The Yogic Lifestyle: How to Maintain Personal Peace and Power in Relationships

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“By cultivating attitudes of friendliness toward the happy, compassion for the unhappy, delight in the virtuous and disregard toward the wicked, the mind-stuff retains its undisturbed calmness.”

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, 1.33

Relationships can be complicated. We have many different types of relationships: Some are personal and by choice, while others are circumstantial and obligatory. But the truth is that no matter what the circumstance, we all have a choice on how to act and react in regards to the people with whom we experience life. Relationships among people are important. They provide each of us with a support system, and they can bring joy and happiness to our lives. However, some relationships hurt and diminish the quality of life. While relationships matter, they must not interfere with your personal peace and power. According to Patanjali’s sutra 1.33, there are four types of people, which will be represented by four locks:
  • Happy people
  • Unhappy people
  • The Virtuous
  • The Wicked
This is not to say that a happy person cannot also be virtuous, or that wickedness cannot lead to unhappiness. However, these distinctions matter when we think about how to approach different types of people (or different behaviors within one person). Which key should we use for which lock?
  • Friendliness (for the happy)
  • Compassion (for the unhappy)
  • Delight (for the virtuous)
  • Disregard (for the wicked)
We do not use these keys for the benefit of others. Of course, if we practice yoga, we emanate love. We are Love. And so when we practice Love, we affect other people. But the point of Patanjali’s words are to promote inner peace, Self Love, to avoid suffering for yourself. Yoga is a process of personal work, which happens to also affect the collective. By practicing this sutra, you are keeping a serene mind, which is a part of the path of yoga. Therefore, the interpersonal goal is not to simply maintain a one-size-fits-all approach. The interpersonal goal is to use the tools provided to you through yogic practice—the keys—so that when you meet a lock, it will not disturb your inner peace.

What is Inner Peace and Personal Power?

The intentions of yoga practice is to create a unified heart-mind, but the path to reaching union (literal meaning of yoga) is multiform. Sadhana is Sanskrit for “a means of accomplishing something.” In yoga, sadhana is the spiritual practice involved in creating inner and outer union. It is the multi-faceted and personal approach one takes to live a yogic lifestyle. You must change your inner and outer world to become congruent with a divine consciousness.

A part of this work consists of cultivating conscientious living. According to Patanjali, there are four aspects of consciousness:

  • Chitta: “the lower mind”
  • Manas: “the perceiving mind”
  • Buddhi: “intelligence”
  • Ahankara: “ego”

The lower mind, or chitta, is also known as “the mind stuff”. It is the subjective judgment we place on an experience. The subjective reactions to stimuli can create extreme responses, positive or negative. Chitta refers to the feelings we associate with experiences, and it is referred to as the lower mind or mind stuff, because these feelings affect our ego consciousness.

Patanjali described yoga as a way to “neutralize” the feelings of the lower mind. Yoga works to still the mind, to elevate our consciousness to one of control, which also includes our reactions to others. Chitta resides in the heart. When we live by the tenets of yoga, we can learn to calm the temperament of the heart (in this case, our reactions to other people) and observe from a place of “undisturbed calmness”. It is through this inner peace that we gain our composure and power.

The Four Locks: How Other People Choose to Live

Relationships take two people to work. However, the dynamics among our various associations will differ as widely as the people who inhabit the planet. Each person has a different life experience, with a unique set of values, personality traits, and ways of viewing the world. Nevertheless, each person typically exists in one of the four common characteristics mentioned earlier.

It is worth noting here, however, that although each person generally exists within one of these four categories, this sutra can also help to handle changing relationship issues in the moment. For example: A generally happy person may experience a period of unhappiness, or that toddler who always shares her toys may experience bouts of temporary wickedness.

When we approach these people, whether just meeting them or engaging with a lifelong partner, it is important to determine which lock they are, because the inner work you do for yourself, will always provide you with the key.

Happy People

According to Patanjali, the first lock is happy people (sukha). Happy people emanate joy. They are recognizable by their smiles and their pleasant demeanor. They may or may not have a reason to be happy, but they are. Even in moments of sadness, grief, or anger, they seem to exude a sense of overall contentment in life. Happy people come from a place of acceptance and gratitude.

Unhappy People

The second lock is unhappy people (duhkha). Unhappy people always have something to complain about. They seem to attract unpleasant circumstances, as they typically believe life is full of hardship. Even in a moment of pleasure, they are sure to focus on an aspect they deem negative. Instead of gratitude for their circumstances, unhappy people feel slighted. Overall, unhappy people come from a place of criticism and blame.

The Virtuous

The third lock is the virtuous (punya). These people are generous and philanthropic by nature. They are typically pillars of the community and use their lives to serve others. They may be happy in their virtue, but their overall effect on others is through their excellent behavior.

The Wicked

The fourth lock is the wicked (apunya). We can think of them as unvirtuous. These may be people who live an overall amoral life, or they may actively participate in destructive behavior. The wicked among us have inflated egos and typically act in a way to serve only themselves. People can also act this way temporarily, especially during moments of desperation or as a means of obtaining power.

The Four Keys: How You Choose to Live

A yogic lifestyle will provide you with the tools to maintain a calm heart-mind. Think about this center, your core, as being a pond. Stimuli will cause a response, ripples. Practicing yoga will help to decrease the volatility of these ripples, if not eliminate them altogether. Through consistent practice, you can become disciplined in a way to keep an undisturbed heart-mind, regardless of the actions of others.

Yoga Sutra 2.12 explains how obstacles (klesa-s) create the tendencies (samskaras) that affect our actions and their outcomes (karma). Negative reactions and emotions are afflictions of the heart-mind and lead to undesirable consequences. The five klesa-s are as follows:

  • Avidya = lack of awareness
  • Asmita = egotism, feeling more or less than others
  • Raga = desire for prior pleasures
  • Dvesa = aversion to prior pain
  • Abbinivesa = fear of death, attachment to life

Nicolai Bachman explains, in his book “The Path of the Yoga Sutras: A Practical Guide to the Core of Yoga”, the necessity of weakening these obstacles to promote inner peace. It is the klesa-s that cause us to suffer, to lack inner peace. We can gain power over them by diminishing their potency (by controlling our emotional reactions). Through practicing positive change (tapas), self-observation (svadhyaya), and humility with faith (isvara-pranidhana), we can provide the discipline required for an undisturbed heart-mind.


When you come across someone who is happy, meet them with friendliness. Maitri is the key to sukha. But why would you need a key when in the presence of someone who is happy? Remember, yoga is about personal peace. This sutra relates to our reactions to others. When we see someone who is happy, we must be friendly toward that person to maintain an undisturbed chitta. It is possible to be jealous or annoyed by people who are happy. Negative emotions can arise when we observe other people’s abundance. In this moment, act friendly toward the happy, and you will preserve inner peace.


It is easy to judge people who are unhappy. It is common to express frustration with someone’s actions, blaming them for their own discontent. Their unhappiness is the result of their actions (karma), so why should you help them? Or maybe it is within your nature to try and fix the situation, to dole out advice, even when your advice is not sought.

In these instances, use compassion (karuna) as your key. Meet someone who is unhappy with understanding, love, and mercy. Don’t blame them. Don’t belittle them. Don’t chastise them or try and change their situation. Help them the way you can, either with your time, talents, or physical necessities. Sit with the unhappy and listen to their grieving hearts. Provide them with the unconditional love that comes from your being. By acting in this way, you are taking responsibility for your actions. Compassion is also the path to self-awareness and can be a mirror to our own behavior.


As with happy people, it is possible to experience jealousy or disdain when in the presence of the virtuous. Sometimes, the virtuous are also people with whom you disagree. If someone identifies with a different religion, political belief system, or other core value, yet they perform righteous acts, delight in their virtue.

Delight (mudita) is the key to punya. And not only should you find joy in their generosity—mind, body, and spirit—but you should also work to act in a similar manner. Use your moral compass to do good. In what ways can you act virtuously? If you live according to the yoga sutras and follow the eight-limbed path, then you will find it natural to share light with those around you.


This key may be the most difficult to use, but it can be the most liberating. The wicked act in ways that hurt others. They may generally espouse amoral or even abusive behavior, or they act in a manner that is temporarily troublesome. Regardless, the key to apunya is disregard (upeksha).

Again, you may attempt to treat an unvirtuous person in the same way you would an unhappy person by trying to tell them how they should live. While acting this way with an unhappy person can disturb your peace, because your advice may fall upon deaf ears, acting this way with a wicked person can destroy your life.

Here is an anecdote that Sri Swami Satchidananda shares in his translation of Patanjai’s sutra, which illuminates the ways of the wicked:

A monkey sits upon a branch, out in the rain. Across from him is a beautiful sparrow nest. Sparrows nests are known for their elaborate inner workings: They build rooms that provide shelter for all who inhabit it. Well, on this day, the sparrow peaked out from her nest and saw the monkey. She tried to understand why the monkey could not do what she had done. She asked the monkey why he would allow himself to get wet, being that he was a distant cousin to humans and capable of much more. Monkeys hands for creating such a dwelling, sparrows merely have beaks. She pointed out her own work, her own inner peace.

The monkey reacted as the wicked react. He tore up her nest, destroying every inch of it. He resented her for her words and berated her with insults.

There is nothing the sparrow could have done in this situation, except disregard the monkey from the beginning. It is the same way with many people we encounter. They may seem unhappy, or pretend to be happy or even virtuous, but when someone tries to help them or give them advice, they lash out. They are the wicked, because they destroy what is around them. They will destroy your inner peace and dismantle your personal power. Stay away from them. If you cannot avoid them, disregard their unscrupulous behavior and hurtful words.

How to use these Keys to Maintain Peace and Power

In this life, you will meet many different people. You will experience these encounters briefly, or they will develop into lasting relationships. Regardless, your commitment and responsibility is to your heart-mind. The yogic lifestyle will assist you in understanding how your actions create consequences (your karma, the ripples in your pond). In dealing with people, your goal is to maintain your peace and composure. You cannot get lost or allow your lower-mind to become disturbed.

Be friendly toward the happy and compassionate toward the unhappy. Take delight in the virtuous and emulate their example. Disregard the wicked and retain your inner calm in the face of their actions.

The practice of yoga, sadhana, will prepare you to use these keys. It will help you to become more aware and to recognize the four locks: sukha, duhkha, punya, and apunya. The will become especially more familiar to you if you decide to pursue yoga teacher training.  

The yogic lifestyle will also help you to react to these circumstances in a way that will not disturb your wellbeing and peace. Through maitri, karuna, mudita, and upeksha, your heart-mind will remain calm, and your peace will remain undisturbed.