Week 6: Let Your Thoughts Be Your Guidepost (Sutra 5)

“There are five kinds of mental modifications which are either painful or painless.”

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Vrttayah Pancatayyah Klistaklistah

Vrttayah: modifications/distortions | Pancatayyah: fivefold | Klista: painful | Aklistah: painless


“If you really want to be selfish [for any reason, whether it is because you feel that you cannot help it, or just because you do not want to help it], be selfish in the idea of retaining your peace.”

-Sri Swami Satchidananda

All thoughts, which without a doubt start with you, come in two forms according to Patanjali in Sutra 5 of our lessons.

Thoughts are either selfish or selfless, and they have the effect of either creating pain or creating peace in ourselves and (then ultimately) in the world.

Selfish thoughts create pain and misery for both the thinker and those impacted by them (even if these thoughts initially have a façade of goodness, like in the pretense of love for the sake of vanity), and selfless thoughts create peace (even if they start out seemingly “bad,” such as in the scolding of a child in order to correct their wrong behaviors, or speaking out about injustice or wrong-doing).

It is, therefore, the intention behind all thoughts that matters, whether these thoughts arise from a purely self-satisfying place, or whether they come from a place of full understanding of their impact with a desire to do good. You, therefore, have control over what you create in the world starting with your intentions/thoughts, and the fastest way to identify whether these intentions will ultimately lead to misery or peace in the world is to simply feel them out and to scrutinize them from the point of their conception.


Because your body is a highly intelligent vehicle that regulates your every function as it takes you through time and space, what Sutra 5 reminds us of is that your emotions serve as powerful navigating tools for gaging how close, or far, you are from your true self/expression.

Depending on the thoughts that you are thinking at any given moment, and how they make you feel, you can immediately identify what their impact will be in the world and whether they are ultimately in alignment with your, and others’, highest good. This will help you to not only honor your path of walking in non-violence as you agreed to do in step one of your Eightfold Path, but will also help you to avoid creating negative karma (actions) within yourself and the world as well.

It is, therefore, your responsibility, as we continue with our practice here, to be mindful of your thoughts as they arise and to become true “analysts” of them if you intend to reach your ultimate goal of true self-realization/expression in the world.


If you chose to be selfish about anything, this Sutra, therefore encourages, “[g]o to the…extreme and be selfish in refusing to disturb your own peace,” since this will allow you to do the same for others as well.

Remain honest as you move forward with this practice, and be aware of the thoughts that you are thinking as you go about your day so that you can effectively determine whether what you are creating within you will ultimately create misery or peace around you by extension of your words and actions.

Do not try to think for other people either (you cannot do this unless you become an ego-attached master manipulator instead of a liberated master yogi), but instead use your own creative navigating tool of the mind to simply generate peace.

The best way to do this is really simple: Ask yourself how you feel when a certain thought comes to mind; does it feel good to you when you think it? And will any actions that are inspired or influenced by it generate something good for you and the people around you?

If you find that a thought does not ultimately lead to anything good, because it does not come from a place of good intention, it is best to either try to reframe it or to let it go.

Be mindful of this as you move forward throughout your week and you will find that it will not only deepen your Yoga practice, but that it will also create a great deal of good in the world around you as well.


10 Forms of Twisted Thinking To Avoid As You Go About Your Day (As Laid Out In David Burn’s The Feeling Good Handbook)


Ultimately, however, regardless of what thoughts you may be thinking, it is important to simply observe them neutrally without judgement or attachment. While positive and mindful thinking are aspects of Yoga practice, so is neutral non-attachment. Your aim should be, if you wish to progress higher on your path through your practice, to learn to recognize the shape and impact of your thoughts honestly and neutrally (since they are not “who you are” at your core), learn to guide your thoughts effectively since you are in control to a large extent, use discernment to not become too attached to them whether perceived as “good” or “bad” (or “right” or “wrong”), and then completely put them all aside for total liberation.

Suggested Reading:

The Feeling Good Handbook by David Burns

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