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Posts Tagged ‘yoga sutras’


Often we will be told to find “awareness,” but what does this mean? Yoga teaches that we can separate the parts of the mind. When we meditate, we find ways to observe our own reactions, subconscious impressions and emotions.

Some translations of the Yoga Sutras call the part of our mind that is able to observe itself, “the perceiver.” To me, the perceiver is the part of us that has common sense, a knowledge and acceptance of how things truly are. When we meditate, the perceiver is the accepting friend and counselor in our head. Someone once told me that common sense is not so common, but I think we call it “common” because deep down inside, we know the truth. The hard part is accepting it. Only when we are in touch with the perceiver, or our illuminated mind, will we react with common sense. If we are confused or overwhelmed with “afflictive emotions,” we will react in a destructive manner.

In this post, I will attempt to describe the difference between the perceiver and the afflictive mind in a way that we can relate to in our modern lives. I will also offer suggestions on how to tap into the perceiver while meditating or dealing with life’s problems.

The difference between the perceiver and the afflictive mind:

The perceiver is our true self. It is our higher state of awareness. The perceiver is enlightened and when we tap into it, we are in touch with what religious people call God. Non-religious people call it a higher power that can see and accept the way of nature.

The afflictive mind is not our true selves. It is simply the toxins that confuse us into being someone that we are not. The Dali Lama described it in a wonderful way. He said that our true selves are like pure water. The negative emotions such as pride, anger, hatred, jealousy etc. are toxins that cloud the water. However, pure water is still there. We simply need to rid ourselves of toxic emotions and we will find peace and knowledge.

If you are having difficulty tapping into the perceiver during meditation, simply tell yourself that you are not your anger and you are not your jealousy, etc. If you were not emotional, how would you act and how would you feel?

Pretend that you are talking to an objective friend, mentor, adviser, family member, or spiritual leader. What would that person say if you came to them for advice? If you were God or an omniscient being, how would you look at the situation?

The perceiver is detached from prejudice emotions such as greed, lust or hatred. Yet, detachment doesn’t mean that the perceiver is a sociopath or doesn’t care. It is the perceiver’s supreme love and compassion that makes it understand that all life is important and that we are all interconnected. Knowing this makes it want to help all living things and refrain from harming ourselves or others.

The afflictive mind identifies and clings to its emotions. When it is enraged, jealous, confused, or violent, it may say “this is who I am.” It may hang on to hatred for another country or person. It will unfairly side only with people who are like him/her. It cannot see how we are all connected. It grasps on to identities such as race, religion, politics and pride.

During meditation, focus on how we are all alike. We all live. We all suffer. We all feel pleasure. We all have bad days. We all get angry or frustrated. If you are having a hard time understanding someone who is being ignorant or rude, think of a time that you made a mistake and acted ignorant or rude and try to see yourself in that person.

The perceiver seeks peace.

The afflictive mind seeks trouble and drama.

When meditating, ask yourself if your thoughts and actions are bringing you to a state of peace, or if your actions and thoughts are creating more drama, confusion or trouble.

The perceiver spreads good karma. The definition of “karma” is actions and the result of what we do. Always seeking to do kindness and to spread peace, the perceiver creates success for him/herself. On a small scale, the ability to stay calm and make wise decisions brings the perceiver success in business and relationships. On a higher scale, people may gravitate to the perceiver and his/her wisdom helps people beyond him/herself. These actions also help future generations

The afflictive mind spreads bad karma. The confused mind attaches itself to emotions and reacts with violence, or trouble. This creates drama that could lead to altercations with friends, relatives, co-workers and the law. This bad karma will lead to lack of success and a sad life. On a grand scale, this suffering can spread to others, perpetuating the cycle of war and violence. These actions can be passed on to children and future generations.

Meditating on karma is a very serious matter. Look at how the actions of others have affected you. For example, someone might have insulted you and this has made you angry. In turn, you insult another. If this cycle goes on, it could escalate to more people. Make a choice to become aware and end this cycle.

Choose to smile instead. Say something kind to another. This kindness will spread and will lead to a better environment for you and everyone else.

The perceiver takes responsibility for his/her actions and seeks to find solutions to life’s problems.

The afflictive mind blames everyone and everything else for his/her problems. Passing blame onto others, he/she  relinquishes self responsibility and free will, never finding solutions.

When faced with a problem, take the blame off of others. Instead, take full responsibility. Start brain storming solutions. Ask yourself what you can do and search your mind for solutions. Maybe even research the internet. Write down as many solutions you can.

If we focus on the solution, the universe will reward us with solutions. If we focus on the problem, the universe will react by bringing more problems.

The perceiver is accepting and forgiving of the self and of others. The perceiver knows that the self and others have afflictive emotions. It knows that problems are temporary. It knows that these emotions do not represent who we truly are and it forgives itself and others, choosing unconditional love over judgment and self loathing. By not holding grudges and hanging on to afflictive emotions, peace is easier to find.

The afflictive mind gets angry and frustrated at itself. This makes failures and life’s problems bigger than they really are. It is also hard on others and gets easily insulted when other people have afflictive emotions. The afflictive mind just can’t let go and find peace.

When faced with the ups and downs of life, feeling guilty and beating yourself up will only worsen the problem.

Also, passing judgment on others only feeds the afflictive mind which is obsessed with anger.

Forgive yourself and others.  When you forgive another person, you do it for yourself, so that anger and loathing does not ruin our own life. You’ll be amazed at how much ending a grudge will allow you to focus on bigger and better things.

Ask yourself how the person who has wronged you has made you stronger and thank them for the lesson.

The perceiver understands when there is too much or too little of a good thing. It practices discipline and moderation. It treats the body and mind with compassion.

The afflictive mind may over indulge in pleasurable activities until they become destructive. It might seek to escape in drugs, eating disorders, alcoholism, gambling and other vices out of frustration and self loathing.

Practice awareness in everything you do. Pay attention to how you feel. Take a moment to breathe while you are eating. When exercising, take a moment to see how you feel in order to avoid injuries.

When escaping into drugs or overindulging in any act, ask yourself if this is helping your situation.

If you still can’t stop overindulging, seek outside help.

Because the perceiver has a higher view of the universe, it is stronger in character and principle. It is less easily swayed by suggestion, peer pressure or manipulation.

The afflictive mind is easily swayed by commercials, subliminal messages, insults and psychological conditioning. Some people seek therapy and yoga to find their perceiver because their lives have been controlled by negative conditioning in the past.  The perceiver can stand outside of the mind and see when it has been manipulated.

When you feel strong feelings arise in you, think before you react. Look at your past and ask yourself how your past experiences could have positively or negatively lead to how you react to events today.

When you find yourself wanting to own something just because of commercial advertising, ask yourself you truly need that item and if it is worth the cost.

Turn off the TV and computer now and then to clear your mind of clutter. With the rise of social networking, websites such a facebook can lead to addiction.

The perceiver is the angel on your shoulder. The perceiver is the sensible part of yourself that tells you when you are getting into trouble. It is your higher intuition.

The afflictive mind is the devil on your shoulder. The afflictive mind doesn’t listen to its higher intuition and chooses the lower path which often leads to trouble and regret.

There is an old Native American parable that goes: There is a fight going on inside me between two wolves. One is angry, and full of destructive emotions. The other is happy, calm and full of love.

Which one wins?

The one we feed.

When you feel afflictive emotions rising in you, try not to feed them by seeking council with people who patronize them by perpetuating malicious gossip and hate. Tell yourself that you don’t want these emotions inside of you. Find friends that are objective. Surround yourself with positive influences. Keep practicing awareness. It will come in handy during challenging times. Keep books, poems, essays, mantras, letters or songs of wisdom handy and turn to them when you find yourself feeling negative. Over time, the positive and more intelligent and intuitive part of your mind will win over the negative and destructive part of your mind because you choose to feed it more.

For more insight on how I asked a family member to be “the angel on my shoulder,” check out this link:

For more insight on  meditation, check out this link:

For more information of the wisdom of the yoga sutras, check out this link:

For more insight on the act of compassion, check out this link:

PostHeaderIcon Yoga and the Eight Fold Path

This post is a very general overview of the Eight Fold Path as represented by the Yoga Sutras which were written by Pantanjali about two thousand years ago.  I plan to write more in depth posts on the deeper aspects of the Sutras in the future.

Raja Yoga, the Eightfold Path, the Sutras Pt. I

These are the eight limbs:
1) the Yamas
2) the Niyamas
3) Asana
4) Pranayama
5) Pratyahara
6) Dharana
7) Dhyana
8) Samadhi

The first two limbs (the Yamas and the Niyamas) are broken down into subcategories.
The yamas mean “restraints”
The niyamas mean “observances”

I have heard the five yamas and five niyamas referred two as the ten commandments of yoga.

The five yamas are:

Ahisma (non-violence) Making a concerted effort not to harm one-self or others in speech or in deed.
Satya (truthfulness) do not deceive yourself or others.
Asteya (non-stealing)
Brahmacarya (sexual restraint) in today’s world, people have referred to this not only in a sexual manner.  You should not use too much energy.  Over exertion or doing things to an extreme is unhealthy.  For example, eating more than you need without conservation will lead to obesity and waste.  Not respecting your sexuality can lead to trouble and we should conserve some of that energy for spiritual matters.
Apiragraha (non-greed) we should not try to get more than we need.  This can lead to obsession and unhappiness.

This first step deals with restraint and discipline.  Many people never pass this first stage.  The reason is, if you only restrain yourself but don’t give yourself anything, you will feel empty.  So we must continue on this path in order to fill ourselves with meaningful purpose.  For example, if you make a choice to stop doing violence to yourself and end your addiction to drugs, you must then find something positive to focus on in order to replace that old habit and that is why we need to practice the Niyamas.

The five Niyamas are:

Sauca (cleanliness)  this category has its own subcategories of detoxification such as diets. There are also exercises that can be done to cleans out the organs. This is also referring to purity of the mind and looking to cultivate our thoughts internally so as not to be effected by the external.
Santosa (contentment) not complacency but acceptance.  This step reminds me of the classic prayer “Lord, give me the strength to change the things I can change, the patience to accept the things I can’t change, and the wisdom to know the difference.”
Tapas (commitment and passion for your practice)
Svadhaya (self study) Alexander Pope once said, “Know then yourself.  Presume not God to scan.  The proper study of mankind is man.”  Before you can start knowing the secrets of the universe, you must first learn to study yourself.
Isvara Prandihara (surrender to god or a higher power) to me, this step has to do with faith.  If you believe there is a higher power, even if that power is yourself, that faith will carry you along.  You need to believe in what you are doing.

When I read this section of the sutras, I remember there being a lot said about really seeing things as they are.  If you can truly discipline yourself and make an effort to understand yourself objectively, the rose colored glasses start to clear up.  Our own prejudices or ego stops getting in the way of seeing things as they are.  In many doctrines or self help books, we learn that the first step of learning is freeing ourselves of the ego.  Just the other day, I was reading a book about how to self-publish your own book.  The author said that when someone is editing your book, don’t question what they say and put your ego aside.  This is the only way to learn and to make positive leaps forward.

Raja Yoga, the Eightfold Path, the Sutras Pt. II

The third step of the path is Asana.  This is what people are practicing in gyms around the world.  Asana is the art of holding your body in certain poses.  It deals with hatha or physical yoga.  Masters of this step can contort their body in all kinds of positions.  They can balance on their fingers and heads.  They are extremely strong and flexible.  The great masters of asana have been the longest surviving yogis.  BKS Iyengar is 92 years old.  He started studying hatha yoga due to being very ill.  Now he’s in top physical condition and still traveling the world teaching.  His teacher, Krishnamacharya lived to be 100.  I attribute this heartiness to their level of fitness. I’m a fitness professional and I find asana to be a more intense discipline than many others.  It takes a lot of core strength and stamina.

Of course yoga doesn’t have to be a superhuman physical task. In can consist of gentle stretches. The direct translation of “asana” is posture. Simply focusing on sitting, standing or doing other movements with correct posture is Hatha Yoga. There have been some recent studies proving that simply changing your posture can change your hormonal states, your emotions and other aspects of the self. Self help gurus such as Anthony Robbins teach us to stand up straight in order to change our mental and emotional states.

Step four is Pranayama.

I learned to truly appreciate this step when I attended the acting conservatory in New York.  The voice and speech classes were very intense.  I learned right away that I was breathing incorrectly.  I was tensing my abdominals and freezing up my diaphragm, not allowing the air to enter.  I was breathing shallow but I didn’t know it.  When I learned to breathe deep, I learned to relax.  I learned to heal myself.  Gaining control of something so basic helped me gain control over little aspects of my body that I took for granted before.  I learned to release tension where I didn’t even know I had it.  I learned to slow down my heart rate.  Learning breath control helps you focus your mind and calm your body.  Most importantly, it bridges the mind and body gap.  It helps your mind become more aware of the very subtle an internal workings of your body.  We cannot survive a few minutes without air.  It is the most essential energy we need and breath control helps us tap into that very powerful energy.

Raja Yoga, the Eightfold Path, the Sutras etc. Pt. III

So you have done the Yamas and the Niyamas and your body and mind are clean and you have adjusted your attitude so you can more easily open your mind to learning.

You have started and have gotten used to the yoga asanas or poses so now your body is stronger, more flexible and more efficient.  You are physically more balanced and have better control over your hormones rather than your hormones controlling you.

You have started mastering breath control and have learned to use your breath to still your mind and body by practicing pranayama.

Now that you have come to this level of health and stillness, you are ready to look within yourself.  This step is called Pratyahara.

Just from practicing the first three limbs, you have already heightened your awareness.  By using your breath and poses, you are more in sync with where there is pain and tension in your body and how the energy flows within it.  Looking within is the opposite of detachment because you take the time to really feel your senses and understand yourself.  At the same time, detachment is important because it helps us understand why we react the way we do.  For example, someone who is not aware of themselves might react emotionally to life events that remind them of stressful things that happened in their past.  For example, if a person just came out of an abusive relationship, a co-worker who acts like their ex, might make them feel hostility.  They may not be aware of these feelings.  But someone who practices pratyahara might realize this right away.  They might also realize something so simple as how eating too much sugar affects their demeanor or energy level.

The next step, dharana means focus or concentration.  Now that the mind and body is sound, it is able to focus.  It also means study.  The practitioner is ready to study life.  The sutras name off a bunch of things the practitioner can study such as time, nature and the list goes on and on.  Studying brings knowledge and knowledge brings greater awareness.  Awareness brings more choices and alternatives.  We find answers we never knew were there.

The second to last step is called dhyana.  This means meditation.  A person who is focused can still be interrupted but a person who is meditating is completely immersed in the subject of study.  As it was put to me; Concentration is like watching water pour out of a pitcher.  It trickles because there are still spaces where there is no water.  Mediation is like watching oil pour out.  It is smooth and together.  There are no spaces.  When we meditate, we still our mind and focus on that one thing.  Distractions no longer bother us.  This type of concentration can purify our ability to learn.  When I was studying yoga, a teacher told us all to meditate five times that week.  It was interesting how everyone found parts of their lives that needed attention.  What amazed me is how mediation helped everyone either find answers or realize that their problems were really not so bad.  It is a truly powerful tool.

The final limb is called Samadhi.  This is what many refer to as enlightenment.  It has been described many ways by those who have felt it.  It is a higher level of mediation where all boundaries are bridged.  Everything that once seemed separate becomes one.  Some of us have reached this state in our practice or in art or in just little moments here and there but reaching it permanently is difficult and requires a sound mind, body and soul.  The sutras do warn that regression is common so enjoy your moments of Samdhi when they come.

Well, that’s raja yoga in a nutshell.

Namaste    ;D

By Rhea Morales