Three Key Ingredients of a Complete Yoga Practice

Patanjaliयोगेन चित्तस्य पदेन वाचां मलं शरीरस्य च वैद्यकेन ।
योऽपाकरोत् तं प्रवरं मुनीनां पतञ्जलिं प्राञ्जलिरानतोऽस्मि ।।

yogena cittasya padena vācāṁ malaṁ śarīrasya ca vaidyakena
yo’pākarot taṁ pravaraṁ munīnāṁ patañjaliṁ prāṇjalir ānato’smi

Samādhi (XTC) is the heart and goal of yoga.  Patañjali offers us three key ingredients of a complete yoga practice (kriyā yoga क्रियायोग) –

तपःस्वाध्यायेश्वरप्रणिधानानि क्रियायोगः ।
tapaḥsvādhyāyeśvarapraṇidhānāni kriyāyogaḥ

Purification, self-study, & absolute surrender to God constitute the practice of yoga.

– Yoga Sūtra 2.1

The three key ingredients are:
1.    Tapas (तपस्): purification
2.    Svādhyāya (स्वाध्याय): self-study
3.    Īśvara praṇidhāna (ईश्वरप्रणिधान): absolute surrender to God

Purification involves action (karma कर्म) and engages us at the physical level.

Self-study involves knowledge (jñāna ज्ञान) and engages us at the mental level.

Absolute surrender to God involves devotion (bhakti भक्ति) and engages us at the emotional level.

In an attempt to make Yoga less threatening, especially in the West, this last but certainly not least of the ingredients is often left out in the practice and teaching of Yoga.  But a balanced practice requires the trinity of parts to be present.  Just as a tripod’s stability is dependent upon its three legs, the astonishing power and potential of yoga is contingent on these three elements.  Eliminating even one leg of a tripod renders it ineffective.  Likewise, removing just one constituent considerably compromises Yoga’s efficaciousness.

The three key ingredients are also like progressive steps.  The practice of yoga must begin with purification, for an impure, clouded mind is not capable of self-study, let alone surrender to God.  For that, both purity and knowledge are necessary.  Without purity, one can never gain understanding and knowledge.  If one does not know oneself, one cannot know God.  And if one knows neither, how does one surrender one (that one does not know) to One (whom is incomprehensible)?  If you say, “I surrender to God”, you must first know who you are, what the process of surrender encompasses, and who God is.  Otherwise, that statement is meaningless.

Devotion without knowledge and purity is impossible.  Emotionalism, on the other hand, is quite easy, and infects most of us.  On the surface, Bhakti Yoga appears to be an easy path to tread, but believing that would be a mistake.  Pure, knowing devotion is unshakeable; emotionalism is like an unstable Washer with an unbalanced load – capable only of frightful noise and fitful shaking.

We have a body, but we are hardly just the body.  We have a mind, but we are not merely the mind.  We have a heart, but that is just one part.  Can you imagine living your life without your body, mind or heart?  Patañjali positively could not imagine the practice of yoga without karma, jñāna, or bhakti.  Only a tripartite practice that addresses the body, the mind, and the heart has the potential to prepare us for the lofty state of samādhi.

The journey to samādhi is long, and we do not know how much time we have…  why cripple your practice of yoga by omitting any of its key ingredients?