Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Yoga Sutras For Modern Day Life: Yoga, the Cure For Global Insanity?

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:42-Savitarka Samadhi is when one is aware of the meditator, the object of meditation and the meaning ascribed to the object of meditation.

Defining the Sutra

Savitarka is seen as a lower form of Samadhi. Samadhi is the state where we are fully established in our own true nature. In Savitarka Samadhi, the meditator is aware of himself, the object and all of the stories and meanings that have been placed on that object by themselves and society.  So when the person meditates, the awareness goes back and forth between the 3 states. It is seen as a lower Samadhi because the stories or negative samskaras, are still there and the meditior is still battling with them and because an object is being used.

Modern Day Application

This is the first level of Samadhi and it is where many meditators and spiritual minded ponderers spend their time. Two things happen when a teacher gives me an object of meditation. My awareness stays on the object or I start thinking about eating, my to do lists or the utter futility of this exercise.  If I am lucky enough to keep my mind on the object, it usually bounces back and forth between the awareness of my body as I meditate, the picture of the object in my head, and the story I have in my head of the object. For instance, if my object is a flame, I am aware of myself meditating on the flame, I picture the flame in my head and then I think stuff like “warmth”, “fire place”  “camping” which is the story I associate with the flame.  In Savitarka Samadhi, you can go back and forth between the 3 at will.


Why It Is Important

Think of how different the world would be if we could make this distinction at will. For example, a racist person, through meditation, can start to see themselves, the person they hate and the story they hold about them as separate entities. The awareness that there is a story between them and the person may be enough to shift them away from violence. A person who is ill can see themselves, their story about the illness and the actual symptoms of the illness. With this awareness, they can deal with the illness for what it is  in the present moment without the dire story the doctor fed them. Within the physical yoga practice this results in less attachment to the asana because we can experience ourselves, the pose and our story of the pose.

This type of awareness is life changing and could quickly put an end to what spiritual teacher Eckhart Tolle so brilliantly labeled as “global insanity”.


“The achievements of humanity are impressive and undeniable. We have created sublime works of music, literature, painting, architecture and sculpture. More recently, science and technology have brought about radical changes in the way we live and have enabled us to do and create things that would have been considered miraculous even two hundred years ago. No doubt: the human mind is highly intelligent. Yet its very intelligence is tainted by madness. Science and technology have magnified the destructive impact that the dysfunction of the human mind has upon the planet, other lifeforms, and upon humans themselves. That is why the history of the twentieth century is where that dysfunction, that collective insanity, can be most clearly recognized. A further factor is that this dysfunction is actually intensifying and accelerating.”

“The First World War broke out in 1914. Destructive and cruel wars, motivated by fear, greed, and the desire for power, had been common occurrences throughout human history, as had slavery, torture and widespread violence inflicted for religious and ideological reasons. Humans suffered more at the hands of each other than through natural disasters. By the year 1914, however, the highly intelligent human mind had invented not only the internal combustion engine, but also bombs, machine guns, submarines, flame throwers, and poison gas. Intelligence in the service of madness! In static trench warfare in France and Belgium, millions of men perished to gain a few miles of mud. When the war was over in 1918, the survivors looked with horror and incomprehension upon the devastation left behind: ten million human beings killed and many more maimed and disfigured. Never before had human madness been so destructive in its effect, so clearly visible. Little did they know that this was only the beginning.”

“By the end of the century, the number of people who died a violent death at the hand of their fellow humans would rise to more than one hundred million. They died not only through wars between nations, but also through mass exterminations and genocide, such as the murder of twenty million “class enemies, spies, and traitors” in the Soviet Union under Stalin or the unspeakable horrors of the Holocaust in Nazi Germany. They also died in countless smaller inner conflicts, such as the Spanish civil war or during the Khmer Rouge regime in Cambodia when a quarter of the country’s population was murdered.”

“We only need to watch the daily news on television to realize that the madness has not abated, that it is continuing into the twenty-first century. Another aspect of the collective dysfunction of the human mind is the unprecedented violence that humans are inflicting on other lifeforms and the planet itself – the destruction of oxygen producing forests and other plant and animal life; ill-treatment of animals in factory farms; and poisoning of rivers, oceans, and air. Driven by greed, ignorant of their connectedness to the whole, humans persist in behavior that if continued unchecked, can only result in their own destruction.”

“The collective manifestations of the insanity that lies at the heart of the human condition constitute the greater part of human history. It is to a large extent a history of madness. If the history of humanity were the clinical case history of a single human being, the diagnosis would have to be: chronic paranoid delusions, a pathological propensity to commit murder and acts of extreme violence and cruelty against his perceived “enemies” (his own unconsciousness projected outward), criminally insane, with a few brief lucid intervals.”

“Fear, greed and the desire for power are the psychological motivating forces not only behind warfare and violence between nations, tribes, religions, and ideologies,” Tolle notes, “but also the cause of incessant conflict in personal relationships. They bring about a distortion in your perception of other people and yourself. Through them, you misinterpret every situation, leading to misguided action designed to rid you of fear and satisfy your need for more, a bottomless hole that can never be filled.”

A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

The purpose of yoga is to rid ourselves and the world of global insanity. Savitarka Samadhi gives us the ability to step back and see the different components of what we put our focus on. Once we can see ourselves, the world and our definitions of the world separately and at will, we can begin to see the truth of our world beyond the confines of our story.

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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