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What Do Yoga and Relationship Have in Common?
YOGASUTRA, CHAPTER ONE (samadhi-pada )
T.K.V. Desikachar: After this introduction, I would like to start with the first sutra of the first chapter of the Yogasutra:
Here begins the authoritative instruction on yoga. (YS I.1)
This sentence can have different meanings, depending on your perspective. When the teacher recites this, it means "Now I am going to share with you the yoga that I have the experience of."
When the student says this, it means "I am committed to you, whatever instruction you may give, I will follow until I experience yoga."
So the same words have two different meanings. While the teacher says, "I have experience; I am able to teach you," the student says, "I am committed to a relationship with you; I am therefore willing to follow your instructions."
The word committed is very important. It is the student's promise that he or she is not there for casual study. The student is totally committed, and the teacher expresses satisfaction with that sincerity. In India, teaching something as precious as yoga is never done casually.
For example, when I was just twenty-three years old, my father asked me to come very early for class. It was not easy. But this was the way he tested me. Ancient people had their own unique system to test the student's commitment. When the student approached them the first time, they would give many pretexts not to start. "Come in six months," they would say, or, "We will start the class in January." "We have to wait a month before starting." This is the way the teacher used to test the student's perseverance.
So the message of the first sutra is: The teacher has had the personal experience that gives him or her the authority to teach. Moreover, the teacher is convinced that the student is sincere. From the student's point of view, there is clarity: "I will study yoga, I will stay with this teacher until the teacher teaches me everything."
Hellfried Krusche: The framework of this is very deep commitment and the ability of a student to develop a relationship to the teacher and to yoga. There should not be any doubt or ambivalence regarding this relationship. There should be a serious connection, which may have far-reaching consequences throughout the rest of the student's life. This is difficult for us to understand in the Western world; in fact, many would see it as an unreasonable expectation. However, scientific research has shown that a connection and identification with a therapist, for example with a psychoanalyst, can be very conducive to the transformative process. We see this again and again in psychoanalysis. It is clear for us psychoanalysts that it is crucial for us to experience long-lasting relationships. Only through the experience of such a relationship can we actually know what change really is. Part of this experience is realizing that negative feelings also have their place within a relationship. Only when we have learned how to constructively use negative feelings within a relationship are we capable of dealing with that which we encounter in the relationship with our patients in a skillful and helpful way. This is why, in Western psychoanalysis, therapists first have to go through a longer period of therapy before being ready to take on patients themselves. They have to be able to understand their patients on an emotional as well as an intellectual level. So you see, there are similarities between our cultures.
The most important thing for the therapist is to develop the capacity to be open with his or her patient and to interact without prejudice or having any preconceived notions. A good therapist who is able to do this from the start can be receptive to messages from the patient from the very first meeting. When therapist and patient meet for the first time in this way, there should be something like what you described. This capacity to be open and start a new relationship is thus similar to what you describe with yoga.
But there is an important difference. What you deem essential at the beginning of yoga teaching, we see as something that has to be developed over a long period—it may even be the final result of therapy. It seldom exists straight from the outset.
D: Perhaps the difference is not really so great. As I said, what my father first taught me was simple and superficial. He went step by step. This is for two reasons. First, the student has to understand. The teacher needs to ensure this. Second, the interest to learn or experience cannot be imposed. As the student experiences more and more in practice, the teacher unfolds more and more meaning. It is a process. That is why the word anu, meaning "to follow," is used. The less the student follows, the less he or she experiences, and vice versa. Yoga is not merely intellectual. It is about inner transformation. And as we will see as we go on, yoga is also relationship.
H: Do you mean that transformation happens through relationship?
D: Yes. For example, the first thought that came into my mind while starting this work was that I had to acknowledge Patañjali. Then I wanted to acknowledge my teacher, my father. This is relationship.
Coming back to the first sutra, atha yoganusasanam is about experience. Let me contrast this with the first sutra in Hinduism, called the Brahmasutra. It says: athato brahma-jijñasa. "Let us inquire into Brahman." This is intellectual, while atha yoganusasanam is experiential.
Let me put this in context for you. In the beginning, when I started my yoga lessons I told my father that I did not believe in God. He said, "If you don't believe in God, that is fine." Then in 1964 we came to the sutra about Isvara-pra idhana, which means that you recognize and trust in a higher power. He said, "This is not important for you. Let us go to the next sutra." In 1984, when I asked him to teach the Yogasutra based on his own experience, he said, "The basic experience I have of yoga is: total faith in God! For me, total faith in God is the only way to change a state of mind."
So, to repeat, in the beginning my teacher was very flexible. He worked according to the inner needs of his student. As the relationship grew stronger, he began to speak of his own experience and authority. This is very important because yoga is neutral. We mistake yoga for Hinduism. Yoga is not Hinduism. My father had great faith, but he never imposed his beliefs on me.
H: You said yoga has to be taught step-by-step. It seems like the teacher tries to reach the student at his or her level, and the student tries to do the same with the teacher. So the student follows the teacher, and at the same time the teacher follows the student. From the very beginning, each side moves toward the other to build a relationship. And this relationship should allow openness and trust to develop. Is that correct?
H: So this relationship between teacher and student should strive for openness and commitment?
H: So trust (called sraddha in Sanskrit), and the capacity of one being in touch with the other, should be developed during this process at the deepest level possible. Any obstacle should be removed?
D: Yes. That is why in Sanskrit the words used are not atha yoga sasanam but rather atha yoganusasanam. Sasanam is a command and means something that must be followed and practiced. However, anusasanam indicates respect for the person since anu means "to follow"; anusasanam is therefore something that can be followed and practiced.
H: This is a process taking place?
D: Yes, it is a dynamic process and not an order. That is why the word anu is so important. The person who has the experience and the person who wants to have it must both come into contact with each other. It is a living relationship, not a sheet of paper. I would like to clarify something before continuing. The relationship that we are talking about is focused only on yoga. For instance, my relationship with a politician I am teaching is not about politics, but only about yoga. This is very clearly stated in the Upani ads. We have to respect the person; there is no other kind of relationship. You may recall that a few years ago you mentioned that you did not go to the concert of one of your patients. You distanced yourself in order to protect the therapeutic relationship. This is not always easy. There should be discipline on the part of the yoga teacher. We should not go too deeply into the everyday life of our students. The yoga teacher must be disciplined and practice self-restraint. As I said, it is not easy, but if I treat someone as a powerful politician, then I will not have the authority of a teacher. And the student will not respect me. That is why the words atha yoganusasanam are so important. Our relationship is about transformation of the mind and the psyche and nothing else!
H: If you give advice, it should be understood only in terms of yoga and transformation.
D: Yes. This is why atha is a very important and powerful word. Atha also means "attention, reference, commitment, and awareness of what is to be done." I repeat, atha is a very strong word. My father would insist on our reciting the first sutra after every sutra:
yogas citta-v tti-nirodha
tada dra u svarupe'vasthanam
H: So when you are in contact with your students, how do you make the distinction between yoga-related issues and normal life situations?
D: A friend of mine likes wine. When he comes here, I always get him a very good wine. It is for him to decide whether he will drink the wine or not. The second thing is, in ancient times the young student would stay with a teacher for eight years. Today it is not like that. Some of my students are older than me. It is a different situation. And transformation too is different.
We have to be clear about dharma. I do not like to interfere. Many of my students ask me, What can I do for you? I say, I only want the connection with you. This ethical framework is very important. I interact with my students only as a yoga teacher. My father taught the king of Mysore, but he never accepted any kind of gift from him. The king sometimes sent him jewelry, but my father wouldn't even touch it. He sent it back immediately. Authority is lost when the student becomes the authority because of this kind of power.
H: From the beginning you demand a lot from your yoga students. The requirements in the West for psychotherapy patients are not the same as this. In our setup, patients have to come, respect the setting, pay the fees, and speak freely about that which preoccupies them. Initially, there is also a process on a superficial level. This should be maintained for a period of time to protect the young and developing relationship.
So in fact, when it comes to the qualities of the relationship, there is a similarity with yoga. Many analysts today agree that if you are able to undertake and build a very deep and long-lasting relationship, nearly every mental illness can be overcome, even the results of severe mental trauma. The hurdle is that many patients, when they enter psychotherapy, fear loss of control. So they try to undermine the developing relationship in order to protect themselves. They want this relationship, but at the same time they resist it. This interferes and tends to destroy the relationship. How to deal with this is one of the main problems in psychotherapy—how to sustain a relationship, how to protect it and go along with it. How do you deal with this problem of establishing a relationship in yoga? How do you protect and develop it?
D: Building a relationship is difficult. It takes time to build confidence and trust. This is not easy. In India, there is a saying: Only four ears must hear—teacher and student. That is why in transformation there is only one connection: teacher-student, one to one. They say in Sanskrit, if you want to learn something that will help you transform, it is like surgery. One doctor cannot operate on several people at the same time. This setting and ambience should be confidential. Not only should it be confidential, it should appear confidential. Like when I closed the door for our session. Only you and I are here. The resistance to such a close relationship is often enormous. There are lots of problems, like possible shame and questions of trust. Not everyone who has gone through yoga has been transformed.
Today there are also too many choices. In ancient times there was only one teacher. As we say, many people are "collectors" but not "connectors." That is why many people have not truly benefited from yoga. So in both the West and the East, we have similar problems.
Also, there is fear. Fear of making a mistake, fear of disappointing, fear of being exploited. That is why the connection between student and teacher is confined to yoga only. Even gender is not important. For example, when Patañjali taught yoga, the students did not even see his face. There was a curtain between them. So the student only heard the teacher's instruction. What is the symbolism here? It is that the teacher-student connection is not physical but spiritual. Patañjali said, "Nobody should open the curtain. Otherwise he will burn to ashes." There are two sides—the teacher has to earn trust, the student has to apply effort.
Proper compensation is another topic. In our tradition, the teacher asks the student for fees at the end of the teaching. The teacher will decide the fees depending on the transformation and the resources of the student, based on his or her probable future. And the student, if he or she trusts the teacher, will never disappoint him. So, for example, after seventeen years of teaching, the teacher may say, "Now you have developed and transformed, you can go to the next stage of life and this is what I want you to pay." It may be a cow or it may be gold. At the end of this period of teaching, the teacher also gives these instructions:
1. Tell the truth!
2. Follow your dharma, your correct path in life!
3. Do not assume that you have completed your studies!
4. Continue your self-inquiry (svadhyaya).
5. Now pay the fees, start a family, and have children.
What I want to clarify is that the teacher does not want slavery. The teacher wants to serve the student. When the student has been transformed and has become a wiser person, only then does the teacher expect something. If the student has not changed, the teacher will not feel comfortable.
For a teacher, the student is very important, because the transmission of what the teacher got from his or her own teacher will die if there is no student. The river will cease to flow. When he was ninety-nine years old, my father would tell me: "Don't miss your classes, because when I die all that I received from my teacher and haven't passed on will die." There was the feeling that one is obliged to transmit what one has received to the next generation. Otherwise you do not show your gratitude to your teacher. The happiest moment for the teacher is when the student is better than the teacher, when the student shows greater mastery at any level.
H: Like a relationship between father and child.
D: Exactly! There is a quote: "I want to be surpassed by no one apart from my own child."
H: In our society, there are only a very few examples of this kind of personal passing on of what one has learned. We see it, for example, in the education of artists, painters, musicians. We also find it within the sphere of training psychoanalysts in the analytic process, which is the practical part of a psychoanalyst's education. Here, students training to become psychoanalysts undergo analysis of their personal experiences for several years. After this, they can become analysts themselves and might even work with their teachers. I work with my teacher now. It is a great honor and a pleasure. There may be a situation where a student even becomes better than his or her teacher. This is not intended, but it may happen.
So in this process, there is a development within a relationship that is comparable to the process of yoga. The difference in this training in the West, however, is that it is institutionalized and maintained by various authorities. There is also a scientific community that monitors the process. There is a limited exposure to the public world, and there are set standards and expectations that must be met. Is this comparable to yoga?
D: You know, we cannot dictate to our students. The most essential process happens in the heart of the student. Therefore they should be open. This is demonstrated in the Bhagavad Gita. In this text, Lord Krishna interacts openly with Arjuna and explains the need to act honestly and in accordance with one's dharma. In the end, Arjuna is convinced that he should indeed take action.
Today, more than ever, we cannot command. Respect must be earned and not demanded. The two conditions are authority and love. Authority stems from competence, while love comes from a long relationship, friendship, care, attention, and respect. Many students have left their yoga teachers because the latter aspect was neglected.
D: Let us move to the second sutra:
yogas citta-v tti-nirodha
This sutra defines yoga clearly. There are three very important words: citta v tti nirodha . The word citta in Sanskrit means "something that is very close to consciousness," but it is not consciousness itself. Left to itself, it dominates. Citta comes from the word cit, which means "consciousness." Citta means "that which is so close to consciousness that it is almost consciousness." In Sanskrit we say, "That consciousness which pretends to be consciousness is citta."
V tti comes from a Sanskrit word meaning "interaction"—for example, like a trader who sells something and receives something. This interaction is possible only because of the connection. Otherwise there is no interaction. So it means one thing moves to another.
Nirodha means here that all these interactions are decided by consciousness, and only consciousness determines the interaction.
I want to look at a flower. I want to meditate on this flower. If my consciousness is very strong, then my mind will not wander elsewhere. I want to see the flower. "What is this flower? Have I ever offered it to somebody?" All my consciousness is on the flower. When citta, which can function in so many ways in so many fields, is confined to a particular focus by the power of consciousness, nothing else will enter this field. So attention is concentrated totally on what has been chosen and nothing else. This is called "the state of yoga." Obviously this cannot happen if consciousness is weak and citta, which pretends to be consciousness, is very strong.
Later sutras talk about the five different actions of citta:
• correct perception (prama a)
• incorrect perception (viparyaya)
• imagination (vikalpa)
• complete suspension of mental activities, called deep sleep (nidra)
• memory (sm ti)
Now, perception can be many things. It can be the flower in front of me, and the next moment it can be that I want to make a phone call. Memory is also infinite. We don't know how many memories there are. Imagination too is countless. So the field of the citta is infinite. The aim of yoga is to choose one thing from this infinite variety and to stay with the chosen focus for a length of time. Let me try to put this idea more simply. This sutra means that we need to focus, and to focus we need a goal. Then, we simply focus on what is in front of us and nothing else.
If I am engaged in the past, I cannot see what is in front of me now. That is why I say: I have to be present in the present. I am not with you, Hellfried, whom I met at eight o'clock; I am not with my wife, whom I saw after that; I should not be with another student, whom I met later. This means that I have to cut certain things out of my memory and imagination. Citta-v tti-nirodha means "to disconnect from anything other than what is in front of me."
The focus could be the body, it could be breath, or it could be an idea. At this moment, my focus is to present to you the Yogasutra based on what I have learned from my father and my experience in a way that is consistent with our project of seeking common ground between Freud and Patañjali.
Focusing on the body is called asana, focusing on the breath is called pra ayama. For asana, we need some tools like breath, movements, observation, and focus on certain parts of the body. To quote my father, yoga also consists of pratyahara, which is to withdraw the senses from an exterior, worldly focus, and dhyana, which is meditation.
To give an example: I used the following method to teach an eighteen-year-old girl from the United States. I told her that I wanted her to start with the breath, first breath and then body. Only when the movement of the body is over should the breath end. So if the breath is eight seconds, the movement must be only six seconds. Start with the breath and then go on to the body movement, and when the latter is over, you continue for two seconds. That is how I introduced yoga to her. It was not easy for her. Initially the breath was five seconds, then it was eight seconds, and so on. In this way, she experienced yoga. So to summarize, asana begins when we focus on the body.
H: This reminds me of what we call the relationship between consciousness and preconsciousness in psychoanalysis. Freud describes consciousness as the light of a lamp. At the center of this light lies our consciousness. Surrounding this light, however, most of what we live, feel, and remember is preconscious in that we are not focused on it. That which is not within the center of our conscious attention is called "preconsciousness." Preconscious knowledge and thoughts accompany us constantly in our daily life, without our being aware of it.
For example, when we drive a car we are aware of only a fraction of the actions we perform. These preconscious activities have an influence on our conscious thoughts and behavior; they impact our actions and our thinking in such a way that we do not even notice it. Most of our fantasies are preconscious.
When we practice psychoanalysis, the aim is to allow part of preconsciousness to emerge into consciousness. We invite our patients to speak freely, and we try to establish connections between unconscious and conscious thoughts. As this happens, little by little, preconscious and unconscious thoughts lose their influence on overall behavior. Hidden desires come into the conscious arena and thus lose their power. This is so effective because the preconscious has a close connection to the deep, underlying unconscious. Our method is thus to reach the unconscious via the preconscious. The unconscious has patterns that influence our behavior and of which we cannot become aware without accessing the preconscious.
We are therefore trying to strengthen and extend consciousness. But we do this by bringing preconsciousness into consciousness. Freud used the sentence Where id was, ego shall be. That which we call consciousness is established by using language. We thus try to extend the field of consciousness and become aware of unconscious intentions by inviting sub- and preconscious thoughts into the arena of conscious analysis. Your emphasis on the special attention of a teacher for his or her student is therefore not a foreign concept to us in psychoanalysis. One of the leading theorists, Wilfred Bion, pointed to the importance of remaining inwardly open and receptive to our patients. He expressed this in the famous phrase no memory, no desire. This means that in each session the psychoanalyst should endeavor to see his or her patient in a fresh light, as if seeing the person again for the very first time. It is just as you said earlier: you were seeing me not as the Hellfried from eight o'clock in the morning, but as the Hellfried I am at four o'clock in the afternoon.
I am astounded that despite the different cultures and traditions of our two systems, there are nonetheless so many important similarities regarding our approaches to interacting.
But there is also a marked difference. For us in the West, the concept of becoming one with something in the way you have described is difficult for us truly to achieve. For instance, when I observe myself, there are nearly always different thoughts occurring at the same time. There have been only a very few occasions in my life when I have felt something like the unity between focus and perception that you have described.
Could we say that your definition of yoga is something for us to strive for? For normal people without special training, there will typically be very few occasions, if any, when they experience complete unity with and focus on what they are doing. Perhaps yoga in this context has an important lesson for us in the West?
Apart from this difference, the overall direction of yoga and psychoanalysis appears similar. In yoga, you strengthen consciousness by practicing appropriate exercises. In psychoanalysis, we use language to try to make the unconscious conscious by going through the preconscious. We both use the vehicle of relationship to accomplish this.
D: There is a reason Patañjali chose the word citta. There are two Sanskrit words for the mind. One is manas and the other citta. Manas is related to the mind's structure but is very close to the senses. Citta is the same mind, but it is not close to the senses. It is closer to consciousness. If I am very agitated or disturbed, citta becomes manas. When I am a little more attentive, manas becomes citta. So the quality of the mind shifts.
I will give you an example: I am talking to you now. You were responding, and I was listening. My wife came to see me a little while ago; I could see her through the window. She usually never comes unless it is important. But I made the decision to stay here. This is citta. Suppose I was not close to consciousness; I would then have said, "Hellfried, please excuse me, my wife is waiting." So the mind is a fluid thing in yoga. When it is very close to consciousness, consciousness is the master. When it is not, the senses are the masters. It is not possible to stay in a state of yoga when there is an inner state of agitation.
Effort must be put in so that manas becomes citta. In other words, we must shift the mind from a state dominated by the senses to a state where it is closer to consciousness.
Copyright © 2007 by Theseus-Verlag in der Verlag Kreuz GmbH
Translation copyright © 2014 by Anne-Marie Hodges