Study for Meditation Mat

Study for Meditation Mat
Handspun Tapestry Weaving

Thursday, 9 February 2012

You Spin Me Right Round, Baby: Working Through Confusion

                         Yogash chitta vrtti nirodhah.
                       (Yoga mind whirling stopping.) 
                       --The Yoga Sutra of Patanjali 1.2

Almost everyone with a more than passing interest in yoga has heard of Patanjali’s Sutras and knows that these oral traditions/texts are important.  My question has been, “Why?”  These threads are not instructive epics or parables which capture the imagination through story-telling.  They’re not commandments providing explicit direction for behaviour.  Even allowing for the confusion caused by working with a translation of the Sanskrit and the fact that the commentaries were written long after the original oral form, the Yoga Sutra reminded me of the ramblings of a group of intoxicated people, sitting around a fire, entertaining one another with their Deep Thoughts.  There is much talk of whirling mind and how to stop this, but attempting to understand these sutras on my own just makes my head spin more.

Stoned camping may make for a good time, but it doesn’t often produce works which capture the human imagination for thousands of years.  Clearly, my “why” stems from my modern perspective and lack of understanding of these texts.  My course is providing an opportunity to study the sutras and some of the commentaries on them.  What I've come to understand is that Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is a shorthand guide for those attempting deeper practice of yoga.  Without a guide or guru, the sutras are difficult or impossible to understand.  With guidance, exposition and practice, they shine light.
There is a parallel in yarn spinning, which I think is rather fitting, given that “sutra” translates as “thread” and I am interested in both actual and metaphorical threads.  With proper instruction, a student will quickly understand what I want her to do when I say, “Spin Z” or “Ply S.”  Given two words, she knows that she is to work in a specific way.  If I add a few more common spinning terms, which are likely incomprehensible to a non-spinner, that student can spin a precise yarn.  (In order to understand the nature of that yarn, she must actually spin it, not simply think about what it would be like.)  Thus:

                “Spin 2Z worsted 6 tpi; ply 2S 3tpi” means “Spin 2 yarns using parallel fibres clockwise with a short backward drafting technique, giving each yarn 6 twists per inch.  Twist these 2 yarns together counterclockwise so that the finished yarn contains 3 twists per inch.” 
As much as we may enjoy discourses on string, we can't learn to spin without making yarn.  Not only that, our spinning skills develop more quickly and strongly if we have a knowledgeable guide to help us.  (If you doubt this, try learning to spin by simply reading Mabel Ross, Allen Fannin or Alden Amos.  If you're anything like me, trying to understand Ross's shorthand without actual spinning the yarn makes my mind whirl more that the Yoga Sutra ever could.) 
The next time your spinning practice gets stuck, do your best to find a living, breathing spinner to help you with your problems.  That spinner doesn't have to be a "realized master" or even an expert.  Just look for someone who studies her craft, with attention and some devotion, with a good understanding of how to help you with your problems. 

Be grateful that you probably won't have to do this by sorting through layers of translation from Sanskrit.  On the other hand, I'm thinking that learning Sanskrit seems a perfectly reasonable thing to do right now.

A knowledgeable teacher may help you get from here

To here


  1. That yarn is simply breathtaking. Bravo! The trick does seem to be not stressing out and asking calmly for help. I truly enjoyed this post, thank you for sharing.

    1. The yarn is handspun, but I didn't spin it.(Sorry, I didn't mean to leave that impression. I added the photos to make my point.) My sister had it spun(reeled, actually)in Asia for me years ago. I have a friend who makes silk like this--look for my past post on silk reeling. Her work is stunning.
      You're right, though. Spinning improves when the spinner relaxes; eventually, you can spin anything you wish.
      Thanks for the kind comments.