Threads of Yoga

Threads of Yoga: A Remix of Patanjali’s Sutra’s, with commentary and reverie
Authored by Matthew Remski

Threads of Yoga is a “remix” of Patanjali’s yoga sutras, pieced together from a dozen other translations, classical commentaries and reflections from 15 years of personal practice. It presents this ancient text in a revitalized form, as if Patanjali’s vast acumen for consciousness studies had benefited from the discoveries of modernity and postmodernity. It’s a project I began with my friend and colleague Scott Petrie.

In the text and commentaries, I blend philosophy, psychotherapy, literary theory, anthropology and aesthetics. I am specifically indebted to the literature and practice of psychoanalysis for my thoughts around the child-developmental and psycho-evolutionary stages displayed in classical yogic thought.

I have given the textuality of my remix a fluid mood, presenting it in prose form, in sentence form with contemporary poetic line-breaks, in its conventional mode of one aphorism per line, as well as aphorism-plus-commentary interlaced. My intention is that this visual flexibility helps to hint at the oral and performative quality of the aphorisms, and to loosen the feelings of calcification that often accrue to ‘important books’. My thought is that if this book is as visually variegated as the oral tradition is variegated in accent, tone, projection, aural ambience, digression, and anecdote, perhaps it can actually begin to do what it describes: disrupt conscious patterning with moments of perceptual wonderment and unexpected integration.

Interlaced amongst Patanjali’s reveries are my own, in the spirit of encouraging others to dream in the language of yoga philosophy as well.

Part 1. quick-start guide…. 6
Part 2. introductory notes…..11
2.1 restoring embodiment: a manifesto for a changing tradition…. 12
2.2 on the method of “remixing”…. 16
2.3 loosening the tyranny of certainty…. 24
Part 3. threads: the complete remix of the yoga sūtra-s of patañjali…. 26
3.1 the book of integration…..27
3.2 the book of practices…..29
3.3 the book of wonders….32
3.4 the book of overflowing…..35
Part 4. pāda one: integration…37
4.1 the book of integration….38
4.2 the song of integration….41
4.3 the scroll of integration….44
4.4 openings: the evolutionary democracy of yoga…45
4.5 looking closer: to join or not to join?…51
4.6 considering “consciousness”, “awareness”, “perception”…55
4.7 thread 1.16 vs. phenomenology…61
4.8 on “yoga creationism” and the eternality of consciousness… 63
4.9 hard dualism as a trauma response to the novelty of introspection… 65
4.10 hard dualism as a failure of ambivalence….69
4.11 healing the presumptuousness of consciousness, healing the inner family tree….72
4.12 evolution through hacking…74
4.13 meditation on the qualia (guṇa-s) of existence… 76
4.14 from infanticide to deconstruction: exploring the origins and legacy of the nivṛtti and nirguṇa impulses 80
4.16 further reverie on śūnya and zero…… 88
4.17 my revisions of key Patañjalian views…. 89
4.16 my choices: the book of integration…. 90
Part 5. pāda two: practices… 102
5.1 the book of practices….. 103
5.2 the song of practices….. 107
5.3 the scroll of practices…. 111
5.4 practice begins with other…. 112
5.5 mother, other, world…. 114
5.6 eight limbs therapeutic redux….. 117
5.7 some notes on the yamas: the language of learning the other…. 119
5.8 love…122
5.9 niyamas: the language of learning the self… 123
5.10 the beginning of āsana…. 128
5.11 aligning breath in space….. 130
5.12 prāṇāyama relaxes the self-other divide….. 133
5.13 pratyāhāra in the sensual world…. 136
5.14 embodied meditation… 138
5.15 good-enough mother, good-enough practice… 139
5.16 my choices: the book of practices…. 141
Part 6. pāda three: wonders… 158
6.1 the book of wonders…. 159
6.2 the song of wonders…. 163
6.3 the scroll of wonders… 166
6.4 meditation, magic, magical thinking and existential radiance…. 167
6.5 on the other hand: magic resists the banal…. 171
6.6 what is meditation for?… 173
6.7 epoche… 181
6.8 karma as feedback… 183
6.9 piercing the ādhyātmikā bubble… 187
6.10 my choices: the book of wonders…. 189
Part 7. pāda four: overflowing…. 204
7.1 the book of overflowing…. 205
7.2 the song of overflowing….. 207
7.3 the scroll of overflowing….. 209
7.4 overflow and the intersubjective…… 210
7.5 against isolation and the extraction urge……. 211
7.6 lubricating the threshold between polarities: a samādhi on saṃdhi….. 216
7.7 reverie on “cleave”……… 222
7.8 left to right: the psychogenic triptych of perception, consciousness, and awareness….. 224
7.9 my choices: the book of overflowing……. 226
Part 8. coda…. 235
8.1 how do we learn and continue to learn?….. 236
8.2 the love of not-knowing…. 239
8.3 negotiating the anxiety of influence….. 242
8.4 homo accipiens…… 245
8.5 a brief review, and notes for future study on the neuroscience of yoga and meditation…. 248
8.6 how I got here…256
8.6 saving breath for what is to come…259
source texts for Patañjali…. 263

What should a root yoga text say, given what we now understand from evolution, phenomenology, and psychoanalysis? From neuroscience, humanism, feminism, and deconstruction? To ask such a question would be to be honest about what we need, and to take full and excited responsibility for how our lineage evolves.

Here are some of my revisions, broadly. It’s an unfinished list:

  1. Awareness is not an eternal, abstract or extractable ideal: it evolves through time, and in intrinsic relationship with every bit of biology that supports it.
  2. Our suffering is not the result of our connection with the world, as the ascetic mood suggests. Nor is it an illusion, as the Vedāntic interpreters of Patañjali insist (Śaṃkara and those who follow). Our experiences of disconnection and dissociation are suffering.
  3. Human flesh and feeling is continuous with the feeling flesh of the world: we cannot find a division between them.
  4. The movements of gravity, urge, and resolution are endlessly interwoven and pervade all experience. Escaping from their influence would be both impossible and boring.
  5. Samādhi – the integrated moment – is commonplace, available to everyone, and cued by everyday intimacies.

(note: diacritics are not yet inserted)


1.1 We all inquire into yoga.

“Now, the teachings of yoga” is the typical translation (Bryant, Hartranft, and others). I have fertilized this simple opening with some of the central themes of threads. Starting with “we”: if we take yoga to be conjunctive — psychologically, socially, politically, ecologically — its study and practice will be intersubjective. With the first person plural, the aphorism becomes self-reflective: yoga is, among many other things, communion through dialogue. The first person plural also implies the “now” of the original opening word atha: dialogue can only take place in the present. “All” invokes inclusivity: if we share anything as a human family it is the drive towards re-integration. “All” also suggests the transhistorical invocation of Patanjali: his atha indicates his process of collating the extant teachings of his day. threads is a similar project. The sound of “all” also retains the phonetic impact of the first syllable of atha, the guttural opening of the throat that begins the Sanskrit alphabet, said to be the first sound of both creation and human speech.

1.2 Yoga happens in the resolution of consciousness.

The common rendering of this sutra invokes the goal of constricting experience. “Yoga is the cessation of the turnings of thought,” writes Miller. I remix to “yoga happens”, implying that a state is to be revealed when an habitual distortion is clarified. In translating nirodah as “resolution”, I stay away from “suppression” (Aranya), “inhibition” (Taimni), “restraint” (Sacchidananda), and “control” (Prabhavananda) – none of which would be helpful in the realm of self-evolution practices such as psychotherapeutic care and somatic healing, which always seek to open and add space. “Resolution” implies a sensation of integration, which occurs both naturally and occasionally through willful action. “Turnings of thought” (vrittis) is generalized here to “consciousness”.

1.3 Through yoga, consciousness can become aware of its interdependence.

This thread is a first gauntlet thrown down against the isolationist arc of Patanjali’s thought. He posits the “seer” (drastuh, which I activate with “can become aware of”) as an extractable function from the “seen” (prakriti). He teaches that the blending of seer and seen is our fundamental challenge, and that our salvation lies in their separation. These threads explore the opposite: that our pain comes from the alienation of consciousness from livingworld. The seer must re-member its interdependence with perception and the other to avoid the result of thread 1.4.

1.4 Otherwise, consciousness can become increasingly alienated, and awareness becomes inaccessible.

“Increasingly”: consciousness can be a continually self-abstracting evolute of the human experience. Our disembodiment and dissociation seem to hurtle blindly forward and upward, as evidenced by our eco-crises.

1.5 There are five common conscious patterns that can clash or harmonize:

For Patanjali, patterns of consciousness (vrittis) are klista (clashing) or aklista (non-clashing). It’s crucial to remember that neither category is acceptable to the ascetic view, which dreams of complete and permanent un-patterning.

1.6 assertions, confusions, imagination, dreamless sleep, and remembering.

1.7 Assertions may come from witnessing, inference, or belief.

For agamah, I use “belief”, replacing “testimony” (Miller and others) and “competent evidence” (Vivekananda), to emphasize the co-dependence of authority and faith. Direct perception and inference are not so mediated.

1.8 Confusions are the misalignment of words and reality.

Words generally obfuscate presence. The word is not the thing, a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, and I conceal as much as I reveal as I choose words to represent myself and my thoughts. But in the “confused” pattern of consciousness (viparyaya), the gap between signifier and signified begins at an immediate perceptual level and creates an unintentional fiction. The classic scriptural example is that of mistaking a coiled rope for a snake at twilight. Here, the general obfuscation of words becomes explicit inaccuracy that will immediately confuse another and distort consensus reality. Confusion is a supplementary veil of language-driven consciousness laid over the livingworld. In Vedic linguistics, confusion occurs only at the level of vaikhiri (any spoken word as the audible devolution of the authentic impulse to speak), which arises from madhyama (the speech of dreams, emanating from the heart), which arises from pashyanti (the speech of deep sleep, emanating from the navel), which arises from para (the speech of a perceptually integrated state, emanating from the perineum).

1.9 Imagination is language that drifts away from relationship, towards metaphysics.

Miller has: “Conceptualization comes from words devoid of substance.” Here, I place the “imaginary” (Miller’s “conceptualization”, vikalpa) on a scale of language-abstraction, which drifts from the relational to the disembodied. This thread accounts for Patanjali’s focus on our capacity for semiotic ungroundedness, but goes farther to associate this capacity with the language-habit that informs the entire discourse of the sutras. To the extent that Patanjali speaks of such metaphysical quantities as purusha and isvara, he is in the language-realm of the abstract-disembodied, which cannot engender relationship in the same way as does language that describes what we can all see and work with.

1.10 Dreamless sleep is a feeling of nothingness.

1.11 Remembering is the present experience of the past.

1.12 These patterns can be loosened through consistent practice and presence.

Vairagya is usually translated as “dispassion”. To choose “presence” turns away from a critique of sensual engagement to promote a relaxed sensuality that rests in the present. The word choice retains a focus on the reduction of expectations, without stripping the practitioner of the passions involved in becoming still or, indeed, the passions of stillness. “Loosened” evokes the etymology of “analysis”, which means “untying”, and carries the mood of psychotherapeutic work.

1.13 Practice is any intentional re-patterning of the mind towards interdependence.

“Intentional” is my choice for yatnah, instead of “vigilance” (Houston), “permanent control” (Prabhavananda), or “continuous struggle” (Vivekananda). I favour the language of cognitive behavioural therapy to the language of discipline and punishment, which alludes to a transcendental fall. Secondly, to me, “re-patterning” suggests actual change, providing a balance for “practice” (the rendering of abhyasa by almost every translator), which implies continual preparation. In a phenomenological yoga, there is nothing to prepare for, no one moment more important than others, no future performance of an idealized state. There is simply the experience at hand.

1.14 Re-patterning may occur over a period of consistent and focused effort.

1.15 Presence is felt when you hold no expectation or assumption.

1.16 Awareness of interdependence is the fullest presence.

The original aphorism promises disconnection from the most fundamental building blocks of nature, the gunas (gravity, urge, resolution — tamas, rajas, sattva). Bryant, again: “Higher than renunciation is indifference to the gunas. This comes from the perception of purusha, soul.” My thread suggests the opposite: that being immersed in the gunas (the tangible media of interdependence) is “presence”. Here, “presence” might be construed as “dispassion” for what is truly alienating: the abstraction of consciousness from the phenomenological.

1.17 Reasoning, reflection, wonderment, and the awe of being alive are the initial gateways to integration.

Yogic skill is akin to hacking the mainframe of consciousness from cognitive towards extra-cognitive states. The task is to become aware of the hidden mechanisms of consciousness so that they can be applied or altered with transparency. The sutra suggests that this hacking flows forward, with analysis preceding insight, which precedes bliss, which precedes understanding how our individuality is generated. The commentator Vijnanabhiksu stages this hacking by describing the order of deconstruction: first we become aware of the object qua object, and then of the act of sensing it, and then of the function of the sense organ, and then of the agency that owns the senses.

1.18 Through integration, these gateways dissolve, leaving unseen traces.

In 1.17-18, the difference between samprajnata samadhi (the integration invoked by the “initial gateways” of knowledge) and asamprajnata samadhi (the integration that dissolves the gateways of knowledge in a flash of non-thought) would be the difference between integrative experience that is self-conscious (“I’m here, doing this), and integrative experience in which self-consciousness vanishes (“[pleasure soft pleasure, no thoughts at all, soft pleasure soft]”). Patanjali suggests that at this point of clarity, only “unseen traces” (samskara) remain in what is left of consciousness.

1.19 At death, these unseen traces are resolved into their surroundings and recycled.

The original sutra distinguishes here between levels of humans according to meditative attainment: the greater ones (post-humans) disappear into sublime ether while retaining some self-sense, while the lesser ones (merely-humans) are confined to rebirth. I ignore the speculative metaphysics of reincarnation to focus on how the constituents that propelled the yogi towards integration – the samskaras embedded in flesh and thoughts – are commonly and simply recycled into the web of life. The original implies that meditative perfection culminates in the disappearance of the yogi from prakriti, which reinforces the escape-narrative of asceticism. When we subtract the subtraction of the metaphysical narrative, there is no escape from the world that makes us and receives us.

(this section is my “remix” of samadhi pada)


We all inquire into yoga.
Yoga happens through the resolution
of consciousness.
Through yoga, consciousness can become
aware of its interdependence.
Otherwise, consciousness can become increasingly
and awareness becomes inaccessible.


There are five common conscious patterns
that can lead to pleasure or pain:
assertions, confusions, imagination,
dreamless sleep and remembering.

Assertions may come from witnessing,
inference or belief.
Confusions are the misalignment of words
and reality.
Imagination is language that drifts away from relationship,
towards metaphysics.

Dreamless sleep is a thought pattern about
Remembering is the present experience of the past.
These patterns can be loosened
through consistent practice and presence.

Practice is any intentional re-patterning
of the mind towards interdependence.
Re-patterning may occur over a period
of consistent and focused effort.
Presence is felt when you hold no
expectation or assumption.
Awareness of interdependence is
the fullest presence.

Reasoning, reflection, wonderment,
and the awe of being alive are
the initial gateways to integration.
Through integration, these gateways dissolve,
leaving unseen traces.
At death, these unseen traces are resolved
into their surroundings,
and recycled.
In yoga, this resolution can come
through the efforts of confidence, energy,
deep memory, focus, and intelligence.

The intensity of practice reveals yoga’s nearness.
Intensity has many different facets,
including the focus of devotion.

Devotion can feel timeless

In that feeling is
the awareness of interdependence.
We have always felt it.
It can be heard in primal sound,
which, when sung, can reveal hidden things.

Then, obstacles to inner spaciousness become transparent.
Those obstacles are disease, apathy, doubt,
carelessness, joylessness, addiction,
false perception, unsteady focus, and restlessness.
Their symptoms are stress, pain, depression,
trembling, and irregular breathing.
Calming practice alleviates these symptoms.

Calmness arises from friendship, empathy, delight,
and equality towards others,
or spaciousness in breathing,
or a feeling of stillness in sensuality,
or when experience is light and joyful,
or when you observe the senses without expectation or assumption,
or by meditating upon dreams or sleep,
or by holding in your heart something you love.

In time, the heart can hold the smallest thing, and
the uncontainable.
When stillness is held,
experience absorbs and reflects
the qualities that surround it.
This experience can hold language,
or it can be silent.
It can deconstruct the object, its components,
its energy, the act of perceiving it,
and the mystery of perception.

In deep meditation you can witness
how experience is woven together.
Such witnessing leaves traces.
Your hidden aspects become integrated.
A feeling of authenticity arises.
It is deeper than what you can hear or study.
It begins to unravel future patterning.
Bearing no future patterns, you become unbound.

The legacy of yoga has been resurrected in our time through the innate pleasure of our flesh. The simplest techniques of breathing, spinal elongation, and joint fluidity have given countless body-alienated postmoderns a renewed sense of vitality, purpose, grounding, and connection. As technology changes the body — in some ways to the point of ubiquity or uselessness — the meme of modern postural yoga has called out our tissues into the daylight. And although there is surely spectacle involved, evoking complicated feelings about how the flesh should look or move, most practitioners know that yoga’s real gift is that of internal sensitivity. In modern yoga we are given a physical culture that rewrites the meaning of flesh from the inside out. If the breath isn’t relaxed, we know we’re not quite there. If thought has not stilled and focussed into the waves of present sensation, we know there’s more (or less) work to do. Further: if the pleasure of musculo-skeletal alignment and warmed circulation does not somehow sweeten our interpersonal relationships, lend resilient courage to daily life, and inspire us towards social and ecological justice, we know we’re missing something. Through modern postural yoga we have remembered that our flesh innately wants to rejoice, connect and serve, and that it does not lie.

This yoga renaissance is quietly rewriting a central theme of its parent tradition. The body has rarely if ever been considered as its own value in older yoga cultures. At best, the body has been seen as a vessel for an unseen higher essence, and therefore an instrument for its own transcendence, as per the many tantric and natha yoga lineages. Less positively, the body has been seen as the definitive proof of separation from divinity, as in the bhakti yoga lineages. And perhaps the most negative view of all — the body as the repulsive devolution of consciousness and an obstacle to the recovery of self-knowledge — has been the hallmark of many ascetic views that in no way reflect our present values, yet echo stubbornly through our discourse and unspoken sentiments. The yoga sutras of Patanjali fall squarely into this ascetic mood: compiled from the sayings of renunciates of many stripes who at the dawn of urbanization fled their families and social roles to tiny forest ashrams, where, with great austerities, they attempted to tame the unruly and desirous body towards the goal of transcendent epiphany.

Patanjali says little about the value of embodied sensation. He says little about interpersonal love, and nothing of children or ecology. He presents an ultimately internalizing path, in which ethics are a means towards social disentanglement, and the body has evolutionary value to the extent we are disgusted by it (sutra 2.40). In other words, he teaches exactly against the present zeitgeist of yoga culture. And yet his book is presented, largely uncritically, as a seminal text in most yoga education programmes throughout the world today. Our dogged adherence to it is either a sign of nostalgia for a bygone age, or, more problematically, a hidden wish to console our complex interpersonal suffering through social withdrawal and meditative narcissism — which some might say we’re already accomplishing through consumerism.

But we are also powerfully enthralled by Patanjali’s unwavering examination of conscious and unconscious processes. There is something mystically attractive about an Axial Age description of thought and psychological patterning presented with such quiet authority. My experience is that many who encounter the aphorisms have the immediate sense that they arise out of a non-distractedness that our world and culture can rarely offer. They suspend us in a mood of extended contemplation and confident stillness. One of the primary attractions of the text, regardless of the philosophy it presents, is that it highlights the relative crudeness of our speed, our data-saturation, our ambivalence, our vulnerability to alienation and the banal. And in a world of limitless copy, the economy of these aphorisms shines like the edge of a blade.

It is this close and precise attention that I wish to translate here, if not the metaphysics. Philosophy will change through discourse: all tenets are temporary and unstable. What does not change is the requirement of attention that makes our changing discourse evolutionary, as opposed to supplementary. I offer this text and commentary as an alternative speculation on what Patanjali’s attention and incision might offer us today, within a far different social-philosophical context than his own. A context in which renunciate withdrawal will not heal our interpersonal pain or speak to our social diseases. A context in which we desperately need re-embodiment and grounded connection to our ecology. A context in which that magic of bodily pleasure that got us practicing in the first place becomes the basis for reaching out with love into the world that made us, has always held us, and which we never wish to leave.

You can buy the book directly, through CreateSpace.

List Price: $24.00

Buy now »

Praise for Threads of Yoga