Review of The Society of Yoga Practioners’ Annual Gathering 2020

Pariṇāma    Change

It was my great pleasure to attend the Annual Gathering of TSYP via Zoom recently. Meeting in this way, via Zoom, was surely a clear example of the theme of “pariāma │change” that we, along with the whole world, have been experiencing in 2020. Of course, pariāma exists everywhere all the time, no matter how often we try to ignore this fact, but it was in the excellent presentations during the weekend that we were able to look deeply and specifically into the various ways pariāma affects our lives. Using passages from Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra each presenter gave us a glimpse into the many facets of pariāma and the ever-changing nature of prakti. 

The weekend began with a chanting session on Friday evening, with chants to honour our teachers throughout the ages, Vedic chants of healing and transformation, and selected Yoga Sūtra-s that address pariāma. In this short session all attendees were united in their focus, in their shared experiences and studies, and in their deep appreciation for all the knowledge that yoga holds.

Translations of Sanskrit words can be found in the glossary at the end.

Embracing change

Saturday opened with a presentation by Andy Curtis-Payne entitled “Embracing change — reflections on the Yoga Sūtra”  addressing pariṇāma from the perspective of the second chapter of the Yoga Sūtra. Andy explained how the practice of Kriyā Yoga can make us see change as an opportunity rather than as a challenge. He described how the tools of yoga can serve individuals in  unique ways, addressing each person’s needs in the right way at the right time.  Andy described the components of  kriyā yoga —tapaḥ, svadhyāya, and  Īśvara praṇidhana — which encompass all aspects of body, mind and spirit. He emphasised the importance of being aware of all that we take in —physically, mentally, & spiritually— because everything has an effect upon us and leaves its traces. However, if we can clear our minds to reflect upon cause and effect, and on what we need, he assures us that then we are better able to choose wisely our environment and our actions. By being mindful of our actions and refining our minds, we will experience positive changes in our lives, the uplifting transformation that yoga provides


Helen MacPherson followed with a prāṇāyāma and meditation practice using the first Yoga Sūtra, atha yogānuśāsanam, as the focus.  This very important sūtra represents a heartfelt commitment on the part of the teacher to teach thoughtfully and generously that which is useful to the student, and on the part of the student to follow the teachings. It is also the starting point for all individuals who seriously choose to begin the yoga journey toward increased clarity and self-understanding. Helen guided us into a practice to experience, and to reflect on this all important commitment.

From chaos to calm

The second presentation was offered by Helena del Pino and was entitled “From chaos to calm:  reflections on chapter III of Patañjali’s Yoga Sūtra.” Comparing familiar images of “Mr Messy” and “Mr Daydream” from children’s literature, Helena spoke about the importance of a calm mind and of the effect that has on other people as well as on oneself. She explained how the chaos and disorder of “Mr Messy” creates mayhem for all around him as he goes forth in all directions, quite pleased with himself. The opposite situation was portrayed by “Mr Daydream” who appears both calm and contained within himself, moving forward with purpose rather than being distracted by everything around him. Using this illustration, Helena explained how yoga requires a contained mind in order for us to work with it, to move forward from a state of vyutthāna to a state of nirodha (Yoga Sūtra III.9).  

Such a transformation, she explained, is gradual as one learns to direct one’s attention from the outer world to the inner world, from a gross state of mind to a refined, subtle state. Leading gradually to praśāntavāhitā, a new saṁskāra of peace develops (Yoga Sūtra III.10), and this newly acquired state of calm will have a positive effect on oneself and all, causing no harm to anyone.  Helena concluded her presentation with a beautiful practice using the mantra “śāntiḥ” while bringing one’s attention from an outer focus (dhāraṇā) gradually inward (dhyāna) to the point where  one merges with the light within one’s own heart (samādhi).

From A to B

On Sunday, Frans and Simone Moors shared their perspectives on pariṇāma.  Frans talked on the topic of “Change as reflected in Yoga Sūtra Chapter IV.”  Referring often to the teachings of T Krishnamacarya and TKV Desikachar, he shared their view that “pariṇāma is a process of going from point A to point B, from avidyā to vidyā, from aviveka to viveka.” The cycle of karma is continuous, but it can be broken by the conscious application of the twin pillars of yoga — abhyāsa and vairagyam. He explained that abhyāsa is the decision and effort to do something, while vairagyam is the decision not to do something. It is through positive actions, and wise inaction, that change can happen for the better, and the changes that result will be stronger than what preceded them. Frans continued, “We all have good seeds in us, and we must favour these.” Favouring the positive, reflecting deeply, and making deliberate choices, he said, is the yoga path to transformation. 

Simone Moors led a final practice for us with a choice of seven mantra-s, each of which offered a quality to cultivate for positive change in one’s mind and attitude. We were able to choose among śāntir (peace), dhāraām (concentration), sthairyam (stability), śraddhām (faith), vairāgyam (detachment), jyotir (the light to see correctly), and vivekam (clarity). She explained how negative thought patterns are the cause of inappropriate actions and suffering. To be free from suffering we need a direction, a precise intention, and mantra offer us a way to do this in reflective meditation. At one point in her thoughtfully guided practice, she asked us while bending forward to “drop our saskāra-s on the floor” before rising up to return to the mantra again. I believe we all felt a bit lighter as a result of this, and I will surely pass  on this experience to my students as best I can.

The entire weekend ended all too soon, but left us with many new ways of seeing and understanding, while sharing this time together provided a welcome feeling of connection that will stay with us until we meet again. I’m sure everyone appreciates as much as I do the significant efforts of the whole TSYP administrative team that made it all possible.  It is not just the seminar that was meaningful, it is the organization of TSYP that holds us together and supports us as we carry on, and pass on to others, the tradition of T Krishnamacarya and TKV Desikachar.

Carolyn Hedin, yoga teacher and yoga therapist in the USA

Glossary of Sanskrit terms used

(kindly provided by the author)

  • Kriyā yoga ~ Yoga of action 
  • Tapa ~  austerities
  • Svadhyāya ~  reflection, self-observation
  • Īśvara praidhana ~  surrender 
  • Atha yogānuśāsanam ~  commitment to begin the study of Yoga
  • Vyutthān  ~  distracted mind
  • Nirodha ~  focused, contained  mind
  • Praśāntavāhitā ~  continuous flow of peaceful mind
  • Saskāra ~  conditioning
  • Śānti ~  peace
  • Dhāraā ~  concentration
  • Dhyāna ~  meditation
  • Samādhi ~  mindful absorption
  • Avidyā ~  lack of true knowledge
  • Vidyā ~  true knowledge
  • Aviveka ~  lack of discriminative wisdom
  • Viveka ~  discriminative wisdom
  • Abhyāsa ~  Yoga practice
  • Vairagyam ~  detachment

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