayurasana and have established your balance, engage your abdominal muscles to flatten out your low back. Straighten up, grow as tall as you can and fully open your chest and shoulders. This is of course possible only if the humeri (arm bones) can be flexed fully[1] (arms above head position) using the deltoid and triceps muscles. Any residual stiffness in the shoulders needs to be removed first in Downward Dog and later through back bending before one is ready to attempt postures like the present one. This is the reason why any arm balances are practised only after proficiency in back bending is gained. Starting the practice of arm balances with shoulder joints that are not yet fully opened usually means that deep back bends cannot be reached anymore as any future back opening will be counteracted by the back firming effect of the arm balances. For this very reason the performance of postures like handstand etc. needs to be postponed until ones back bend is open enough to perform postures like Kapotasana and the like. Once you have gained confidence, drop your gaze between your wrists and lower your head. The action of sucking your shoulder blades into your back will bring the serratus anterior and subscapularis muscles into play. Make sure that your elbows do not turn out and that your wrists do not move closer together. If this is the case you will need to more effectively engage your infraspinatus and teres minor muscles (often fused to one muscle). Infraspinatus externally rotates the humerus (arm bone) and is of course the antagonist to the internally rotating subscapularis. You will need to use infraspinatus concentrically (shortens during use) and subscapularis eccentrically (lengthens during use). In this way the subscapularis does not internally rotate but it’s origin sucks the medium borders of the scapulae (shoulder blades) into the back. This is an important detail for the stabilisation of the shoulder joint. Do not allow a winged appearance of the shoulder blades. Take five slow breaths while looking down on the nose. On the last exhalation bend your hip joints by about 30 degrees. As you inhale strongly hook the breath into the bandhas and extend upwards, becoming as light as possible. At the peak of the inhalation, when you are most buoyant, flex both legs at the knee and then perform a kicking movement with both legs. This will reduce weight on your arms and since your hip joints are slightly flexed, the vector will not only go up but also slightly towards your elbows. Simultaneously execute a strong push with both hands as if pushing the floor away from you. Once your hands lift off, pull them out and place them further towards the foot end of your mat. The further down you can place them the softer your landing will be. Remember that this transition should not be performed with an existing shoulder injury. Especially a glenoid labrum tear is unlikely to heal if you perform rapid movements under load with your shoulders. Exhaling, catch the weight of your body with your hands and lower down slowly keeping the legs straight and flexing the feet before landing in Chaturanga Dandasana. This whole transition is very challenging of course but important nevertheless. The key is coordination and timing. The key actions of kicking into the right direction, explosively pushing with ones hands and pulling the hands out need to be performed almost simultaneously at the peak of inhalation. There is a brief moment during the descent of the legs that one feels they no longer have control of the weight of their legs and gravity takes over. You must observe this moment and before your feet reach the floor, take the opportunity to move your hands and place them in their new position. [1] Remember that raising your arms above your head is called flexing the humerus and that extending the humerus is defined as returning from flexion. This is an excerpt from my 2009 text Ashtanga Yoga The Intermediate Series – Anatomy, Mythology and Practice

The Two Meanings of the Term “Yoga”

The term “yoga” etymologically can be derived from two different Sanskrit roots. Each root assigns completely different meanings to the term. One of the meanings is predominantly used in the system of Vedanta, the other in the historical school of yoga, called Yoga Darshana. But which meaning is the one that the school of yoga assigns to its own name? The following is an excerpt from an explanation of sutra I.1 contained in my 2006 text Ashtanga Yoga Practice and Philosophy: I.1 Now then authoritative instruction in yoga. The word atha, translated here as ‘now then’, signals the start of an authoritative treatise. The Brahma Sutra, for example, starts with the stanza ‘athatho brahmajninasya’ which means ‘Then therefore inquiry into consciousness’. Patanjali’s treatise on grammar, the Mahabhasya, starts with ‘atha sabdanusasanam’, which means ‘Now then inquiry into sound’. What is implied with the use of atha is that the author is not relaying someone else’s understanding but has mastered the subject as set out in the text. In other words, the author is in a position to make such a statement. This is reflected in the fact that all later generations of yogis have accepted Patanjali as an authority. The term yoga is then defined. According to Panini,[1] the term yoga can be derived from either of two roots, yujir yoge and yujir samadhau. If we derive it out of yujir yoge it means ‘union’ or ‘bringing together’. The Bhagavad Gita accepts this meaning. The Gita teaches that there is one deep reality underlying all phenomena, which is the Supreme Being. Yoga here means to unite oneself with or merge into this underlying or deep reality. All scriptures and meditation systems that propose one truth contained in all appearances, and therefore take yoga to mean union, are called non-dualistic (meaning not-two) or monistic (from mono – one). The second root out of which we can derive the term yoga is yujir samadhau, which gives it the meaning of ‘contemplation’ or ‘absorption’. It is this meaning that the Yoga Sutra follows. The basic concept of the Yoga Sutras is that there are two separate realities, nature (prakrti) and consciousness (purusha). Yoga here means the contemplation that enables us to discriminate between the two. Scriptures and meditation systems that distinguish between two essential categories, and therefore take yoga to mean contemplation, are called dualistic. This will be covered in detail later. We know that the Yoga Sutra employs the second meaning of the word yoga (i.e. the meaning of absorption/contemplation) because of a clear statement made by the Rishi Vyasa. In his commentary on the Yoga SutraYoga Bhasya – he explained every sutra with such clarity that no misunderstanding was possible. It is mainly through the work of Vyasa that we know the meaning of the sutras. Many of them are so concise and cryptic that they cannot be understood without his explanations. It has been mentioned that Vyasa’s commentary is so important that it and Patanjali’s sutras together are regarded as virtually the one book. For today’s yoga student it is vital to realise that the historical school of yoga does not consist only of Patanjali’s sutras but also of Vyasa’s commentary and various other sub-commentaries as well. The authoritative sub-commentaries are those of Vachaspati Mishra (ninth century CE), Shankara (eighth century CE) and Vijnanabhikshu (fifteenth century CE). The authoritative twentieth-century commentary, by Hariharananda Aranya, is outstanding in its depth. All yoga masters after Vyasa accepted his commentary and wrote sub-commentaries on it.[2] The Rishi Vyasa states in his commentary on sutra I.1 that yoga means absorption/contemplation (yogah samadhih). He also explains that contemplation is a potential of the mind (chitta). This potential is dormant in most and needs to be trained and developed. Yoga, then, is the science of training the mind, and it is for those who are in need of this training. There are those who do not need the training but can see the one true reality in all appearances. They can bypass yoga and go instead to the Vedanta, which is the science of consciousness, explained by the Rishi Vyasa in the Brahma Sutra. Those who do not realise their true nature are advised to take up the study of yoga. Yoga is the process that prepares a clouded mind for self-knowledge. In other words, the study of yoga starts by us admitting our ignorance and knowing that we first have to change ourselves before we can see the truth. Neither of the two paths described in the Brahma Sutra and the Yoga Sutra is right or wrong. Rather, they apply to different students. For the advanced soul, the path of the Brahma Sutra (Vedanta) is recommended. For a more confused student, the clarifying of the mind through yoga is recommended first.     [1] Panini is the leading authority on classical Sanskrit grammar. In his Ashtadyayi he listed two thousand word roots and, out of these, with the help of rules called guna and vriddhi, we can form verbs, nouns, various endings and the like. According to western scholars he lived around 500 BCE; according to Indian tradition, however, he lived more than six thousand years ago. Patanjali wrote a commentary on Panini’s Ashtadyayi called the Great Commentary (Mahabhasya). In India it is generally understood that Patanjali the yoga master and Patanjali the grammarian are one and the same person, though some western scholars doubt this. In this text we follow respectfully the traditional Indian view. It is in the context of its tradition that yoga must be understood.   [2]With the exception of King Bhoja (tenth century), who wrote his explanation (called Raja Martanda) directly on Patanjali’s sutras.