Yoga ..Patanjali Yog Sutra
Our focus and effort in asana practice is usually on the body’s alignment and engagement in the pose. While it is important to make a good, strong and safe shape with the body, overemphasizing the physical engagement can limit your progression in yoga. In Yoga Sutra 2.47, Patanjali asks us to relax our effort and exertion to allow our attention to merge with the infinite. This allows us to find an inner calm that will help us progress further into the poses. This is not an easy task, but we have gathered some tips and advice to help you soften the effort and expand your awareness during meditation or hatha yoga.
Patanjali’s aphorisms on asana
Patanjali’s yoga sutras, considered one of the foundational texts on yoga, only discusses the physical posture twice. In sutra 2.46 we learn that a yoga posture should have a balance between sthira—stillness and stability, and sukham—ease, comfort, and openness. The following aphorism, prayatna shaithilya ananta samapattibhyam, discusses the perfection of asana, effortless effort, and merging with the infinite.
We often get caught up in the effort of attaining the perfect shaped pose. Patanjali asks us to let go our effort and exertion to allow our attention expand beyond our bodies to unite with the infinite. This is not an easy task, especially for beginners. It takes practice to find this state of effortless effort, so don’t be discouraged if it doesn’t happen right away.
What does Prayatna Shaithilya Ananta Samapattibhyam mean?
In Yoga Sutra 2.47, “prayatna shaithilya ananta samapattibhyam,” is translated as “Perfection in an asana is attained by the relaxation of effort and the total absorption of awareness on the infinite.
“By slight effort and meditating on the unlimited (posture becomes firm and pleasant).” — Swami Vivekananda
How to achieve Prayatna Saithilya
The word prayatna means “effort, exertion or force.” The word saithilya means “letting go of.” Therefore prayatna saithilya is defined as “the letting go of the need to do with force or effort.” It is a state of active and focused work without tension or any unnecessary effort.
In order to reach this state in asana, one must first understand how to soften your desire, relax extra effort, and accept what you cannot change. Cultivate this softening and non–efforting by finding the space within the engagement of the shape, and accepting your body and the pose as it is. Work towards letting go of trying to make something happen, and instead allowing what is to unfold naturally. This is true whether we’re doing a forward fold, downward dog, or any other yogic practice. In each case, we’re learning to accept the practice and our body as it is, rather than forcing ourselves to try to change it.
It’s easy to get caught up in thoughts like “I should be able to do this”, “I’m not good enough”, or “This isn’t working”. These thoughts create unnecessary tension and stress in our bodies, and prevent us from progressing in the practice. By releasing these negative thoughts, we free our minds to focus on the present moment to find the correct amount of effort in the asana.
We must also put effort into creating a good, safe and aligned shape with our body on our yoga mats. When we practice good alignment, correct form and proper effort, we’re cultivating mindfulness, self-awareness and concentration. We’re also strengthening our muscles, increasing flexibility and improving our overall health.
It takes time, patience and compassion to learn how to let go of the need to push yourself. You may find yourself getting frustrated if you don’t feel like you’re making progress. Don’t worry! It’s normal to have moments of frustration. You can counteract negative feelings with thinking positive thoughts, affirmations and intentions. Incorporating kindness, compassion, patience and acceptance into our practice will help us cultivate a more relaxed attitude towards our bodies and poses. As we learn to let go of our expectations and desires, we naturally cultivate more effortless effort
Asanas are not just aerobics, not just gymnastics because asanas have to be coordinated with the breath and with awareness. If you are lifting your arms up, you are fully aware that you are lifting your arm up, every inch of it. In gymnastics you simply lift it up. Your attention, your awareness is not there. In yoga, the body, breath and the mind are all united. It is slow motion, like dance, leading from one posture to another posture.
However, when some yoga experts guide you through your asanas, they keep mentioning all the diseases and keep saying “this will cure”. We do not think that it is such a good practice. Of course this knowledge is there that this particular asana will cure this particular disease. But when you are doing the asana there is no need to take in all those information. When you are feeding in this computer, the supercomputer – your brain, you are talking about the posture; you are also feeding in those diseases too. So, the knowledge of what asanas cure what disease should be separate from the practice of the asana itself. Do you see what I am saying? During the practice you just be in that posture. What should you keep in mind about every posture? Sthira sukha āsanam – stable, comfortable and pleasurable. Every asana has to be done with stability and comfort. So, initially stretch little more than you can and relax. What is the effect of asana?
Prayatnashaithilyanantasamapat tibhyām’’ (II Sūtra 47)
prayatna = effort; shaithilya = letting go of; ananta = infinite; samapattibhyam = uniting with.
“Letting go of the effort and uniting with the infinite.”
Letting go of the effort – this is the main point. Feeling the body and letting go of the effort and experiencing the infinity or uniting oneself with the infinite. When you do all the asanas with awareness, how does it feel afterwards? Have you noticed? You feel totally fazed and spaced out. You become spacy. Prayatna shaithilya – let go of the effort. Sit in a comfortable posture, happily and pleasurably. Sukham āsanam. It is a pleasure just to sit. That is sukha. Sukha is pleasure. How do you approach pleasure? Like you say “Oh! Wonderful!” Have you ever sat steadily and felt “Oh! It is wonderful!” Just sitting? You do once and see how you feel.
Prayatna shaithilya – letting go of all the effort and feeling the infinity. What is the effect of it? What does it do?
Art of living Faculty
Regional Director GEP
Has been with the organisation since 20years, a meditator, a yoga enthusiast and an ardent devotee of Gurudev Sri Sri Ravishankar ji