For many yoga practitioners, the axis at the center of the wheel of our yoga practice is asana or postures. The axis for the wheel of yoga as a whole, however, is the 196 aphorisms that make up the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali.
For the first of three workshops offered recently in Los Angeles by our beloved teacher Karin O’Bannon, we needed a nimble mind to meet the challenge of wrapping our minds around the Yoga Sutras. The challenge of wrapping our bodies into poses would come another day.
In her workshop titled “Inner Attitudes: Discussion of the Yoga Sutras of Patañjali”, Karin suggested that each of the four chapters of the Yoga Sutras contained an “axial aphorism” that linked to sutras before and after it within a chapter, but also linked to the other chapters. On that evening, June 25, 2010, Karin set out to discuss the 15th sutra in the second chapter, called the Sadhana Pada, the chapter on practice.
We were in the Iyengar Yoga Institute of Los Angeles, and so the translation from Sanskrit most easily at hand was that by BKS Iyengar: “The wise man knows that owing to fluctuations, the qualities of nature, and the subliminal impressions, even pleasant experiences are tinged with sorrow, and he keeps aloof from them.”
This sutra identifies both the “disease and the cure”, Karin said.
Karin provided us with other translations, including this one by Edwin F. Bryant: “For one who has discrimination, everything is suffering on account of the suffering produced by the consequences [of action], by pain [itself], and by the samskaras, as well as on account of the suffering ensuing from the turmoil of the vrttis due to the gunas.”
Through the practice of Hatha yoga, through the asanas, we might develop discernment as a means of staying aloof from sorrows. This discernment may be born of experience. For some practitioners, asana is the vehicle of that experience. This vehicle moves us beyond samskaras, which Bryant defines as “mental imprints, memories, subconscious impressions”, but which Karin called “ruts in the mind”.
It takes grace, faith and tapas, unflagging self-discipline, to pull out of these ruts. Once we’ve pulled off this well-traveled path, by means of asana, perhaps, we will find ourselves off the beaten path, in territory new to us, on our own, but emancipated.
Karin O’Bannon is "a legendary member of the IYILA community," according the Los Angeles institute. She is a certified Iyengar teacher at the Intermediate Senior III level and currently lives in Louisiana.
Photo by Christie Hall