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Category: Yoga Sutras
People think Yoga means always standing on your head or doing some pose. But the aim of yoga is to calm the mind. That's why it's called Integral Yoga, because we integrate everything; mind, body, and spirit.     ~Sri Swami Satchidananda

Archive for the ‘Yoga Sutras’ Category

The Tree and Roots of Avidya

February 5th, 2012by Michelle Muttart

In talking with many people who are on a path of growth I get the opportunity to witness; witness their walk and turn inward to witness my own. When we step back, sometimes we can see the error of our ways and with guidance learn a more positive approach. Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras teaches about the concept of avidya. Let’s look at what avidya is and how it plays a part in our lives.


What is Avidya?


Avidya literally means “incorrect understanding”. The opposite is vidya or “correct understanding”. Avidya in some ways is the characteristics and habits that we develop because of our life experiences. For example, say a friend falls to the ground and we extend a hand to help them up and they smack it. We would be confused, maybe even hurt or angry. But they are our friend and so we reach out again, but again they smack our hand. In fact each time we try to help them we get the same result. Eventually, we no longer offer assistance to them with a fear of what may happen.


Let’s move forward a month and another friend slips and falls. Will we help them? By this point, it will at the very least cross our mind that we could be slapped again. Of course we want to help, but our past experiences tell us we may not get the result we hope for and in fact we may be hurt in the process. We may even replay the event in our mind so much that we become traumatized and decide never to help anyone who falls. This is avidya.



Avidya is like a tree and it’s sometimes easier to recognize the branches. The first branch is asmita or the “ego”. Asmita makes us think we need to be the best, the fastest, the coolest, the richest, the prettiest, the skinniest, and so on.



The second branch is raja. Raja is demanding. For example, Sue went shopping for furniture and found a table she’s been looking for and was so happy and excited to have something new for her house. Today, Sue wakes up and wants to go again, get something else. Even though she may not need anything and it may not be good for her budget, she wants to feel good like she did yesterday. This is raja.



Next is Dvesa. In a way, it’s opposite of raja. Dvesa is when we reject things. When we no longer help a fallen friend because we are afraid we will get hurt again, like our example. We may even reject things that are unfamiliar even if we have no reason. We reject people, thoughts, places, and things because of what we relate to them or because we can’t relate to them.




Last is abhinivesa or fear. Fear affects us more than we realize. In our society it’s best to blend, to be part of the norm, to do what is expected. When we express ourselves in a way that is individual or different we have doubts. These doubts can be about our jobs, relationships, about being judged, about our looks and the aging process, and so on. Think about the amount of doubt that goes through your mind on a daily basis. Thoughts This is abhinivesa.




Just like a tree, avidya grows. It may be slow and subtle then before we realize it the roots have overtaken and we are immersed in negative thoughts and fears, not thinking clearly because avidya is like a cloud over our eyes. At that point, we are living in an illusion and cannot see the truth. This can be in a single are of life or many.


Yoga Helps!

The good news is yoga helps us to see. It helps to remove the cloud by practicing the philosophy. The practice teaches that what happened yesterday is not guaranteed for today. If yesterday was great and I want it all over again or if it was bad and I never want it again. Today is a new day and with this day we are renewed and all of our experiences are new.




Take time this week to see what you cling to and what you reject. See what branches of avidya are creeping into the garden of your mind, body, and your spirit. Acknowledge it, then begin the process of letting go by allowing yourself to feel how you feel, accepting it. Next, move your awareness into the body and see where the roots are on a more physical level, imagine them unrooting and releasing in whatever way that unfolds.

Om Shantih, Shantih, Shantih

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Posted in Body, Mind, Soul, Uncategorized, Yoga Sutras | No Comments »

The Key to Happiness

January 29th, 2012by Michelle Muttart

In Patanjali’s Sutra 33 on contemplation, he explains, “By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous, and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.”

The Happy

Have you ever been around someone who is happy-go-lucky all the time?  Do you know someone who seems to ‘have it all’?   Sometimes we may be a little annoyed, irritated, and jealous of these types; maybe they just get on our last nerve.  The unfortunate thing with reacting unenthusiastically to their good fortune or happiness is that it really only effects us, bringing negative within our own mind and body.  They just go on being happy.  Let us be friendly with that person and realize that if they are happy and have good fortune it means that we too may have those things in our own lives.


The Unhappy

In the same way a happy person can annoy us, an unhappy person can as well.  We sometimes look down upon those less fortunate and unhappy; this too only creates negative energy within ourselves.  Let us have compassion, help them when we can.  In doing this we retain peace in our minds and in our hearts. Helping others is helping ourselves.

The Virtuous

We sometimes don’t understand one who is virtuous, especially when we struggle.  But don’t tear someone down because they are great or doing great things.  Instead look up to those people, imitate them, and begin to cultivate their words and actions into your own lifestyle choices.

The Wicked

What is the difference between unhappy and wicked?  I had the chance to discuss this with a wonderful Yoga instructor in the area, Sofia Nelson.  One idea that we agreed upon is the unhappy mostly harm themselves and generally want to be well, the wicked may harm others and with little or no regard for the wake of destruction left in their path. It’s the latter that should be avoided.  Sometimes when we try to help others they may consider us arrogant or righteous and refuse our help or worse lash out at us for trying.


The Key to Your Heart

One person is generally not all of one thing and neither are we; there is a little happy, unhappy, virtuous, and wicked in each of us.  In the same way that we deal with others we can deal with these parts of ourselves as they emerge.  Be kind to yourself when you are happy, have compassion for yourself when you are sad, delight in how far you have come in this life, and do not feed or spiral into the negative aspects of yourself.

Finding the Right Key

According to Patanjali when we use the right key with the right person we can retain our happiness.  In my life I have often tried to save someone as many of us have.  In most cases, my intentions were good, but I used the wrong key and I suffered because of it.  Guard your heart until you are strong enough to handle taking on the darkness and turning it into light.  This practice is revered for seasoned spiritual practitioners and when taken on by someone who is not ready, can cause grief, pain, and uncertainty.

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Yoga Sutra 1.5-1.10

May 1st, 2011by Michelle Muttart

Yoga Sutras 1.5




(modifications of mind stuff) (5 kinds) (painful) (painless)


There are five kinds of mental modifications, which are either painful or painless.


The five mental modifications are: right knowledge, misconception, conceptualization, sleep, and memory. 1.6




It has taken me longer to write about this one sutra than any other so far.  As I am learning each sutra I am also digesting them, living with them and with a great deal of effort cultivating them into my thoughts and the way I live my life.  Sri Patanjali felt that we should master these mental modifications. It is definitely a process.


Right Knowledge 1.7


The sources of right knowledge are perception, inference, and scriptural testimony.  What’s the difference between ‘right’ and ‘wrong’ knowledge?  Right knowledge has proof, wrong knowledge has no proof.  Right knowledge is TRUTH, wrong knowledge is false.  The proof comes from learning from others experiences, our own experience, has backing of ancient scripture.  I remember growing up in Alaska, (when people talk about walking to school in the freezing cold and snow both ways….my reality!)  I came through the gap in the chain link fence and rounded the path up to the school, there was some commotion ahead.  As I walked closer I saw a boy wrapped around a light pole.  Curiously moving closer I could see that his tongue was attached to the pole!  “Who does that?” Obviously some of us do.  Yet some of us trust that it’s just not a good idea and some of us have to find out the hard way.


Misconception 1.8


Misconception occurs when knowledge of something is not based upon its true form.  Swami Satchidananda shared a great example of misconception is his translation of Yoga Sutras.  “In the twilight you see a coiled rope and mistake it for a snake.  You get frightened.  There is no snake there in reality; there is a false understanding.  But still it created a terror in your mind.  It is not only valid knowledge that creates thought waves, but erroneous impressions also.”


Verbal Delusions 1.9


Knowledge that is based on words alone, without any form, is a verbal delusion.  We have all had a friend that has shared a story with us a great feat.  Maybe they wrestled a shark, punched it in the eye, saved a life, stood up to their childhood bully, or fell 20ft without a scratch.  We have no proof of their feats, yet we can mentally picture each of these perfectly as if we were a witness.  The problem arises when we believe the delusions and accept them to be true without any backing up.


Sleep 1.10


The mental modification which depends on the thought of nothing is sleep.  What happens in dreamless sleep?  Obviously, sleep is a time for rejuvenation; for the mind and the body.  But are we thinking in the moments that we are not dreaming? Many great yogis believe that we have to be otherwise there would be nothing and if there was nothing we would have to way to know that we have slept.  However, it is those quiet moments that they consider ‘sleep’.


Painful or Painless


Every thought is one or the other.  What’s interesting in dealing with thoughts, events, and actions that establish beliefs is that sometimes a painful experience can be for our own good.  We learn our lessons through actually sticking our tongue on the pole.  Not all of us need that experience; we trust what we have heard because there is proof that this could turn out badly.  Some of us are so cautious that we don’t even need proof because the sound of it is not appealing.  On the opposite side, many of us do things that are painful thinking it will bring pleasure.  Smoking, for example; a smoker will make every excuse for why they are smoking, but they know and we know it will only bring pain in the end, yet they choose to continue smoking and remain in the delusion.  The list could go on and on.  The way to break free is to trick the mind.  You say to the mind, “I’m not going to smoke that cigarette today, I’m not saying forever, just for today”.  When you get to the end of the day, you think “Wow! I made it the whole day!”  The next day you begin again, reassuring the mind that it’s only one day, not forever, just for today.  This principle can apply in many ways to many things.  The mind and the ego are like howling vicious wolves in the woods.  You have to outwit and satisfy them at the same time.





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