By Reverends Lakshmi and Paraman Barsel
Two of Integral Yoga’s most humorous, lively and insightful speakers, Paraman and Lakshmi Barsel have taught all aspects of Yoga for decades. In addition to teaching and designing Yoga workshops and training programs, they both are deeply devoted to their daily sadhanas. In this article, they analyze the father of Yoga’s instructions on how to have a firmly grounded practice.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali offers a comprehensive approach to Self-realization, the goal of Yoga. In one of the most famous sutras, Patanjali explains how to follow the system and become firmly grounded in the practice of Yoga: “Practice becomes firmly grounded when well attended to for a long time, without break and in all earnestness.” (1.14) Patanjali is telling us that our Yoga practice has to be sustained for a long time, without break and with satkara—all earnestness, total enthusiasm, full faith, confidence and love of the practice. And only then is the practice firmly grounded. This is a favorite teaching of ours.
So, if we were going to really analyze Sri Patanjali’s instructions for practice, most of us would agree that that are three things required for grounding our practice. Right? He states: for a long time, without break and with satkara. But, there’s a fourth that Patanjali gives! It’s the first instruction in this sutra and it’s one that we may tend to miss: well-attended to. You might say, “Well, that seems kind of obvious—I have to do the practice properly.” If you are repeating a mantra, you probably want to get all the syllables you were taught in the right order. Sure. You would be right. But, this first instruction has a much more subtle meaning. When Patanjali says well-attended to, he means that we need to examine the basic, simple, instructions given for our practice and to keep checking on them. We need to keep checking on the basic elements of whatever Yoga practice we’re following. Back to basics is the mantra which even the greatest sports champions apply to their practice.
Now, let’s examine the other three things that comprise a full-grounded practice, according to Patanjali. The very next thing that Patanjali says after “well-attended to” is “for a long time.” We think that’s wonderful. Why does he say “for a long time”? Because he is letting us know that to develop a practice—a real practice—it’s not going to take a short time! You might say, “Oh, but what if I happen to be very advanced and I did all this in a past life and I’m just coming back to finish up?” He still says: a long time—because you would have had to practice a long time, at least in previous births. And, we do see souls who are born in a very advanced spiritual state due to things they have done before. It doesn’t mean they didn’t have to do it for a long time; they just did it for a long time, some time before, perhaps many births before.
So, Patanjali says: “a long time.” We need to understand that what we are pursuing in the name of spiritual practice is the biggest quest of all. We are heading off to climb toward the highest goal—not Mount Everest, but something even higher. This is much, much more complicated because it requires that we climb and, when we get to the top, we are not there. That’s really tricky. We’re not there to say, “Look how brave I am, I have mastered this and am worthy of worship and praise.” So, practice is to be done for a long time and that right away means your attitude is going to have to be very patient. How long does it take for a baby to learn to walk? First it has to crawl, then how many times will it try to stand and fall down? It’s a long time.
The next instruction Patanjali gives about practice is: “without break.” We can’t just do our Yoga practice every now and then. We can practice meditation for a long time—but on and off! So the idea is to get established in a sustained and continuous meditation practice. We have to do it without break. We’ve both been meditating a long time, without a break and hopefully with full enthusiasm. So, that now, if we take little breaks we really can feel the difference. We really like to do three meditations a day.
Many years ago we used to do one meditation a day regularly, until we had a mail order business. We were terribly understaffed and overworked. Things would go wrong and I, Lakshmi, would find, by the end of the day, I was exhausted. But, instead of saying I had to work harder and longer, I decided to meditate more. So, I added one more meditation a day at noon time.
And these weren’t the most peaceful meditations for me, since I was usually so pushed to the limit when I went in to sit. But, I’d go in and just try to grab onto a thread of sanity. I’d often have to scream my mantra in my head, but after half an hour of effort toward steadiness of mind, I felt that somebody had thrown me a life preserver. . .
Read the rest of this article in the Fall 2011 issue of Integral Yoga Magazine.