The Su­tra

Yoga Journal - - Contents - As in­ter­preted by Ali­son West

Get a taste of the third chap­ter of this sa­cred text—on pro­gress­ing and man­i­fes­ta­tion.

“By samyama [si­mul­ta­ne­ous con­cen­tra­tion, med­i­ta­tion, and re­al­iza­tion] on the navel, the yogi ac­quires perfect knowl­edge of the dis­po­si­tion of the hu­man body.” YOGA SU­TRA 3.30,* TRANS­LATED BY B.K.S. IYEN­GAR


thirty years ago, Vib

huti Pada (the chap­ter on man­i­fes­ta­tion) stirred my in­ter­est with its ref­er­ence to samyama, which can be loosely trans­lated as “in­te­gra­tion.” Patan­jali writes that samyama is the si­mul­ta­ne­ous ex­pres­sion of the last three limbs of Ash­tanga Yoga— dha­rana (con­cen­tra

tion), dhyana (med­i­ta­tion), and samadhi (re­al­iza­tion)—it’s a to­tal ab­sorp­tion into the ob­ject of med­i­ta­tion in or­der to

You’ll be­gin to ex­pe­ri­ence a type of lis­ten­ing that frees your mind from over­think­ing.

ex­pe­ri­ence pro­found shifts in aware­ness.

I found some as­pects of this chap­ter al­most light­hearted and amus­ing at first. Some of the su­per­hu­man pow­ers achieved through samyama, such as shrink­ing your­self into a minute size or be­com­ing ex­tra heavy, seemed the stuff of Mar­vel Comics. But as I reread it over the years, I be­gan to see this chap­ter in a new light. The samya­mas are ex­pres­sions of deep re­al­iza­tions that are part of a con­tin­uum of un­der­stand­ing.

In this su­tra, the power or prac­tice Patan­jali de­scribes is “samyama on the navel.” This con­cen­trated med­i­ta­tion on your mid­sec­tion opens the door to a vital un­der­stand­ing of your body’s con­stituent parts and sub­tle-en­ergy chan­nels ( nadis). Your ma­nipura (navel) chakra is the orig­i­nat­ing point of 72,000 nadis, mak­ing it a par­tic­u­larly po­tent re­gion.

This ex­alted prac­tice even has a coun­ter­part in an­cient Greece, where navel-gaz­ing, or om­phaloskep­sis (om­phalo = navel; skep­sis = in­quiry), was con­sid­ered an ap­pro­pri­ate mode of philo­soph­i­cal pur­suit. In fact, four Ro­man stat­ues de­pict­ing men stand­ing in a cir­cle with their hands on their hips look­ing down at their bel­lies is pre­served at the Lou­vre. The dif­fer­ence is that the Greek ver­sion is a sym­bolic, philo­soph­i­cal gaz­ing, while the yo­gic ver­sion is a com­plete ab­sorp­tion into the sub­tle cen­ter it­self.

While I have not yet achieved samyama by con­cen­trat­ing on my navel, I’ve felt the com­mand­ing en­er­getic pres­ence of my navel cen­ter as I’ve ex­per­i­mented with this prac­tice. You can start by sim­ply star­ing at your belly­but­ton and then closing your eyes, con­tin­u­ing to visu­al­ize it. As you cen­ter on the site of your for­mer um­bil­i­cal cord, you’ll be­gin to ex­pe­ri­ence a type of lis­ten­ing that frees your mind from over­think­ing and al­lows the grace of samyama to be­gin. This may re­sult in your point of fo­cus shift­ing deeper to­ward your spine on its own ac­cord and open­ing your aware­ness to a new field of en­ergy.

If you find the con­cept of samyama on the navel con­fus­ing, you can get a taste of samyama in other ways. Just ob­serve how asana and pranayama can some­times seem to stop time. Your thoughts be­come more spa­cious and you can catch a glimpse of the al­most un­gras­pable now (pres­ence)—the goal of a yoga prac­tice. You may also be­come acutely aware of the musculoskeletal as­pect of each asana as you stretch, re­lease, and strengthen. You may un­der­stand, for the first time, how your feet con­nect to and af­fect your spine—or how pos­tures af­fect breath­ing, which in turn af­fects your mind—and vice versa. Th­ese are the types of re­al­iza­tions that pre­cede samyama.

While the sug­ges­tion of “perfect knowl­edge of the dis­po­si­tion of the hu­man body” may elude us, we can gain in­sight into our own bod­ies and minds by at­tend­ing to the phys­i­cal, men­tal, and en­er­getic as­pects of yoga. All ex­pe­ri­ences and un­der­stand­ings are col­ored by what you bring to them, and thus it is likely that you’ll have a dif­fer­ent jour­ney with this su­tra.

Whether seated or prac­tic­ing asana, pay at­ten­tion to your navel with­out forc­ing an out­come. Lis­ten. Do it again. Stay open to new ex­pe­ri­ences. Take your time. Let the beauty of Vib­huti Pada un­fold.

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