Intro to Yoga Philosophy: Cultivate Your Garden

The yoga tradition often compares the human body to a field. Find out why.

The word “plow” typically conjures images of a farmer and his team of animals preparing the earth for planting, breaking it up and turning it over. Meanwhile, the yoga tradition often compares the human body (which includes the mind) to a “field” (known in Sanskrit as kshetra).

In the Bhagavad Gita, for example, in response to the warrior Arjuna’s question about the relationship of the body to the authentic Self, Krishna says, “The body is called the field.” By this he means that the body belongs to the material or earthly realm, because it is impermanent and liable to decay, and also because the “fruits of your actions”—the unavoidable consequences of our good and not-so-good deeds and thoughts—“are reaped in it as in a field.”

The Self, on the other hand, is the “Knower of the field” (kshetra-jna), the “one who watches whatever happens” in the body. While the body is limited in time and space and understanding, the immaterial Knower is immortal, omnipresent, omniscient. The relationship between the two is paradoxical: While the Knower seems to “inhabit” the body, the body “inhabits” the Knower at the same time. As Krishna relates, the Self is “outside yet within all beings…far, yet nearer than near.”
Traditional teachings tend to value the Knower over the field, but modern yoga usually takes a more balanced approach. While still imagined as
a field, the body is no longer seen
as a barrier to self-realization, but as the “ground” where awareness is
cultivated and nurtured.

“As the farmer plows a field,” says B.K.S. Iyengar, so “a yogi plows his nerves [that is, his body] so they can germinate and make a better life.” Ancient forms of yoga advocated transcending the body to achieve a final release from bondage. But today, the field of the body is “weeded”—or purified—with the tools of yoga (including the pose Halasana) and then integrated to live harmoniously with the Self.