Book III of Patanjali’s Yoga sutras can be intimidating and vexing to our logical linear way of thinking. There are layers of meaning and even practical ways to look at the seemingly miraculous powers that Patanjali says are bestowed on the adept practitioner of yoga.
Although the outcomes may be super, the process is natural; Tapas the spark of interest and enthusiasm, Svadyaya, the deep and childlike curiosity to learn about our true nature and Isvara Pranhidhana, the realization that there is no end to the profound and awe inspiring nature of our own Being.
These three are called Kriya Yoga by Patanjali in Book II of his sutras. They are essential to the process of Self discovery. In Book III he gives another triad that has some correlation to the aspects of Kriya Yoga as the way to expand Self awareness to even greater heights and develop our human and spiritual potential. The key to all growth and learning is first of all to focus or concentrate; in yoga terms “Dharana”. We focus best on that which we are most interested in and have some enthusiasm for. This is the natural state of Tapas and is the spark of discipline.
Sutra I of Book III says: “Desa Bandhah Cittasya Dharana” Uniting or fixing the consciousness and drawing it within is concentration (Dharana). Although adults often think of discipline and concentration as serious practices with little room for merriment, children have an innate ability to be absorbed in a task in the most playful way. Recently, I observed a lovely family in a very busy airport while waiting to catch a plane. The two young girls seemed oblivious to all that was going on around them as they were totally engaged in their determination to have fun. At one point the fun was getting a bit exuberant and the father said, “Girls settle down” to which the mother replied with a wink and a nod to the dad, “Yes girls, stop being so joyful”. As one who completely appreciates setting good boundaries and teaching children good public conduct, I saw the distinction here between good manners and innocent absorption in the joy of the moment. Truthfully, I was wishing that more adults in airports played so well with others!
This was a good lesson in finding the balance between joyful absorption in a task and imposed structure upon an otherwise unruly mind and body, akin to our practice of asana. The best discipline or Tapas, is the one that is dear to our hearts and therefore creates a natural desire to focus deeply (Dharana) resulting in the unfolding of our essence of Joy.