By T.K.V. Desikachar
According to the Yoga Sutra of Patanjali, an attentive state of mind indicates good health, whereas ill health means the opposite
yoga citta vrtti nirodha
—Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra (1.2)
The second sutra or aphorism of Sage Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra defines the state of yoga as ‘a state of mind in which we are able to focus exclusively in one direction only, without getting distracted’. Contrary to popular perception that yoga is something to do with executing postures, meaning that it deals with the physical body, Patanjali defines it as a state of mind that is attentive. This is the real definition of yoga, and tools like yogasanas and pranayama are suggested by Patanjali merely as a means to achieve this state.
This sutra can be understood from many perspectives. Let us look at it from the healing perspective. This state itself can be considered a state of good health, and not being in such a state, a state of illness. This is because when we are in a state of mind that is attentive to what we want to do, the whole system functions in unison with the mind. This brings about the harmony between the body, mind and senses. Let us understand this through the following example.
During their younger days, the Kauravas and the Pandavas (protagonists of the Indian epic Mahabharata) were learning under the tutorship of Dronacharya. Among them the star pupil was Arjuna, who excelled in archery. One day Dronacharya decided to test his students. So he fixed a wooden bird on a treetop and asked them to assemble at a distance. He then said: ‘Each of you must aim to shoot the eye of the bird. The one who does that will be judged as the best among you.’
First he called the eldest Yudhisthira to take aim. ‘Are you ready?’ demanded Dronacarya. ‘Yes, noble sir,’ replied the prince. ‘What do you see?’ questioned the teacher, to which the Pandava replied: ‘Sir, I see the bird, I see the tree with beautiful leaves, I see you and all the other princes assembled here.’ Hearing this Dronacharya replied: ‘Stop. Don’t shoot, you are not ready.’
Then he called on Duryodhana, who went through the same routine, and so did all the princes, except the last one, the favored Arjuna. Dronacharya asked him to take aim and put the same question to him. Arjuna replied: ‘Sir, I see the eye, and nothing else.’ ‘Shoot,’ said Dronacharya, and the arrow found its mark.
Arjuna was in the same state of mind as described in this second sutra of Patanjali. He was focused on the bird’s eye and nothing else. While the other princes were distracted by the trees, the other students and possible distractions, Arjuna’s senses were in harmony with what the mind was focused on and that was how he found the mark. This is the state of yoga.
When one is not in this state, it is a state of illness as there is no harmony. There is imbalance between the body, mind and senses. This is a state of vyuthana as described by Patanjali in his later sutras. The term vyuthana means distracted or disturbed. When the mind is disturbed, this is also expressed in the body and the whole system. The same Arjuna provides another example for us to understand this state.
The scene is at the battlefield of Kurukshetra. The Kauravas and Pandavas are aligned face to face in what will be one of the most brutal wars in history. The two sides had decided to fight it out after all dialogue failed. Everyone was focused on the war that was to follow. Just when it was about to begin, Arjuna asked Krishna to take him between the two mighty armies. Instead of focusing on his responsibility as a warrior, he was distracted and began to show compassion towards his kinsmen. This set a disturbance in his mind, and soon in his body. So affected was he by the situation that he could not even hold his bow, which he used to wield with such pride. Indeed, disease had set in. It took Krishna, his charioteer/teacher, 18 chapters (the Bhagavad Gita) to cure him back to health.
Through these examples we can understand the value of Patanjali’s sutra and it’s relevance in health. A healthy system leads to a healthy state of mind, and vice versa.
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