Teaching Ashtanga,  Uncategorized,  Yoga Philosophy,  Yoga Sutras

Yoga Sutras For Modern Life: Kaivalya-Alone But Not Lonely

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:25: Without ignorance, we do not confuse who we are deep within with what is experienced through the senses. This state is called liberation or Kaivalya.

Defining the Sutra:

Once we realize that we are not our body, thoughts, things, pain or past experiences, we are liberated.

Modern Day Application

The word Kaivalya is quite controversial because it can be translated many ways. Sanskrit Dictionary


कैवल्य kaivalya adj. leading to eternal happiness oremancipation
कैवल्य kaivalya n. abstraction
कैवल्य kaivalya n. detachment of the soul from matter
कैवल्य kaivalya n. beatitude
कैवल्य kaivalya n. identification with the supreme spirit
कैवल्य kaivalya n. detachment from all otherconnections
कैवल्य kaivalya n. perfect isolation
कैवल्य kaivalya n. detachment of the soul from matteror further transmigrations
कैवल्य kaivalya n. absolute unity
कैवल्य kaivalya n. isolation


The confusion comes when Kaivalya is translated to mean isolation or alone. For many people, the words “isolation” and “alone” are negative.  However, if we look at the prior verses, when Patanjali talks about ignorance/avidya and identifying the Self with sense objects, he says that the Self and sense objects are “unified”.  When they are not unified, they are alone or isolated. Not in the sense of being lonely, but in the sense of being separated. Patanjali is using the pure definition of the word not the one loaded with negative perceptions.

Author and Ashtanga teacher, Gregor Maehle, does an amazing job talking about Kaivalya in his book, Ashtanga Yoga: Practice and Philosophy.


It is interesting to look at what the word “alone-ness” means. It is somewhat similar to loneliness but yet entirely different. Loneliness is the state in which one yearns or longs for the company of another but is deprived of it. It is a lack of something that makes it impossible to enjoy the mere absence of company.

Aloneness is the exact opposite of that. It is the drawing together of the words all-one-ness. To be aware of all-one-ness is to see Brahman, which is deep reality or truth. On the deepest level everything is an expression of the one reality, infinite consciousness.

One who has realized this is alone or all-one: all -one because once one has seen the space nature of consciousness one knows that one is forever united with all living things. The very same consciousness contains us all. The very one self is looking out through all creatures’ eyes.

All oneness means to have recognized that at the deepest level all sentient beings are one consciousness. Such a person is called alone since one has found in one’s heart the heart of all beings. No external contact like company is needed to experience happiness. In that state the deep wound called loneliness is healed. In fact, company cannot heal loneliness because it cannot be ongoing: one day we, or our friends before us, will die. Then the wound-which has only been covered up-will break open again.

The wound is healed only when one has found in one’s heart the self, which is the self of all beings.

Once this self is found, one does not approach others anymore out of need but because one  wants to give. Because the mystic does not need others, he or she is said to be alone. It is a state of freedom. If one is lonely, one needs to seek others. In truth, however, one is not interested in them but only in their capacity to soothe one’s loneliness. There is no choice: one has to go about seeking others to relieve one’s pain.

For this reason, the mystic is called the true friend. Since the mystic has realized him- or herself as the container that contains the world and all beings, mystics have no further agenda in this world. They have no point to prove. They do not need others for company, entertainment or pain relief, but see in others that reality they have found in themselves.

But why did Patanjali use the word “aloneness” to describe what is called in most scriptures liberation “moksha”?

Bondage is created by the illusory commingling of self and world. Although this togetherness of  the eternal separate entities is based on wrong perception, it nevertheless is taken to be true and creates suffering. When, through correct perception, the eternally untouchable, unstainable nature of the self is recognized, that is called the independence or aloneness of the Self.

Because consciousness/self is forever untouched by the seen, it is said to be alone.

Why It is Important

When we realize that the Self stands alone, we realize that the events of this world can never take away from who we really are.  The Self is not the game. It is the field on which the game is played.   The Self is not the movie.  It is the screen onto which the movie is projected. Kaivalya is being able to make that distinction. It is understanding that the field and the screen can stand alone separate from the movie or the game.

When the Yogi lives in the truth of Kaivalya, they can enjoy the things of the world without becoming attached. They can interact with the world not because they NEED to but because they want to. They can enjoy the world because nothing sticks to them. When they are done, they can let it go.

Such a person does everything with pure intentions without the need for gain or to be seen. Isn’t this the type of person we want to be in a relationship with? Someone who loves us for who we are and is not looking for something or to change us? Isn’t this the type of person we want as our yoga teacher? Someone who only wants the best for us and is not solely looking for money, fame or power?

Isn’t this what we want for ourselves? The ability to move through the world doing what brings us joy without having to worry about what people are thinking about us, doing the wrong thing or messing up? This comes with Kaivalya.

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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