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Yoga Sutras For Modern Day Life: Yoga in Action

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:1-Kriya Yoga, aka the Yoga of Action, aka a Yoga Practice has three parts: 1) training and purifying the senses (tapas), 2) Studying the Scriptures and ancient wisdom  (svadhyaya), and 3) devotion and letting go into the creative source from which we emerged (ishvara pranidhana).


Defining the Sutra:

For those of you who were waiting patiently to dive into book two, here we go. The second book of the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is Sadhana Pada or the Portion on Practice. This is the book that gets quoted the most often because it is the most practical and the easiest to understand.  Most commentators see the first and third books as being for established practitioners who are ready for a deep spiritual path while the second is for people who are struggling to get on one.  The first Pada is largely internal changes and practices that radiate out into life. The second Pada starts to deal with many externally actionable concepts.


Just like the first Pada, we will explore this slowly using real world examples. Some people see this type of exploration as a gross over simplification. It is. Swami Satchidananda uses a great analogy to explain this:

Each time we read these works, we elevate ourselves to see a little more. It is something like going to the Empire State Building. When you look out of the a first floor window, you see something. From the second floor, you see a little more;from the third floor, still more. But when you reach the hundred and first floor and look over the balcony, you see something completely different.

Similarly, in reading the scriptures, we slowly rise up, expanding and enlarging the mind. The more we elevate the mind, the better our understanding is.  But only when we become prophets ourselves will we fully understand the scriptures.

This commentary is meant to be a jump off point. An invitation to apply the Sutras to your life and to continue to study them. Many people, who feel that the Sutras are not relevant, use a baby with the bath water approach, they throw it all out. This commentary is meant to show real world examples of how the Sutras can be applied. Then after we understand them on the mundane daily level, we can then start to rise up the elevator to the top floor with an all new expanded understanding.

The discussion, on this verse, will be divided into 4 parts starting with Sadhana. Practice is to simple a word to describe Sadhana.  Lets look at some other definitions:


Sādhana (Sanskrit: साधन; Tibetan: སྒྲུབ་ཐབས་, THL druptap, Chinese: 修行), literally “a means of accomplishing something”,[1] is an ego-transcending spiritual practice.[2] It includes a variety of disciplines in Hindu,[3] Buddhist,[4] Jain[5] and Sikh traditions that are followed in order to achieve various spiritual or ritual objectives.

In particular, sādhana can refer to a tantric liturgy or liturgical manual, that is, the instructions to carry out a ritual.

The historian N. Bhattacharyya provides a working definition of the benefits of sādhana as follows:

[R]eligious sādhana, which both prevents an excess of worldliness and molds the mind and disposition (bhāva) into a form which develops the knowledge of dispassion and non-attachment. Sādhanā is a means whereby bondage becomes liberation.[6]

Iyengar (1993: p. 22) in his English translation of and commentary to the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali defines sādhana in relation to abhyāsa and kriyā:

Sādhana is a discipline undertaken in the pursuit of a goal. Abhyāsa is repeated practice performed with observation and reflection. Kriyā, or action, also implies perfect execution with study and investigation. Therefore, sādhanā, abhyāsa, and kriyā all mean one and the same thing. A sādhaka, or practitioner, is one who skillfully applies…mind and intelligence in practice towards a spiritual goal.[7]

3HO (Yogi Bhajan)

Sadhana means daily spiritual practice. It is the foundation of all spiritual endeavor. Sadhana is your personal, individual spiritual effort. It is the main tool you use to work on yourself to achieve the purpose of life. It can be done alone or in a group. Sadhana is whatever you do consistently to clear your own consciousness so you can relate to the infinity within you. Before you face the world each day, do yourself a favor and tune up your nervous system and attune yourself to your highest inner self. To cover all your bases, it will include exercise, meditation, and prayer.

Sadhguru of Isha Yoga

When we say sadhana[1], we are not talking about any particular aspect. We are talking about using every aspect of life – both internal and external – so that it is a continuous nurturing for your life. Because the very nature of a human being is such, unless there is some dynamism, some movement in his life towards betterment within and outside of himself, he will feel frustrated. He has to keep moving to a newer and newer possibility. Sadhana is that which facilitates that.

Everything can be sadhana. The way you eat, the way you sit, the way you stand, the way you breathe, the way you conduct your body, mind and your energies and emotions – this is sadhana. Sadhana does not mean any specific kind of activity, sadhana means you are using everything as a tool for your wellbeing.

Chopra Center

Sadhana is your daily spiritual practice. You may start by just setting aside some time each day to practice techniques and activities such as meditation, yoga, chanting, and reading sacred literature. However, if you are sincere in your spiritual journey, your whole life will eventually reflect your Sadhana.

From these definitions, Sadhana is a way of life and its purpose is connection with the Self within.

Modern Day Application

In the second book of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali continues to reiterate that Yoga is an internal journey. If the activity, that we are calling Yoga, is not changing us from within, it is not a true Yoga Practice.  Even that is too simplified and the Yoga Sutras is very detailed about what constitutes a Yoga Practice.  This detail is necessary because many people add the word “Yoga” to any feel good activity. Patanajali is very clear that just feeling good and being a better person is not enough to qualify a Yoga practice.  All three books give us pointers that let us know if we are truly practicing Yoga. This verse lets us know that the Yoga of Action or Kriya Yoga requires burning away of mental and physical impurities, studying the scriptures/teachings and surrender. Without these, it is not a Kriya Yoga practice.


Why This Is Important

There are alot of wonderful, amazing,  highly beneficial workouts and physical activities out there, that look like Yoga but are not. This  verse is an exposition on Kriya Yoga, however, a quick study of any school of Yoga reiterates that simply doing Asanas does not a Yoga practice make.

From Self-Realization.com

Hatha Yoga
Ha and tha, the sun and moon, refer to the two opposite currents that regulate all processes in our body. There is nothing mysterious about it because anything in our universe exists because of a positive and negative charge. Hatha Yoga, Raja Yoga, and Kriya Yoga are specifically dealing with the intention of gaining control over the flow of these life-currents.
Hatha Yoga is known for the asanas or postures. It is thought that by perfecting the body, creating a healthy physical condition, and raising Kundalini (dormant energy) upwards along the spine, the body becomes better prepared for yogic awakening. The first effects felt are usually improved health and strengthened nervous system. Some Hatha Yogis may even demonstrate control over internal organs, blood flow, and breathing. The ability of some Yogis to even stop the breathing and heart beat completely for a period of time has been demonstrated under laboratory settings.

Traditional Hatha Yoga consists of:
1. Asanas (postures);
2. Shat Karmas (six cleansing techniques, also known as Shat Kriyas);
3. Pranayama (control of breathing with retention);
4. Bandhas (locks) and Mudras (seals) for the regulation of Prana (life-force) and Kundalini; and
5. Samadhi (Union with God, realization of the Self, ecstasy, nirvana).

Raja Yoga / Radja Yoga
Raja Yoga means royal and is sometimes called the crown of Hatha Yoga. Raja adds concentration after body and mind are cleaned and trained to stay calm and attentive. The improvement in our power of concentration, as a result of Raja Yoga, moves all of our attention towards the source of our Being in order to become that Being.

The Eight Limbs (Ashta-anga) are:
1. Restraints (yamas: harmlessness, truthfulness, non-stealing, control of senses)
2. Disciplines (niyamas: cleanliness, purification of body, mind and nervous system, study of metaphysical principles, contemplation on God)
3. Postures (asanas)
4. Control of breathing and life-currents (pranayama)
5. Turning the attention within (pratyahara)
6. Concentration (dharana)
7. Meditation (dhyana: prolonged periods of perfect concentration and contemplation)
8. Absorption(Samadhi)

Bhakti Yoga (Union through Devotion and Love)
Bhakti Yoga is the Yoga of selfless love, compassion, humility, purity and the desire and serious intention to merge with God. It is nothing else than to follow the ‘First Commandment’: “to love God with all your heart, mind and soul.”


Jnana Yoga (The Yoga of Knowledge)
Jnana Yoga is practical Philosophy/Metaphysics. It is both theory and practice. Jnana Yoga uses the intellect as a tool to understand that our true Self is behind and beyond our mind. It is a Quest for the Self by direct inquiry into “who we are.” It is, however, a mistake to think that the Source could be found with the intellect alone.

For the purpose of Self-discovery, Jnana Yoga probes the nature of the Self through the question: Who am I? Through persistent probing, fixing our attention on the source of our Being, we regain our real Self. We remember who we are. The inquiry, as the result of practising Jnana Yoga, leads us towards clear Awareness by removing our attention from that which we are not. Along with Bhakti Yoga (Devotion), Jnana is listed among the best approaches for becoming aware of the eternal Self (God).

Shankara and Ramana Maharshi are the classic authorities concerning Jnana Yoga. Like Hatha and Raja Yogis, Jnana Yogis also acknowledge the relationship between breathing and thinking. They found that breathing slows automatically through concentration on the “I-AM.”


Kriya Yoga
Kriya Yoga refers to actions designed to rid the body and mind of obstructions. Kriya Yoga is a complete system including mantras, meditation, and other techniques towards controlling the life-force and bringing calmness and control over body and mind. The goal is to unite with pure Awareness (God). Since pure Awareness is our original condition, it is also referred to as Self-awareness.

Karma Yoga(Self-less work for our fellow neighbour)
Karma is the total sum of all our actions (mental and physical), in this life and before. Karma Yoga is the yoga of Service or self-transcending Action, whereby the yogi directs all actions towards God. By serving God and humanity (without selfishness, egoism, and attachment) the heart becomes pure, the ego fades and, over time, or even over many lifetimes, one becomes increasingly in tune and unified with God. Enlightenment (Samadhi, nirvana, union with God) is naturally realized through Karma yoga.

Most modern forms of yoga, including Ashtanga, fall under Hatha Yoga but definitely there are elements from other schools that glue it all together.

Let’s digress back to Sadhana. Sadhana is so much more then poses on a mat. Many people argue about how old Yoga poses are but Yoga Poses are a tiny peace of the Yoga puzzle yet so many people get lost in them. Sadhana is much much bigger.



Shanna Small has been practicing Ashtanga Yoga and studying the Yoga Sutras since 2001. She has studied in Mysore with Sharath Jois and is the Director of AYS Charlotte, a school for traditional Ashtanga in Charlotte NC. She has written for Yoga International and the Ashtanga Dispatch. Go here for more information on AYS Charlotte. For information on workshops, please e-mail shanna@ashtangayogaproject.com.

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