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Yoga Sutras for Modern Day Life: Would Your memory hold up in court?

Defining the Sutra

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 1:11: When a mental modification previously experienced comes back to your mind, that is memory.


Memory is part of the 5 “vrittis” or mental modifications that yogis are to control in order to be present and at peace. The five vrittis, discussed in previous segments of this series were:  right knowledge( or lack thereof) ,misconception, verbal delusion and deep sleep. Memory is a survival mechanism.  If we remember that something is dangerous, we will stay away from it, stay safe and continue to perpetuate the species. Memory becomes a problem when we are so bogged down by it that we can no longer see the world for what it is. Instead, we see everything through the eyes of memory.




What are the modern day applications:

Memory goes hand to hand with misconception and verbal delusion. Something happens to us. We build a story around it and delude ourselves into believing that the story is true and form a misconception. Then we proceed to build our existence on that memory.

The Ted Talk below with Elizabeth Loftus is the most eye opening cautionary tale on memory. She has spent years studying memory and even implanting them. She has studied people with life in prison based on faulty memory who were actually later proven to be innocent. She has studied people who swore that they were molested as children that also turned out not to be true. She has documented how the story of people’s lives change over time and details that never happened are added in.


You may be building your whole life on something that is just a figment of your memories imagination.


Why is this important?

Memory must be kept in its place. It is a reference. However, the present moment and what we are seeing now should take precedence over it. Example: A woman exits an abusive relationship. A few years later, she enters a new relationship. The man is kind but, because of her past abusive relationship, she will not allow herself to trust him. In this example, even though the man is kind, she is taking memory over the present and her ability to have a deep fulfilling relationship is not possible. She will continue to struggle in the realm of relationships and continue down a road of sorrow created from the one unfortunate event.

Memory gets in the way of seeing the world for what it truly is right now and fully enjoying what is going on right now. It is a block to being able to live a life of joy and peace.

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.