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Yoga Sutras for Modern Day Life: Good Things Come To Those Who Work For It

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:20-21: To the others, Objectless Samadhi could come through faith, strength, memory, contemplation or by discernment. To the keen and intent practitioner, Samadhi comes very quickly.



Defining the Sutra:

Sutra 1:20 is explained further later in the Sutras so we won’t do it here. Verse 1:21 is extremely important. It says that Samadhi comes very quickly to the intent and focused practitioner.  For more on Samadhi, read the past segments of this series. A brief and limited definition of samadhi is freedom from suffering caused by attaching happiness to thoughts. Patanjali says that the intent practitioner can have freedom from suffering very quickly.


Why is It Important?

In modern yoga, the emphasis has been put on physical asanas. There are many reasons for this. One of these reasons is that people feel that the spiritual stuff is unattainable and just too “out there”.  In this verse, Patanjali says that if a person is intent enough, it comes very quickly. Who really knows what “very quickly” meant to Patanjali but it definitely means it is not some out there unattainable thing. Very quickly is a positive message for those who are tirelessly on the spiritual path.  If you compare it to other spiritual texts that see freedom as something you get when you die and that life is suffering or trails and tribulations, this is a cheerful and motivating passage. Patanjali is saying, you don’t have to suffer and you don’t have to die to be free! Suffering is the realm of the mind. If you can conquer your mind, you conquer suffering…and you can do it quickly.


Modern Day Application


In the Secret of the Yoga Sutra by Pandit Rajmani Tigunait, PhD, he lists 3 broad categories of aspirants taken from Vyasa’s (author of the Mahabharata a great epic story with yogic wisdom throughout) 9 categories of aspirants.

  • Low Grade Aspirant- Those who, fearing obstacles, do not start their practice. They wait for miracles, hoping someone else will take away their misery. When they do become inspired, they demand simple solutions to their complex problems. They seek validation for their aspiration. They consult teachers, priests and astrologers. Their journey ends usually before it has really begun. Such seekers are far from attaining Samadhi.

  • Intermediate Grade Aspirant: Start their practice but drop it when obstacles arise. They know the importance of making their minds clear and calm and becoming established in themselves, but they have not decided that this is their top priority. They do not make a clear distinction between means and goals. Because they do not clearly understand that material objects are only means, while inner tranquility, maturing into samadhi, is the goal, they drop their practice when they are faced with obstacles.

  • High Grade Aspirant: Obstacles cannot stop them. They start their practice with clarity and enthusiasm and never allow their aspiration and motivation to wane. They are always aware of the meaning and purpose of life. They never forget that inner equanimity empowers the mind to face and conquer all calamities. Their understanding that no loss is greater than the loss of inner equanimity renders every obstacle impotent. Undaunted by obstacles, they invest all their resources in their practice. For them, the goal-samadhi-is near.


What I love about this is that these words are based on a text that goes back to around 600 BC but yet it describes modern day yoga students with dead on accuracy.  Many modern day Westernized yoga students want to believe that things are so different for them. That our lifestyles have changed so much that the words of people like Patanjali and Vyasa are out dated and should be pushed to the side. Like the parent who tells the disbelieving teenager, that I have gone through what you are going through right now, this passage shows that modern day yoga students are going through the same thing ancient yoga students went through! If you look at the above categories with an open mind, I bet you will find that you fall into one of them.



Just a caveat,  remember, these are not my category names.  I definitely would not have not chosen, low, intermediate or high but I am going to stick with them to maintain the link between my commentary and the texts. DO NOT write me saying that I am condescending and elitist for using these terms. See past them to the bigger picture which is that, if you want it badly enough, you can have freedom from suffering in this lifetime.

Yoga reflects life and life reflects yoga. They are one and the same. Anytime in your life when you are reaching for the stars and going for something that the average person can only dream of, you can only get it if you are a high grade aspirant. If you are like the low grade aspirant and you are constantly looking for validation and you allow your fears to keep you from doing the work, you will not reach it. If you are like the intermediate aspirant who balks under pressure and stops when it gets hard, you won’t reach it. It is only the high grade aspirant who is undaunted by obstacles and  unafraid to invest hours, time and resources to achieve their goals, that will reach them.


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@shannasmallyoga.com.