Yoga Sutras For Modern Day Life: Obsession with the Body – Ashtanga Yoga Project

Yoga Sutras of Patanjali 2:40: Once you purify yourself (Saucha), you are no longer compulsively interested in your body or compulsively compelled towards the bodies of others.

P.S. I had to pull out my word by word translation for this one! A word used in many commentaries is “disgust” but it is too strong a word for what is being conveyed. Disgust would be aversion and the Yoga Sutras warns Yogis not to practice aversion.

Defining the Sutra

Once we purify or bodies, minds and hearts, the Yogi is no longer obsessed with his body or the bodies of others.

Modern Day Application 

This is a big one in the Yoga world. For many, Yoga is a workout to get the body looking a certain way.  On Instagram, Facebook, Social Media and, maybe even in your local studio, those who fit the modern commercial standard of beauty get the most attention.

Yoga is actually supposed to move us away from that thinking.

Before I continue, taking care of your body is a beautiful thing. Having fun with your body is a wonderful thing. Finding beauty in the human form is wonderful.

It comes down to attachment.

Unless you are in a certain state of Samadhi or dead, there will always be some string of awareness connecting you to your body and you will take care of it on some level .  Again, there is nothing wrong with taking care of your body.

Are you defining your self worth and the self worth of others by the body?

Does your  whole day go down the toilet when you have a pimple or your hair doesn’t look the way you want?

Do you feel shame about your weight or body?

Do you feel revulsion towards your body or to other bodies?

Do you feel that someone is less than because of their body?

Do you pick your yoga teachers by their bodies without knowing what is in their hearts or minds?

All these things are very subtle. You would probably have to be an enlightened master to not have some propensity to judge someone’s character by how they look on the outside or have ideas of what is outwardly “appropriate”.  It is wired into us by our environment and very difficult to overcome.  These environmental factors are deep within and we subconsciously make judgments about others and ourselves based on the external.

Close your eyes and picture a Yoga teacher. Like don’t think about it. Quickly.

Close your eyes and picture a happy person. Quickly.

Close your eyes and picture a smart person. Now an evil person.

Notice the color of these people. The size. The weight. I bet you there is a common theme and I bet you it is a stereotype, a fantasy of what you would like to see or based on past experiences.

This is how “successful” con artists, thieves and abusers do their jobs. They know what their victim sees when they close their eyes and they give them that.

This verse, from the Yoga Sutras, is often used to talk about sexual attachment or compulsions. Yogis do not see sex as bad but as an appropriate action for certain stages of life.  Saucha/cleanliness gives  the ability to let go of  sexual compulsions that get in the way of the Yogi maintaining his sadhana or yoga practice.  For instance, a Yogi or a Yoga teacher who becomes physically aroused when assisting students is lacking in Saucha of the mind.  A Yoga teacher who takes advantage of their students for the sake of sexual pleasure is also lacking in Saucha. Someone who cannot control their sexual urges also falls in this category.

Yoga Sutra 2:40 says that, once the Yogi is established in Saucha, they are no longer  obsessed with their body or with the bodies of others.  They are no longer controlled my sexual urges.

Why This is Important

Saucha is a Niyama and one of the observances of all Yogis. The Yamas and Niyamas are meant to make Yoga practice easier and more effective.  The purpose of Yoga, according to Patanali, is to cessate our painful vritts or thoughts that block us from seeing truth.  If we are obsessed with our bodies, we may forget this purpose and focus our mat time only on our bodies and health. We may use our energy on bodily beautification instead of on mental clarification.  We may use our time in sexual pursuit instead of Self pursuit. We may buy into the idea that we are our bodies and forget that the body goes but the energy inside is eternal.