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Yoga Sutras For Modern Day Life: Staying Focused During Yoga

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:40: The mind of a yogi can concentrate upon any object of any size, from the atomic to the infinitely great.


Defining the Sutra

Eventually,  a yogi is so focused, he/she can meditate on anything big or small.


Modern Day Application

Meditation is essentially focus that is held for a long time.


Each time the mind evades you, runs here and there and you bring it back, that is called concentration. Concentration is trying to fix the mind on one thing. Meditation is when you have tried and are successful.

Swami Satchidananda


This state becomes a Yogis way of life.

It is only if one achieves that meditation that he becomes a Yogi, not just a person who sits for a while in the  name of meditation and then goes to the movies.

Swami Satchidananda-Yoga Sutras of Patanjali pg 63


Dhyāna, meditation, it should happen within you, it’s not something you can “perform” but a process that should happen automatically within you. All your sense organs should come under your control while doing āsana. Dhyāna means when all focus comes to one point. Focus in one place is called as dhyāna. To do dhyāna you have to sit in an āsana posture. You should have a pure mind and sit in one posture and then dhyāna will happen – that is why āsana – is where you sit, how you sit – if you perfect it then you can do prāṇāyāma, dhyāna. First the physical body shouldn’t bother you. (Sharath then quotes from Yoga Sūtra 2:48 ‘tataḥ dvandva anabhigātaḥ’ ‘then pairs of opposites are no longer disturbing’). Then dhyāna is more effective. After two days of meditation you get bored, that is because you’re not ready. You have to do āsana, prāṇāyāma first to bring steadiness, then dhyāna automatically happens. It is like the process required to grow a plant. You need to prepare yourself properly. (Sharath then tells a story about Sadāśhiva Brahmendra. A great Yogi Saint from South India in the 17th century). Sadāśhiva Brahmendra’s mother found him in front of a dustbin, he was eating food from there and she was upset. Another yogī said, “Your son is not crazy he is a big yogī in a higher state of yoga.” None of us can understand; in that state of mind nothing is important. Āsana is just a tool, not the final stage of yoga.

Sharath Jois


When many students practice, they need everything to be perfect or they cannot focus. The music, temperature, and lights have to be just right. The yoga mat has to have the right amount of stickiness. The flow has to be executed in a certain way. Clothes have to fit just right.  While there are circumstances that make it easier to prolong focus, the yogi can keep the mind under control in any situation. This doesn’t happen overnight. For most, this ability takes years to cultivate.  Patanjali gives us baby steps to this state. The Sutras proceeding this one, give more accessible ways to meditate. Go Here.


Meditation can happen at any time, it can happen right now, it can happen as you walk through a garden, it can happen when you are drinking coffee.  What is meditation? It is withdrawal of the mind, but that is not easy to do, it takes practice.

Sharath Jois


Why It Is Important


Meditation happens you cannot force it, so it is like a plant, you can use the practice of asana, yamas and niyamas as fertilizers, and the plant will sprout when it is ready.

When I do my practice of asana in the morning all of my focus is there. You can have meditation happen to you during practice.

You can sit if you want and try to focus, then you are practicing, this is also like fertilizing.

Sharath Jois


Our practice is a gateway to meditation. We can use our practice to get to the place Patanjali points to in Sutra 1:40 where we can focus on the smallest atom or the entire universe. We start this process by remaining focused when we practice. The Ashtanga practice does this beautifully. Every vinyasa, breath, pose and gaze point is laid out for us.  Because there is no question about what to do next, we can totally get out of the realm of the thinking mind. Because of the gaze points, our eyes stay on our mats. The sequence is set. Once we learn it, we can take it anywhere and do it anywhere.

Essentially, Ashtanga is a meditative practice. There are plenty of other styles where we can focus on feeling good, or having pretty poses, perfect alignment and a sexy body. You can get this from Ashtanga, but it is not the purpose. These are side effects. Really good ones, but side effects nonetheless. To use it that way is a recipe for frustration and injury. However, if you can see your practice as an opportunity to practice focus and mind control, then it doesn’t matter whether or not you make it through the sequence, you land  your Karandavasana, bind in Marichyasana or get the next pose in the sequence. This is the key to longevity in Ashtanga.

It is also the key to finding the state of Yoga. Patanjali tells us that a state of Yoga is reached when we can abide in our true nature. We are constantly bombarded with messages in our environment telling us that who we are is not good enough.  Our body needs to look a certain way;its not good enough. We have to act a certain way or we are not good enough. We have to have money or certain type of job, kids or spouse to be successful enough.Without the ability to stay focused, we become susceptible to these messages. We start to waiver in our decisions. We no longer trust ourselves. We no longer know ourselves. Because we no longer know ourselves, we don’t know how to create happiness for ourselves. Yoga the process of reconnecting and regaining the ability to find happiness from within. To start this process, we need focus. Our practice gives us that.

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