Established Practitioner Study notes

Philosophy focus for Established practitioners

A student arriving within this level has learnt to watch the rise of emotions and thoughts and recognised that emotions and thoughts give rise to ideas of ‘self’.  The challenge is to examine notions of ‘self’ and attempt to alter experience by adjusting or calibrating our thoughts and emotions.

Until a practitioner fully comprehends (has experienced) that observation and perception are subjective they remain developing practitioners. However once they have established this ‘experiential knowing’, it is possible to make ‘the subjective nature of perception’ an object of study.

Different groupings of asana and the progressive deepening of a practice within that grouping can strategically place a set of emotions and thoughts in front of a practitioner. In this process the practitioner is asked to examine the interplay of their ‘I-ness’ within the practice experience.

As they ‘put down’ the detail of their ‘I-ness’ students are free to become absorbed within their experience and learn to access the deeper intelligence of the body as the microcosm of the macrocosm.

As Established practitioners, in examining self, we:

  •  identify citta (consciousness) as being made up of manas (mind), amkara (I-ness) and buddhi (intelligence)
  • examine  the nature of the vrittis (fluctuations) and klesas (afflictions or sufferings) which affect the consciousness
  • begin to examine the interplay of “I-ness” (in particular attachment to emotions and thoughts) within the practice experience and to strengthen the function of intelligence such that non-attachment becomes possible (non-attachment is a step before detachment [1]).
  • come to understand where effort must be directed for change in citta to manifest. BKS Iyengar advises that ethical practice of asana, pranayama, pratyahara will bring an outcome of concentration (dharana).
  • develop discernment – evaluating and discerning sensation, and the relationship between action and outcomes across the spectrum of experience (physical, mental/emotional and intellectual).

Practitioners work at this level for many years. For most a minimum of five years is indicated whilst a few with established home practices may step develop enough maturity within three years such that movement to the next level is sustainable.

Key concepts introduced in the Established practitioner program are outlined below. It is important to recognise that these themes build upon the material covered in Foundation and Developing practitioner levels.

Anatomy of Citta

In order to examine notions of self a practitioner must recognise the anatomy of citta (consciousness). They can then begin to differentiate their consciousness and study its moods and function. BKS Iyengar writes:

Yoga identifies three constituent parts to our consciousness (which it calls citta). They are mind (which is called manas), ego or self with a small “s” (which is called ahamkara), and intelligence (which is called buddhi). The mind, as I have said, is the outer layer of consciousness. Its nature is fickleness, unsteadiness, and inability to make productive choices. It cannot decide between good and bad, right or wrong, correct or incorrect. This is the role of the intelligence, which is the inner layer. Ahamkara, or ego, is the innermost layer of consciousness. Literally, ahamkara means “I-shape.” It presents itself as our personalities and assumes the identity of the true Self. It is the part of us that hankers after anything that attracts. Whichever layer of consciousness is active expands, causing the others to retract. Yoga describes the relationship between these parts and their relative proportion to each other, and then yoga explains how they react when they encounter the world, which of course they do all the time. Yoga points out how we generally react to the outside world by forming entrenched patterns of behaviour that doom us to relive the same events endlessly, though in a superficial variety of forms and combinations.[2]

When we observe experience we should recognise that it contains ‘I’ness. In this way sensation is filtered by its relationship to me. Sensations do not hurt unless they hurt someone. Equally, manas (mind) moves and is inclined to overlook detail – it samples and judges. Manas often groups and classifies. Things which are similar must be the same. Sensations in the present often resemble fearful experiences of pain in the past. This clouds our perception of what is actually happening right now.  Buddhi is that aspect of the consciousness that can differentiate and evaluate experience. Our aim in Yoga is to still mind, detach from I’ness and cultivate buddhi so we can see clearly what is really there in each moment. 

Quietening mind and cultivating intelligence: Body as teacher

In Yoga, it is understood that the body is the microcosm of the macrocosm meaning that we, as individuals, exhibit qualities that can be viewed throughout nature. Mind (manas) is dominated by mental/emotional fluctuations and is fraught with misperception, illusion and so on. Geeta Iyengar states:

The mind can judge only on the basis of pleasure and pain, comfort and discomfort, suitability and unsuitability but these judgements are relative depending on one’s taste.[3] 

Established practitioners learn to separate mental/emotional mind from the function of the intelligence. They begin to apply mind as a sense organ (ie they quieten the mind and use it to receive inputs/information from the body) and to cultivate intelligence (buddhi) as distinct from mind (manas).

The nervous system carries signals from the brain to the body and back again, so that the process of evaluation and the reading of experience can be undertaken. The nervous system in the Iyengar methodology is representative of manomaya kosa.[4] This kosa acts as a bridge between the gross and subtle bodies or sariras. Students learn to watch the relationship of the motor and sensory nerves, observing how messages are sent from the brain and received and processed to bring refined action. The body is ‘the teacher’ in that, as the student perceives increasingly refined movements, adjustments and responses within the body, they begin to recognise intelligence (buddhi). When a practitioner embraces the body as a teacher and stops imposing upon the body to meet fraught expectations emanating from manomaya kosa, their practice is a consultation with intelligence.

Developing Concentration

Focus is given to the distinction between the practices of yoga (asana, pranayama and pratyahara) and the outcomes, dharana (concentration), dhyana (meditation) and samadhi. Practitioners come to understand that effort must be directed tothe practices for change in citta to manifest. BKS Iyengar advises that ethical practice of asana, pranayama, pratyahara (through application of the yamas and niyamas) will bring an outcome of dharana.[5]

By examining citta and its function a pool of experiences is accumulated as to what is not concentration (as it is impossible within a state of concentration to examine concentration).

BKS Iyengar indicates that the senses of perception “should not be withdrawn but drawn to know the measurable body,” The extent to which we know the body we know the citta.  Where the body is unknown citta is unknown. BKS says “my message for you is that not a single pore of the skin should remain in darkness or unattended to when you are performing the asana. Then there will be no more vrittis.” [6]

 Vrttis and Klesas

When we undertake a study of consciousness within a practice of Yogasana we seek not only to identify the anatomy of citta but also to study its movements, states and afflictions (ie the vrttis and klesas).

In his commentary on the Yoga Sutras BKS Iyengar writes about the klesas[7] (afflictions or sufferings):

Klesas (sufferings or afflictions) have 5 causes: ignorance, or lack of spiritual wisdom and understanding (avidya), pride or egoism (asmita), attachment (raga), aversion (dvesa), and fear of death and clinging to life (abhinivesa). The first two are intellectual defects, the next two emotional, and the last instinctual. They may be hidden, latent, attenuated or highly active[8].

Klesa[9]How they disturb cittaSutra II.3 translationLevel of afflictionSpheres of the brain
Avidya (Sutra II.5)Want of spiritual knowledgeIgnorance or lack of wisdomIntelligence; “here lack of spiritual knowledge combined with pride or arrogance inflates the ego, causing conceit and the loss of one’s sense of balance.”Conscious front brain and the top brain is considered the seat of ‘I’ consciousness
Asmita (Sutra II.6)I or me or mineEgo, pride of the ego or sense of ‘I’
Raga (Sutra II.7)Desire and attachmentAttachment to pleasureEmotions/feelings; “Succumbing to excessive desires and attachments or allowing oneself to be carried away by expressions of hatred, creates disharmony between body and mind, which may lead to psychosomatic disorders.”The base of the brain, the hypothalamus
Dvesa (Sutra II.8)Pain and hatredAversion to pain
Abhinivesa (Sutra II.9)Fear of deathClinging to lifeInstincitive; “the desire to prolong one’s life and concern for ones’s own survival.. makes one suspicious in dealings with others, and causes one to become selfish and self-centred.”The ‘old’ brain or back brain (unconscious brain), retains samskaras.

The sadhaka must learn to locate the sources of the afflictions, in order to be able to nip them in the bud through his yogic principles and disciplines [10]

In his discussion of the vrttis (fluctuations in consciousness), BKS Iyengar describes the way residual impressions from experience affect the consciousness:

….  If discriminative power is lacking, then these imprints, like quivering leaves, create fluctuations in words, thoughts and deeds, and restlessness in the self. These endless cycles of fluctuations are known as vrttis: changes, movements, functions, operations, or conditions of action or conduct in the consciousness. Vrttis are thought waves, part of the brain, mind and consciousness as waves are part of the sea.[11]

Vrtti[12] Table 16 TranslationTranslationSutra I.6 Translation
Pramana (Sutra I.7)Valid knowledgeReal perception, or correct knowledge based on fact and proof.Correct knowledge is direct knowledge from the core of the being. It is intuitive, therefore pure, and beyond the field of the intellect.  Direct knowledge leads man beyond the conscious state. Sutra I.7
PratyaksaDirect perception
Viparyaya (Sutra I.8)Mistaken identityUnreal or perverse perception, or illusionWrong perceptions are gathered by the senses of perception and influence the mind to accept what is felt by them.
Vikalpa (Sutra I.9)Knowledge devoid of substanceDoubt, indecision. Fanciful or imaginary knowledge.Fanciful knowledge causes the mind to live in an imaginary state without consideration of the facts.
Nidra (Sutra I.10)Sleep or inert stateKnowledge based on sleepIn sleep, one has a glimpse of a quite state of mind, manolaya. This dormant state of mind is felt only on waking.
Smrti (Sutra I.11)Memory, instant colourizationKnowledge based on memoryMemory helps one to recollect experiences for right understanding.

Developing discernment

Evaluation and discernment characterise the practice of an established practitioner. Practice experience is a process of evaluation and discernment of sensation, including awareness of relationship between action and outcomes across the spectrum of experience (physical, mental/emotional and intellectual). Through this process of refinement we begin to discern between gross action and subtle sensations and begin the involutory journey. This involutory journey leads the sadhaka to observe the vrttis and klesas.

In the Iyengar method it is recognised that when the body acts as a container for mind and mind fills the container completely, illusions, doubts, misperceptions and memories cannot dominate our experience.  Direct perception of body/mind/breath, in the moment of experience, becomes the source of knowledge and wisdom. Established practitioners require a methodical disciplined practice of ‘filling the container of the body with mind’ to avoid misperception, doubt and illusion.

Discernment is a process that evolves dharmendriya (conscience) or capacity for right action or action that does not create re-action. Given the nature of mind, its tendency to fluctuate and to take hold of ideas and memories that throw meaning over events or objects, practice must refine how the mind functions to prevent this colourisation of experience.

The function of discernment involves vijnanamaya kosa (intellectual body)and is a process whereby the practitioner has a gauge or measure of repose or calmness. When our wishes and desires subside we experience fullness: a sustained support within ourselves that is un-ending. From this we experience a sense of calm. When this calm is absent from our practice experience we seek to become present as this is the path of re-pose.

Grades of practice

Students established in a practice of Yoga undertake an evolution of practice. From an indefinite approach they develop method and discipline.  From method and discipline a scientific or reflective practice emerges. These grades of practice[13] explain how a student must evolve their approach to practice. The evolution of practice is a demonstration of abhyasa.

When a practitioner can practice to address citta (manas, ahamkara, buddhi) and the states of citta (dull; busy; partially stable but also wandering; one pointed; restrained) they have a reflective practice.  This is a mature practice that can only evolve through methodical disciplined application. 

Levels of sadhaka, levels of sadhana and stages of evolution

Levels of sadhakaAbhyasa (practice)Body, mind, soulVairagya (renunciation)Four stages of evolution
  Mrdu (Mild)Slow, indefinite, undecided practicePhysical (annamaya) (indriyamaya)Yatamana (disengaging the senses from action)Arambhavastha. The state of commencement (surface and peripheral movement)
  Madhya (Medium)Methodical, disciplined practicePhysiological (pranamaya, cells, glands, circulatory, respiratory and other organs)Vyatikeka (keeping away from desire)Ghatavastha. The state of fullness (using the physical and physiological sheaths to understand the inner functions of the body)
  Adhimatra (Intense)Scientific, meaningful, purposeful and decisive practiceMental, intellectual (manomaya) (vijnanamaya)Ekendriya (stilling the mind)Paricayavastha.The state of intimate knowledge. (Mind linking annamaya and pranamaya kosas to vijnanamaya kosa)
Tivra samvegin adhimatrataman (Supremely intense)Religiousness and purity in practicePractice with attentive consciousness – surrender to the Supreme SoulVasikara (freeing oneself from cravings)Nispattyavastha. The state of perfection and ripeness (consummation)


  • BKS Iyengar: Light on Life, Rodale press 2005
  • BKS Iyengar: Tree of Yoga: Shambala classics 2002
  • BKS Iyengar: Light on Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Thorsons edition 2002

[1] BKS Iyengar Light on Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Thorsons 2002 p. 14

[2] BKS Iyengar, Light on life, Rodale press 2005. p.111

[3] Geeta S. Iyengar. ‘The Involvement of Consciousness in Yogasana’. Yoga Rahasya Vol 2 no.2

[4] Alan Goode article: Mastering a state of being.

[5] BKS Iyengar, Tree of Yoga, chapter ‘Yoga and meditation’

[6] BKS Iyengar  Removal of the veil of ignorance and arrogance, Yoga Rahasya Vol 14. No. 1 2007

[7] Alan Goode article. Considering method

[8] BKS Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Thorsons 2002  p.23

[9] Details drawn from BKS Iyengar’s, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Thorsons 2002  p.109-117

[10] BKS Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Thorsons 2002  p. 113

[11] BKS Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Thorsons 2002  p.14

[12] Details drawn from BKS Iyengar’s BKS Iyengar, Light on the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali. Thorsons 2002 p.56

[13] Table 1 Light on Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, Thorsons 2002. See appendix a