What a 1,700 year-old Indian text teaches you about productivity, excellence & happiness

We are all in the race of getting more productive, more focused, more successful and excellent in what we are doing. There are all types of productivity hacks, how-to-get-successful guides and I think trillions of Medium posts on how-to-get-more-focused-in-just-10-days.

But here is a lesser known, enlightening-ly beautiful and enchanting text on all the things above, narrated/written by (according to me the most intelligent sage) Patanjali: The Patanjali Yoga Sutras. But like all Hindu things, people aren’t aware of what treasure our ancient Indian texts contain and how they are all about making our material lives full too. Because only when we are rich inside, can we be rich outside.

The Yoga Sutras, though, speak mostly on the path of Yoga, they also speak about the mind in intricate detail, about discipline like no other scientist or professor and about the obstacles one can face in the path of Yoga. And having studied Yoga Sutras and heard commentaries on this treatise, I believe it’s the most useful text for anyone who wants to be successful.

Believed to be written around 400CE (Common Era), this text contains unbelievably ancient yet modern applicable techniques on how we can inherit this wisdom into modern day work, and I will show you how all the current day theories on productivity and success correspond to whatever is enunciated by Patanjali.

Rishi Patanjali

There are more than 150 verses in the Yoga Sutras, but the one which stands out for me is this one:

“Sa tu dirgha kala nairantarya satkara sevito drudha bhumihi”
  1. length, duration, endurance (dirgha-kala)
  2. continuity, perseverance, non-interruption (nairantarya)
  3. actions that are positive, fair and honorable (sat-kara), or a devout attitude
  4. confidence, zeal and enthusiasm (adara)Patanjali says, anything that you want to firmly loot in, needs the above three things.

This becomes firmly grounded or firmly established in you when you attend to it for a long time, without interruption and with devotion. Sri Sri Ravi Shankar

Long uninterrupted, alert practice is the firm foundation for restraining the fluctuations. BKS Iyengar

It is only when the correct practice is followed for a long time, without interruptions and with a quality of positive attitude and eagerness, that it can succeed. Desikachar

Just these three lines:

  1. Attend to it for a long time
  2. Without interruption
  3. With devotion

Mihaly on “Flow”

Mihaly has done extensive research on the concept of “flow” which actually covers 1&2 of what Patanjali says:

“The best moments in our lives are not the passive, receptive, relaxing times… The best moments usually occur if a person’s body or mind is stretched to its limits in a voluntary effort to accomplish something difficult and worthwhile.” ~ Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi

Incidentally, Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi is one of the pioneers of the scientific study of happiness.

Pursuit of happiness

Unsurprisingly, this Hungarian psychologist comes to a conclusion not unlike those of the great thinkers of the past: that happiness comes from within oneself. He points to ways in which humans have attempted in vain to find happiness through assigning power to things outside of one’s control, and he quotes Marcus Aurelius approvingly when the Stoic philosopher writes, “If you are pained by external things it is not they that disturb you, but your own judgment of them. And it is in your power to wipe out that power now.”
The key to happiness consists in how we invest our psychic energy. When we focus our attention on a consciously chosen goal, our psychic energy literally “flows” in the direction of that goal, resulting in a re-ordering and harmony within consciousness.

Indeed, Csikszentmihalyi argues that Hatha Yoga in particular is one of the best models to describe what happens when psychic energy is flowing along a single channel of consciousness. As he writes,

The similarities between Yoga and flow are extremely strong; in fact it makes sense to think of Yoga as a very thoroughly planned flow activity. Both try to achieve a joyous, self-forgetful involvement through concentration, which in turn is made possible by a discipline of the body. (Csikszentmihalyi, 1990, p.1o5)

Gladwell on hard work and Nairantarya

The very famous Malcolm Gladwell has spoken about his 10,000 hour rule,

Anything in which you want to achieve excellence, you need to practice/apprentice it for atleast 10,000 hours before you get good.

Which Patanjali, abstractly and perhaps more beautifully says : You need to have practiced it in continuity, perseverance & non-interruption (nairantarya). Such beautiful combination, falling perfectly, merging with each other.

Overnight Success? Respect and honour your work

In the last word, Patanjali says that anything you do, doing it with honour, respect and devotion, it becomes firmly established.

Sri Sri Ravi Shankar in his discourse on The Patanjali Yoga Sutras says:

Anything in life that is of firm value takes some time to get cultured. You go to a gym, you need a coach there. Body building does not happen overnight. Muscles will not grow. The body has its requirement of time for its growth. Similarly, the mind needs even more time for its growth. If you want to memorize something, it takes some time to memorize it. In the same way, any practice takes time.

It need not be too long a time, but sufficiently long. And how? Without a gap. What we usually do is that we learn something and leave it after sometime and we start again. If we are little lazy and we do not do it, then the connection is broken and it does not happen. Without a gap, constant practice is essential. If you go to a gym for a couple of days and then leave the practice and then you go again the next month for a couple of days, nothing will happen. Due to lack of consistency, you do not learn any art.

Seth Godin and his “Drip, drip, drip” practice

This is how Seth Godin, the numero Uno marketer talks about working without a gap:

I discovered a lucky secret the hard way about thirty years ago: you can outlast the other guys if you try. If you stick at stuff that bores them, it accrues. Drip, drip, drip you win.

It still takes ten years to become a success, web or no web. The frustrating part is that you see your tactics fail right away.

Showing up, every single day, gaining in strength, organizing for the long haul, building connection, laying track — this subtle but difficult work is how culture changes.

If you want to cause action in the short run, the opposite is true. In the short run, drip by drip rarely puts people on alert. It’s the thunderclap, the coordinated, accelerating work of many people, that causes those in power to sit up and take notice. Do it a few times in a row, or fifty, or a hundred, each with more impact, and you can successfully intervene.

So here we are, when we combine three powerful modern theories, it sums as one small verse in the entire Patanjali Yoga Sutras. What happens when you read and imbibe the whole of it?

Read the full scripture here.

Buy the commentary here.

Thank you :)

If you like this, please share/comment/love. Helps me be “continuous”!