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Yoga Sutras for Modern Life: Touching Greatness and Then Losing It

Yoga Sutras 1:44-1:46-  Savichara and Nirvitarka Samadhis or like the two previous Samadhis, except more subtle. The objects can be so subtle that they are undefinable by words. All of these Samadhis are with seed, meaning that the person is still not free from conditioned thoughts and the states are not maintained.

Defining the Sutra:

If this does not make sense, please refer back to last weeks Sutra   Savichara and Nirvitarka Samadhis are still on objects but the objects can be as subtle as the mind field (chitta) or the ego or I-maker (ahamkara).   Being able to focus on something so subtle is no small feat. It is a state that few people will experience, and even if we did, it would be hard to put into words. If life is manifesting out of the mind field and our identity is manifesting from the I-maker, any words used to describe it are birthed from them and are therefore limited.


Modern Day Application

Though we may never have the experience of Samadhi, we all have the experience of falling back into our old ways. In this Sutra, Patanjali says that even people who can contemplate the subtlest components of existence,  may still have to deal with demons, wayward thoughts, crazy emotions and ghosts of the past. This idea that you will falter sometimes is a recurring theme in Book One of the Sutras. Wavering and back sliding is apart of the journey of Yoga.

Why It is Important


Loretta Turner recently wrote a piece for the Ashtanga Picture Project called, “Be Open to Whatever Comes Next”  which talks about her struggle with gaining and losing Marichyasana D. On our mats and in our lives, we will suffer from what Patanjali lists on the verse on obstacles (Sutra 1:30), as  “slipping from the ground gained”.  Accepting this as part of the process is crucial to success in Yoga.

Having this feeling that, “I have arrived” because you master a difficult pose, can sit in meditation for hours or because you have experienced awakened states is an indicator that the ego is still in control. The question is what has arrived and what has it arrived to? It is a tremendous trap for many on the spiritual path. There is another level. On this level, there is nothing to arrive to because you never left. It does not matter if you lose a pose, your money, your friends or your whole world because the idea that something can be lost is again the ego because who and what is losing it? Can the part of you that is eternal lose anything when energy cannot be created or destroyed and therefore everything is eternal and continues to exist in another form? So the fact that something is coming and going, shows that it is a state of Samadhi that is not permanent and that there is still bondage to this world. Realizing this keeps us diligent on the path of Yoga because there is still a deeper more permanent connection to be had.


Accepting that you will sometimes slip back into your old story is also important because it keeps us from getting down in the dumps when we falter. It keeps us moving forward in our Yoga practice because we understand that this is a natural part of it. Many people quit Yoga because they come up against a monumental obstacle that they feel they can’t overcome. For many it is a yoga pose like binding in Marichyasana, Drop Backs from Wheel, Jump Backs or maybe a certain Ashtanga series is terrifying. For some, they cannot handle the roller coaster of touching bliss and that falling back into their old life and settle for the devil that is familiar. When we accept that even as we are having tremendous physical, mental and spiritual break troughs that we will still do battle with thoughts and old demons, we can be compassionate and forgiving of ourselves.

It is also a good idea to accept this of others.

“If you’re looking for the kind of teacher who is a totally perfect person, then choose a dead one. The living ones are going to be living.”

~ Adyashanti

Our friends, loved ones, and teachers may also experience falls from grace and need to to be forgiven.

If you reach Savichara and Nirvitarka Samadhi,  or you are no where near that, know that it is all part of the process of breaking the shackles that keep us from connecting fully to life and living with complete freedom. Part of this process is impermanent tastes of freedom. These should be seen as guideposts that we are on the right track and not as reasons to fall into despair when they are gone.


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


  • Kacey

    Great post, I’m compelled to tell ypu that Savicara and nirvicara can actually be experienced. Vyaas Houston of the American Sanskrit Institute has written a book on the Sanyama meditation that is described in the sutras. These states can be achieved through the bhutajaya and indriyajaya meditations that he has outlined in his book, Yoga Sutras The Practice, available on his website Zoe Mai of Trishula Yoga in NJ is currently teaching this meditation and it is transformative! If your interested, check it out! Thanks for all you do, your posts are very insightful and relavant to our experiences today.

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