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Human Suffering according to Patanjali

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
The yoga sutras are based on Sankya philosophy, which is a dualistic philosophy, different to that of non-dual Tantra. This means that unlike Tantra, there are two ultimate and irreducible principles of reality. They are:

1. Purusa– Pure consciousness/ the atman/ the soul/ spirit/true self/ essence nature/boundlessness/existence.

2. Prakriti– material reality. Everything that exists in this manifest world, from your body and mind, to thought, emotions, nature, the universe comes from this principle.

In Patanjala yoga, what causes human suffering is confusing the belief that prakriti (body/mind) reality is part of pursusa/spirit/ consciousness.

Let’s briefly revisit why we as human beings experience suffering. It mainly has to do with the experience of identification, common to all yoga traditions. On a day to day level, most of us identify and understand ourselves to be none other than the mind. We believe we are our thoughts, feelings, emotions and all the roles we play in our life. Our mind has such a tight grip over our experience of ourselves and of reality, that we come to identify ourselves through our mental constructs or states of mind.

The main goal of Patanjali’s system is to bring the mind to a point of stillness that consciousness can clearly see it is completely separate from the mind. In fact Patanjali’s definition of yoga is found in Sutra 1.2

“Yoga is the stilling of the fluctuations of the mind”
In Sutra 1.5, Patanjali states that there are five categories or changing states of mind, which are either detrimental (klista) or non-detrimental (aklista) to the practice of yoga. These are the vrittis. The vrittis are sensual impressions, thoughts, ideas, cognitions, feelings, activity or mental states. The vrittis constantly pull consciousness away from its own pure nature, channeling it into the realm of prakriti/body mind.

These changing states of mind or vritts are extremely detrimental and are caused by the five klesas. The klesas impede not only our yoga practice, but are what fundamentally causes all our suffering. They are:
1. Ignorance
2. Ego
3. Attachment
4. Aversion
5. Clinging to life


These five klesas are considered detrimental because they are viewed as the seeds of karma. Karma refers to any initial action, whether good or bad and all its subsequent reactions that it produces. According to Sankya philosophy, they can ripen in this life time or they can spill over into the next. This cycle of spilling over into the next life time is called samsara.
Karma, or actions that keep us attached to the external world and forgetful off our true nature is generated by the fluctuations in the mind and these fluctuations are caused by the vritts. So the goal here is to learn to:

1. Know our true or essence nature so that we don’t remain ignorant
2. Stop misidentifying our essence nature with our body and mind. We are not our body and mind- ego
3. Learn not to be overly attached to things and learn to let go of things that keep us away from realising our essence-nature. Unhealthy attachments include the stories we have about ourselves and life that keep us stuck and suffering, the thoughts and beliefs we cling to that don’t serve our own wellbeing and the well-being of all of humanity, letting of of relationships and people that have broken our hearts, letting go of our hurt and anger as well as good experiences in life that we hold on to and want more of and finally letting go of all the obsessiveness we have with material wealth- attachment
4. Learning to face the things that we are avoiding because they are too difficult, too hurtful, too scary, or too triggering. It can even be about avoiding getting into healthy, happy relationships because we are fearful of being vulnerable or getting hurt- aversion
5. Being scared to die and not facing the reality or our own impermanence or holding on to a loved one in an unhealthy way after they have died- clinging to life 
As a side note, Patanjali explicitly states that we don’t necessarily have to believe in a Divine reality or God to realise or essence-nature, but he does say that it does fast track our spiritual journey if we do! Another worthy contemplation!

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Yes Peace, Peace Peace

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Human Suffering & The Yogic Perspective

One of my favourite ways to spend my time is to immerse myself in the spiritual teachings and philosophies of yoga. It’s what naturally happens when the heart awakens to the deeper truths of life!  

I think we would all agree that human suffering is something that most of us have tried to understand at some point in life.  Below is a brief outline of what creates human suffering based on classical non-dual Tantrik philosophy. In the Tantrik tradition, there are three aspects of reality that create suffering, referred to as the malas or impurities. 

1. Anava-mala– the impurity of individuality. This relates to the human experience that yoga calls bondage and simply means being stuck in limited identification with the body and mind and with no connection to our original source of existence. In yoga, this source of existence is known by many names such as consciousness, awareness essence-nature, the core of our being, Goddess, God, the heart and ultimate reality. Use whatever term you like, but it is important to note that non-dual Tantra is a theistic philosophy- meaning that they saw this ultimate principle of reality/conscioussness as being innately Divine…hey….they believed in the Goddess/God. To digress a little, most of the Tantrik traditions were worshippers of the Divine Feminine. The tradition that I am the most connected to- the Trika lineage, workshipped Paradevi- the Supreme Goddess!
I recently came across a term to describe this reality or whatever term you prefer,  as boundlessness. I love that so much!!!! Boundlessness….think about it….the true essence of your being is boundlessness. Boundlessness makes me feel so free and powerful- not powerful in a dominant way, but powerful in an unstoppable and unrestricted sense. Your true essence is BOUNDLESSNESS!!

Anava-mala refers to that very deep belief that we are insignificant, incomplete and unworthy. In his book Tantra Illuminated, Christopher Wallis notes that, “This belief is what gets in the way of you revering yourself as divine and as separate from God/Goddess”. 

The original purpose of yoga was to find ways to uproot this belief and the way you could do it was to have a powerful abiding experience of purnata- completeness and fullness. On some level you have all had this experience of purnata- it’s what keeps drawing you back to your yoga mat or meditation seat over and over again!!!

2. Mayiya-mala- the impurity of differentiation. This is the form of ignorance that causes us to see everything and everybody separately from ourselves- me versus you, you versus, them, without seeing the underlying unity of our existence. What you see out there in the world through your conditioned filter and senses is separate and different from you. As Christopher Wallis notes in Tantra Illuminated, “True seeing is seeing all beings within yourself and yourself within all beings”. The capacity to do great things and the capacity to do bad things is present in all of us! When we see an ‘object of perception’ ( an object of perception is any tangible thing we can perceive through our senses as well as intangible thing like our feelings, emotions and thoughts) as separate from ourselves, we suffer. 

3. Karma-mala- impurity of action. This refers to the bondage of karma. This mala is deeply related to the first two malas. The way we see ourselves, others and the world impacts how we relate and how we act in the world. These actions have repercussions that bind us to the cycle of karma. This cycle is also closely related to two of the five klesas of Patanjali Yoga, which we will explore in the next newsletter. Attachment refers to the belief that we need something outside of ourselves to experience purnata- fulfillment. It also relates to the way we cling to things and the inability to let things go- both good and bad things!

Aversion is the other end of the continuum and refers to the belief that we will never experience fulfillment unless we eliminate or avoid certain things. The more we do this, the more extreme our actions become and the more we perpetuate karma. It is impossible to be free of all karma repercussions because we are constantly acting in the world. One solution the Tantrikas came up with to be free of karma-mala was to simply stop being the person to whom the karma applied. This is no easy process and takes commitment, patience and time. The best way Christopher Wallis notes to overcome this mala is to work with it from the root as expressed in the following quote, again from his book, Tantra Illuminated,  “Become thoroughly convinced that there is nothing outside yourself that need be added to make you complete nor is there anything that need be added to make you pure. This profound love and respect for your own being will, if achieved even in part, make it easier for you to perform actions without any selfish grasping motives and thus you will be free from karma”. 

I hope these teachings deeply touch and transform your heart in the same way that they have transformed mine!

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti
Yes! Peace, Peace, Peace

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The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra

The Vijnana Bhairava Tantra (VBT) first appeared around the 9th Century- 850 CE and is one of the main source texts from the Trika lineage of the classical Tantrik traditions. The author of the text is unknown, but modern day Sanskrit scholars say that it may have been written by a woman!

Vijnana means consciousness or insight and Bhairava is a fierce form of Shiva or consciousness that is present in all times and places. Rajanaka Ksemaraja, a very well known Tantrik master in his time wrote a commentary of the VBT and stated that Shiva is referred to as Bhairava because he makes us cry out in fear of remaining in the dream state after having an initial spiritual awakening. Due to this cry of longing to know your true nature, Shiva/Bhairava manifests in the radiant domain of our heart.

The VBT is played out as a dialogue between Bhairava/Shiva & Bhairavi/Shakti. Verses 1-23 contain the dialogue between Bhairava and Bhairavi. Verses 24-135 are practices and Verses 136 are insight verses.

Bhairavi is the feminine form and she is the state of complete fullness and intensification of being in presence. When consciousness has an intense immediacy, that’s Shakti! Shiva is pure open, spacious, free, empty, grounded consciousness. It pervades everything and this no-thingness is the ground of being.

The texts states that some people can enter the state of Shiva through Shakti, and teaches that by going into the intensity of an experience, you can enter pure presence and openness. The Vijnana Bhairava contains accessible practices that focus on both awareness cultivation and energy body work.

There are awareness cultivation techniques which are designed to alter the quality of your daily life so that you experience more centredness. When you abide in that centre you feel a still point and you feel more into the flow of life, then you start to act and speak from that centred scared space and not act and speak from the  wounded ego, psychological mind.

The aim of the text is to lead us to a direct experience of our own Divine consciousness. 

Our expanded awareness, where all labels, psychological understandings of ourselves and division melt away.

Jon up to the Yogahari Healing monthly news letter to receive free meditation recordings from the VBT and more….

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The five ‘Prana Vayus’ -Vital Airs for Pranayama

So as we continue into the second month of exploring the practice of pranayama, let’s begin by exploring the five Prana Vayus. Knowledge of these five “Vital Airs” will be a pathway into understanding and enhancing pranayama. When the vayus are balanced and working harmoniously we experience vitality, energy, positivity and a sense of expansion on the body and mind level. Looking at each vayu individually will  not only help you understand pranayama on a body and mind level, but also help you to understand how you can engage and work with these five vital energies in your asana practice.

Click here to watch this video to show you how to set up your blankets for supine pranayama

PRANA VAYU
This is the energy of inhalation and how the body and senses are powered and energised by how we receive the breath.  Emotional resistances can often contribute to difficulties in taking a deep breath. Prana Vayu can be blocked when we have an inability to receive. Any asanas that centre around the chest and head work to enhance prana vayu.

APANA VAYU
This is the energy of how we release and expel the exhalation or what the body doesn’t need. It is located in the bowl of the pelvis below the navel and works in a direction opposite to prana vayu. Apana vayu is dual in its functionality, as it is both a releasing energy as well as a holding in energy. For example, apana vayu is responsible for childbirth, but also for keeping the baby in the womb.

If there is a deficiency in the exhalation than we have difficulty in ‘letting go and letting be’. When we are able to let go, we come back into the body and ourselves. This makes apana vayu a very grounding energy. In pranayama this can also be experienced as the pause at the end of the exhalation/rechaka kumbhaka. When we pause, we don’t get stuck in fear of when the next breath will come! Most standing and siting forward asanas engage apana vayu.

SAMANA VAYU
Samana vayu is the balance between prana and asana and is located at the navel- the centre of assimilation. Samana vayu is responsible for how our body absorbs, assimilates and transforms food into energy. Emotionally, samana vayu is associated with how well we can be with and absorb the present moment. What blocks our ability to simply be with what is present? Are we okay to be with this pranayama or asana and actually feel and absorb this experience. This is where our transformation of consciousness comes from. Kumbhaka or breath retention is associated deeply with samana vayu and is the key to transforming the experience of the breath and moving deeper into the energy of kundalini. The energy in the pause gets transformed into the energy of udana vayu. Asanas that deeply engage the abdominal region and deep twist- both standing and sitting engage samana vayu.

UDANA VAYU
Udana Vayu becomes the delivery systems of what becomes of samana vayu. It is associated with the exhalation and the upward movement. Samana vayu is energy what gets cultivated through practice and experience. The cultivation of udana vayu leads us to take control of our destiny rather than leaving it all to karma. It is best experienced through intentional directional breath and conscious breathing, demonstrated in pranayama practices such as ‘nadi shodhanam’ and Ujjayi. Udana vayu can get blocked when we lack will and motivation and are unable to express ourselves emotionally, and thus it can be a great impeder to our growth. Inverted asanas like shoulder-stand and headstand best engage udana vayu.

VYANA VAYU
Vyana vayu is a pervasive energy and helps to spread prana throughout our body, mind and spirit. It enables us to be better embodied and holds all parts of the body together. Traumatic experiences can often close us off to this, but allowing ourselves to feel into the energy that is running through our body helps us to re-inhabit it.
It also helps us to expand our awareness beyond ourselves as just physical beings. 

Vyana vayu gives us a fully expanded sense of ourselves and holds the other vayus together. When vyana vayu is balanced we have a healthy sense of ourselves. Embracing who we are is overcoming our limitations. When we feel empowered by who we are and are open to growth and development, then vyana vayu is flowing optimally. All asanas engage this vayu.

Cultivate vyana vayu by being willing to be with your practice, yourself and with the experience of your breath. Once you nourish vyana vayu, you nourish all the others.

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The Practice of Pranayama

Pranayama is a yoga practice that I believe does not get enough attention in the modern yoga world! I have been practising this art form for as long as I’ve been practising asana and that’s why I have decided that the next two months will be dedicated to this life giving practice. Click here to watch a video on some asanas to practice before starting your pranayama practice.



In yoga there are various breathing practices that work to restore our physical, mental and emotional wellbeing, and if we are willing to explore deeper, they can also work for our spiritual liberation.

The paradox of breathing is that it is an automatic function of human existence, yet breathing is not that simple. There are many disorders in breathing patterns and much of it has to do with how our conscious waking life seeps into our unconscious life. This is when our ego mind comes into contact with the breath and our capacity to anticipate what happens next affects our breathing pattern, which then becomes part of our unconscious mind. So our breath is one way that we can work with the mind.
Yoga and pranayama can help us move into our unconscious mind, because the conscious movement of breath can trigger it. In some ways, pranayama is an invitation to undo and feel both unhelpful emotional patterns.

Every discomfort that comes up during pranayama practice is part of the process of becoming conscious. This includes being uncomfortable in your body, agitation, anxiety and dislike. Part of becoming conscious is to increase our awareness by reflecting on:
Where is it coming from?
Why is it coming up?
So be patient if you decide to include pranayama in your patience. Like asana it takes time!

Physical & Mental Benefits of Pranayama
Pranayama practice trains the respiratory system to function optimally by utilising the entire lungs and diaphragm and:

  • oxygenates the blood, which helps remove waste and toxins
  • this oxygenated blood improves blood circulation
  • more oxygen in the blood means more oxygen to muscles of the heart
  • this tones the nerves, brain spinal cord and cardiac muscles, maintaining their efficiency
  • the rhythmic use of the diaphragm and abdominal muscles in pranayama directly stimulates the peristaltic movement of the intestines, as well as promoting intestinal circulation. So it helps the intestine in its function of absorbing food materials and disposing of solid waste
  • the spleen just under the left diaphragm, acts as a filter to purify the circulating blood of worn out oxygen carrying red cells
  • Much of the splenic blood circulation is within lymphatic structures and is stimulated by pranayama
  • reduces breathing rate- pranayama practices help reduce breathing rates per minute from 15 breaths to 5-6 breaths and can help to lower blood pressure and quiet the nervous system
  • regular, rhythmic and prolonged breath develops inner focus, and calms the nervous system
  • Calms the mind becoming sensitive to the flow of breath, the subtlety of the breath, and finally the suspension of the breath, leads you to an awareness of the force behind the breath—prana.
  • becoming aware of prana as the thread that links you to deeper states of mental awareness, independent of the physical body and the senses. This is the beginning of mastering the mind and deepening the spiritual journey
  • helps unleash blockages in the main nadi’s (energy channels) – ida and pingala nadi, and helps to move prana into the central channel (sushmna nadi) in the subtle body (this is how it can work for your spiritual liberation- experientially revealing to you that you are Shakti- a powerful energetic and light body).
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Coping with grief


Coping with grief. Grieving can be a very personal, private and lonely experience. This was mine when I lost my first son through stillbirth. I found it difficult to be around people who couldn’t handle my tears, sadness and need to endlessly talk about my baby. I found comfort and relief in those that could.  As a counsellor and life long yoga student and teacher, I had the tools to draw on that allowed me to totally meet my experience exactly as it was. Part of this was accepting that there was no part of me in the initial stages wanting anything to do with yoga, or anything to do with the life I lived whilst pregnant or prior. I didn’t want any reminders. It was just too hard.

I just wanted to be alone.  I was afraid of going out in fear of bumping into people that I knew and unleashing my relentless tears onto them. And worst of all was seeing pregnant women! I remember having thoughts of, “you know it could happen to you at any moment, don’t think you are safe, stillbirth is so unpredictable, you aren’t in control, you could loose your baby too- and I hope you do just so I know I’m not the only one”. I hated myself for having these thoughts. How “unyogic” of me!!! Practice ahimsa Eleni; in thought, speech and action”. This inner battle added to my already heavy heart. Trying to change the way I was feeling and thinking, no matter how “unyogic” it was of me, caused me more inner turmoil than I could handle.

I don’t know how or what shifted, but I eventually stopped trying to change my “unyogic” feelings and thoughts and finally allowed myself to have them. This was one way I started coping with grief. I allowed myself to be okay with not wanting to go out and being okay with not wanting to see other pregnant women and saying, no thank-you to yoga! Clouded by so much heartache, I had forgotten for a moment how to drop into the deeper wisdom of yoga. 

When we give our hearts consent to meet our grief and our thoughts and feeling with total intimacy and without trying to change them the healing journey begins. Mine did, and this was the best way I found of coping with grief. The biggest guidance I can give if you have experienced such profound loss is to let your grief in all the way. Don’t worry about what thoughts, feelings or emotions you are having. They are all part of you and all part of what life is needing to express itself through you in that very intimate and present moment. This is the core of classical Tantra teachings! Let it all in- the good, the sad, and learn to be with the whole of reality.

Om Shanti