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Yoga Sutra 1.7

Yoga Sutra 1.7 
pratyaksanumanagamah pramanani
Pramana refers to valid means of evaluating. The means are: direct perception, inference, and testimony.

This is one of my favorite sutras as it tells us how we can determine what is correct information. The order Patanjali lists the 3 ways matters, from more reliable to less reliable.

1. The first and most reliable is direct perception - when we experience something for ourselves. What did you see, hear or feel? This is also the best way to learn something. For example, you can read about swimming and watch others swim but you really can't learn how to swim until you get in the water and try it yourself. In yoga, we strongly emphasize the principle of direct experience as a way to learn more about yourself. Perhaps you have heard Pattabhi Jois's quotes "Yoga is 1% theory and 99% practice." and "Practice and all is coming." Also, pausing and reflecting as we practice yoga helps us absorb and process the information we are receiving.

2. The second way, inference, refers to perceiving based on logic and reasoning. For example, if you see smoke, you know there is a fire somewhere. In yoga, we cultivate the ability to discern by comparing our direct experiences. If I do this - what happens? If I do that - what happens? 

3. The third means is testimony, when information is provided by a wise source. Sources could be writings, such as reference books or scriptures, or the opinion of an expert who has spent many years mastering their subject. Consider the qualifications of the authority - are they truly experts? In yoga, there are a lots of different opinions on alignment and styles so how do we decide what is right for us?

To determine if the yoga authority is reliable, consider:
How long has this person been practicing yoga? 
What makes them an expert? 
What happens when I apply the recommendations to my own practice - have I had a positive experience in the past?

Let's apply this sutra to today's world of alternative facts and polarized opinions. What if you are unsure of all the conflicting information spinning around? How do we know what is true? First, evaluate your direct experience. Second, use your intellect. Third, what do trusted references say? If all 3 means are in alignment, then that is very reliable information. But what if there is a conflict between the three means; perhaps your direct experience is different than what you hear others saying? Then you should trust your direct experience over another's opinion. Use logic to determine if someone may be trying to sway you for their own benefit. For example, an independent research scientist's opinion on a scientific topic is more likely to be reliable than a company executive whose corporation would benefit from the data.

There is a lot packed into this sutra. For today, try evaluating something you are unsure of based on the three means and see what conclusion you come to. Let that conclusion rest and percolate. In time, all truth is revealed.

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