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Yoga Sutras For Modern Life: Comparison is The Thief of Joy

Yoga Sutras 1:43-When the memory is well purified, the knowledge of the object of concentration shines alone, devoid of the distinction of name and quality. This is Nirvitarka Samadhi, or Samadhi without deliberation.

Defining the Sutra:

In this state of Samadhi ( a state where one understands their true nature), the yogi can chose to see things for what they truly are without the imprint of memories.

Modern Day Application:

Earlier in the Yoga Sutras, we learned that memory is a Vritti or fluctuation and it can either be painful or painless. We cannot function in this world without memory.  Many things we do every day such as brushing our teeth, driving our cars, performing our jobs or doing our Yoga practice requires memory. Memory is only a problem when it effects our ability to see the present moment for what it is. For example, someone is bit by a dog and is badly injured. They develop a fear of dogs and see them all as vile, evil creatures. Because of the memory and the story, they loose the ability to see the true nature of individual dogs.  This is when memory becomes and impediment to seeing the truth or a Vritti. The Yogi who has reached a state of Nirvitarka Samadhi, upon contemplating a dog, can see the dog for what it is outside of the memory of the dog bite.


Why This Is Important

Nirvitarka Samadhi allows us to see the world with fresh eyes.  We no longer have to relive past pains or have our lives weighed down by painful memories. This is the beginners mind. A mind that is open and excited about the possibilities of life. Throwing off the shackles of memory creates a light and open heart.


For as he thinketh in his heart, so is he: Eat and drink, saith he to thee; but his heart is not with thee-Proverbs 23:7

When we live through the eyes of memory, our hearts are not in the moment and they are not with the people we love. What we hold in our heart, colors the moment. This is a killer of relationships and happiness.  As the person evolves or  changes, our memories of them hold steady. We look at them and see the person of yesterday, or worse, we see the memory of a story that only existed in our mind. The spouse, sister, boss, friend that we thought we were supposed to have.

The Vritti of memory can ruin a Yoga practice. When you get frustrated about a pose, there is a thought in the head about what you feel the pose is supposed to be and your  current reality does not fit it. When there is fear on the mat, there is a memory of pain or a memory of a story of pain. Perhaps you hurt yourself in a headstand in the past or you read an article saying that headstands are bad and now you are afraid. This is all the realm of memory and blocks our ability to see the pose with fresh eyes. It blocks our ability to see the possibilities of our body and the practice.

Below is a great video of Kino MacGregor talking about how our thoughts on physical limitations stop us  in the Yoga practice.


Maybe you walk into a yoga class with the memory of past yoga classes or the memory of the story of what you thought the yoga class was supposed to be. Maybe you compare your current teacher to your old teacher. Maybe you compare your trip to Mysore to the story in your memory of what you thought the trip was supposed to be or your last trip to Mysore.  All of this stops you from experiencing the Yoga class or trip to Mysore for what it is right now. It robs it of its freshness. You just stepped into the room but yet the moment is already stale.



In a state of Nirvitarka Samadhi, the Yogi has the ability to not compare the current object of meditation to the one held in their memory. This gives them the ability to live a life that is always fresh and full of joy. Life is constantly changing. Comparing is an exercise in futility and a doorway to suffering.


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

One Comment

  • Sarah Boulter

    I have just discovered your blog and am so happy I did! This entry resonates with me as I am currently struggling with Mari C and D, I too ‘had’ these and lost them, however I take comfort in the progression with my forward folds and back bends. Every day is different, I try to let go of what was yesterday and except who I am on the mat today. Easier said than done but I also consider this a part of my journey and do my best to accept it. Drop backs are for me the perfect mirror for this; some days I feel confident and do not hesitate, other days I am irrationally scared of hitting my head. It is trying at times, but I accept is as part of the package!

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