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relationship goals: yoga sutra 1:33, the four locks and four keys

For a yoga practice to be truly transformative, we can't rely solely on the asana…the physical poses. In order to realize the benefits of yoga, we must also deeply investigate the inner workings of our hearts and minds. Sounds daunting? There’s help: the book The Yoga Sutras (sutra means thread in Sanskrit) explains the theory and practice of yoga. Said to be written by Patanjali many years ago in India, it contains 196 sutras, or threads. Each sutra is a succinct phrase rich with meaning, often requiring explanation and exploration with the guidance of a skilled teacher. When woven together the sutras create a cohesive guide to practicing yoga.

Sutra 1:33 is one of the most applicable of the yoga sutras. Commonly referred to as the” four locks and four keys,” this sutra can be applied to our relationships with others and with ourselves. 

The four locks and four keys describe four behaviors and four related responses as tools to help you relate, and live, with a clear, calm mind and open heart so you can make more sound decisions to strengthen your valued, healthy relationships and to navigate and avoid unhealthy ones including with yourself.  

The fours locks are: suffering, happiness, good/virtuous actions, and bad/wrong actions

The four keys are: compassion, friendliness, delight, and understanding

To be clear: these practices are not about condoning behavior, they are tools to help you protect your peace and expand your capacity for healthy relating.  

Following are yogini Jenna Maryn Mitchell’s understanding of the fours locks and four keys of Sutra 1:33 as taught to her by her teachers and explored through her personal practice. 

1. When you encounter someone suffering or experiencing sadness, cultivate feelings of compassion for their suffering. This doesn’t mean you need to remove their suffering or fix their problems, simply show compassion. 

2. When you encounter another who looks to be happy, feel friendliness towards them. Sometimes when we see someone who is very happy and we are not, we feel jealous or we compare ourselves.  Avoid falling into this hole of jealousy or comparison, and instead cultivate real feelings of friendliness. 

3. When you see someone performing an action that you consider meritorious, good, or right action, celebrate and delight in their good deed. This can be another tempting situation to compare action and behavior to your own, but seek to let go of comparison. Learn to recognize and appreciate the achievements of others without adding judgment or comparison. 

4. When you see someone doing an activity that you consider to be bad, wrong, or inappropriate, look behind the behavior, seeking to understand their point of view. This is a hard one for many people. Try to recall that people have many different motivations to do the things they do, and it’s important that we are open enough to consider their perspective (note: of course, this does not apply to violence where action is required)

For yourself: when you are suffering, give yourself compassion; when you feel happy, delight in your own happiness; if you do something good be proud and celebrate your achievement; if you mess up, be understanding, give yourself grace. 

Implementing yoga philosophy into your life is one way that you can take your yoga practice off the mat and into your day. Happy exploring, happy practice.

image:  keys, Tikse Temple, near Leh, Ladakh, India


San Francisco Bay Area-based Jenna Maryn Mitchell teaches public yoga classes and workshops and leads retreats internationally. Her teaching style is mindful, empowering, and lighthearted. Her energizing classes emphasize alignment and form to build strength, increase flexibility, and develop more functional movement patterns while emphasizing breath to encourage focus, relieve stress and facilitate deeper states of meditation. Yoga, Jenna testifies, has forever changed her life for the better and she is eternally grateful to be able to share this ancient science of healing and self-discovery.  Find her on Instagram @jennamarynyoga

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