Yoga Sutra - Samādhi Pada 1.39
Or [steadiness of the mind is attained] from meditation upon anything of one’s inclination.
Patañjali wraps up this series of sūtras, which have described various meditational options for producing a steady mind, by acknowledging that ultimately the yogī may meditate on any desired object whatsoever, yathābhimata, according to his or her inclination. This is about as undogmatic a position as one can take! As Vācaspati Miśra puts it, “What more can one say?”! The commentators note that whether the object of meditation is external or internal, the point is to fix the mind. Janácek articulates this well: “Patañjali [does not] concern himself with a particular method, but the realization of a methodical principle, no matter by what methodical approach this principle may become manifest … to reach the Yoga goals” (1951, 555–56).
One should note here the remarkable accomplishments of B.K.S. Iyengar, who—along with fellow Krishnamacharya disciples Pattabhi Jois and T.K.V. Desikachar—has arguably done more over the last half century to popularize the spread of āsana practice (bodily postures, the third limb of yoga) than anyone in the recorded history of Yoga. (One must also mention here Swami Śivānanda’s disciples, Swami Vishnu-Devānanda, Swami Satchidānanda, and Swami Chinmayānanda, who have also contributed much to the spread of yoga in the West) In his Tree of Yoga, Iyengar presents āsana, yogic posture, as not just the third of the eight limbs of yoga but also as a self-contained object of meditation that can itself bring about samādhi, the ultimate goal of yoga, if approached and undertaken correctly.
While this is something of an innovation in the history of Yoga, at least in terms of how the commentarial tradition has viewed the practice of āsana, Patañjali himself specified in I.34 that practices associated with the fourth limb of yoga, prāṇāyāma, can bring about steadiness of mind, the prerequisite of samādhi, and here in this sūtra allows that any object of one’s inclination can be used as a meditational prop (ālambana) to achieve this goal. Approaching āsana in this way—as a bona fide support for fixing the mind (and one for which many people in the West might be best suited)—is thus fully defensible within Patañjali’s system, provided it is performed with this intent rather than some other superficial motive. Indeed, this approach constitutes a unique contribution not just to the history of Yoga as it has been transmitted over the centuries but, more important, also to the participational possibilities of the practice of yoga as it is being transmitted in a present-day mainstream context. People who might otherwise be disinterested in some of the other truth claims of Yoga are very attracted to āsana, albeit often for physical rather than spiritual reasons. Even if this is the case, if the mind is fully fixed and absorbed without distraction on the practice of āsana, for whatever motive, it can still attain fixity and stillness. Thus an essential goal of yoga is nonetheless attained. Moreover, as Śaṅkara notes, once the mind has attained steadiness in one area, this steadiness can be readily transferred to other areas. Perhaps more important, once the mind becomes stilled, its sāttvic nature can manifest, as a result of which the qualities of sattva, insight and lucidity, also gradually manifest. These qualities, in turn, start to pervade all aspects of a practitioner’s life and can thus transform one’s understanding and relationship with one’s own practice over time, such that he or she opens to other aspects of the tradition. Ultimately, when sattva gains prominence, the inclination to cultivate wisdom and enlightenment manifests automatically.