Patanjali’s Yoga Tweets

You know already that I consider Patanjali the greatest thinker ever, and that I have amused myself by pondering the resemblance between his medium, sutras, and the one you’re reading right now, blogging.

Now I come across this witty refinement of the idea. Patanjali, it turns out, was … a Tweeter!

I may yet have to eat my words about Twitter.

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12 thoughts on “Patanjali’s Yoga Tweets

  1. Hi Andreas,

    Thanks for your mention of my post. As I noted, tweets are (like) sutras, and blogs are commentaries. This is in fact exactly how many people are using tweets and blog posts. The tweet captures the essence in just a few words; the blog (which is connected to the tweet with a mini-URL) can then explain the idea in more depth.

    I liked your post on Patanjali ( I have been practicing yogic meditation (TM) for over 30 years, and also taught it for several years. But I somehow never got very far into the Yoga Sutras. Maybe in part because the time wasn’t right for me, but also because the translations and commentaries seemed to get into the way. My recent discovery of a modern translation that (for me) was so very clear has made all the difference. In addition, the translation I am reading does not chop up the brilliant sutras by inserting much longer commentaries. Instead the translator (Alistair Shearer) let the sutras remain all together so that they could better speak for themselves, and preceded them with a brilliant introduction that closely followed the text and commented on it.

    Your own distillation of the second sutra (“Yoga is a still mind.”) is very good and I like your points very much. You included Iyengar’s translation (“Yoga is the cessation of movements in the consciousness.”). Here in comparison is Shearer’s translation: “Yoga is the settling of the mind into silence.” I like this latter translation because Yoga is a practice and thus involves stages of development in any practitioner. When practicing Yoga the activity of the mind doesn’t instantly cease. The experience is that as one practices, the mind settles into deeper and deeper levels of silence — over years or even in a single sitting.

    Anyway, I’m glad to discover your blog and I look forward to reading your book. It is important to realize that most of us are still working on incorporating into our lives lessons that others learned centuries ago.

    All the best,


    • You’ve caused some damage, Duncan: After reading your description of this new translation of the Yoga Sutras I “Kindled” it (so easy, so quick, so frictionless, so dangerous) and am holding it in my hand. There goes my productivity, a few notches lower yet.

      Shearer’s translation of the second sutra is indeed by far the most natural-sounding. (By contrast, I recall one of the more literal ones: “Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind-stuff.”)

      In some yoga class I once heard an even better one: “the space between two thoughts”. All you’re doing in meditation is to make those spaces looonger. But they are still spaces. That took teh pressure off for me, and helped.

      Best, A

  2. Duncan’s last sentence comforts me because like a tuning fork, it has perfect pitch and Truth.

    A perfect yoga meditation seems almost like death might be except you come alive again.

  3. Hi all:

    Maybe you can give me some suggestions.

    I have to admit that I am jealous, because I don’t think there has ever been a space of any diameter between my thoughts-or between my thoughts and my mouth for that matter for 56 years. The closest I have gotten to that state you describe is in a guided meditation while eating a single raisin in 7 bites. But throughout the 5 minute venture, my mind-talk kept saying, “wow, I didn’t know you could eat a raisin in seven bites, and wow, I have never enjoyed a raisin so much, and I really must do this with pistachio nuts and all the food I eat, blah, blah, blah….”

    Any suggestions on a beginning meditation technique for the difficult student?

  4. Depending on your point of view, Steve, I am uniquely qualified or disqualified to answer you: That is because I have long experience with failed meditation attempts.

    A few years ago (before I had children) I actually put effort into my meditations. It takes enormous effort to think of nothing. That’s the first secret. In effect, I tried to hypnotize myself. Occasionally, interesting things happened. But nothing with any lasting effects.

    Then it went downhill from there. Now I am back to being my old, hyper-wrought Woody-Allen self. And quite good at it, I might add.

    Patanjali’s lesson (Patanjali also wrote a book about Ayurveda) is that it takes not only time but also the entire context of your life. If you eat wrong for your type (eg, if you are a Pitta [fire] type and drink coffee at noon) you won’t be able to calm your mind. If you are in pain, or unethical, or spending your life commuting, meditating will be a lot harder. So change your life so that it has routines that calm and regenerate you. Then do some “asana” (yoga), “pranayama” (deep breathing, for a friggin’ long time), and then, maybe, you’re ready to stretch the spaces between your thoughts.

    Above all, never ever … blog.

  5. Thank you Sensei, that is helpful.

    I think my habits do, in large part, serve as an avoidance mechanism, probably due to an underlying fear of reaching the state of clear mindedness because it might reveal things I don’t want to think about. I am sure that is partly true for everyone. Dealing with work, kids, and pleasures keep the mind occupied, are familiar and allow you to fake yourself out as to the true reality of your existence. This is speculation on my part but I think has a lot to do with my inability, to date, to meditate.

    Thanks for your thoughts and experience.


  6. Andreas, let me know how you like Alistair’s introduction. BTW, I wrote to him about this post and he took a look and sent me some additional comments on his translation of that sutra. If there is interest I can post them here or send them to you.


    • Actually, something bizarre happened: I bought the translation through the Amazon link on your blog post and with my Kindle account. But when I open the book on my Kindle, it appears to be an “interpretation by Charles Johnston.”

      So I am trying to figure out whether the link pointed to the wrong book. It’s the Yoga Sutras alright, but does not seem to be by Alistair Shearer.

      (Alistair, if indeed you are here reading this, check out the link for yourself: Is that yours?)

  7. Steve, may I take a shot at answering your question?

    First, if anyone tries a mediation technique and it is an effort to practice, then very likely the person is misunderstanding the practice, or else the practice itself is a misunderstanding of meditation. I’m most familiar with the practice of transcendental meditation (TM) and can’t really speak for other techniques, but as both a teacher and practitioner of TM I know that no effort is involved. When practiced correctly, the technique is simple, effortless, and restful and often even blissful. After 20 minutes of practicing TM, people feel both very rested and also alert.

    The Yoga Sutras make it clear that mediation should be essentially an effortless experience. During the practice of meditation, the mind settles to quieter and quieter states of activity. If any effort is introduced (e.g., trying to push out thoughts, or trying to not think thoughts) then that effort would *increase* mental activity and be counter-productive (could even cause a headache). A lot of people over the centuries have made the mistake of believing that effort has to be involved in mediation because a) they know that the “goal” is complete silence in the mind, and b) not knowing exactly how to reduce mental activity they assume that thoughts must be pushed out, or else eliminated by focusing the attention, by sheer will, on a single thought. Those techniques can actually work for some people who focus on them for a long time – like years. But their success may come simply from finally letting go, out of fatigue or by finally figuring out the technique for letting go on their own.

    I have taught meditation (TM) to a number of people who have never meditated before and also to people who have tried other techniques for years. Both groups have reported that TM is very easy to practice, even from the beginning, and that they are able to settle to especially quiet states more easily. Here is some info on TM if you’re interested:


  8. Duncan:

    That is very helpful especially since I fit into the category of actively thinking about how I can stop actively thinking. I will check out the TM site and let you know how it goes.

    Thank you for the tip and for taking the time to respond.

    Good evening all,


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