Contrary to popular belief, yoga is not just a system of exercise; it actually consists of a complex philosophical system that is aimed at the pursuit of enlightenment. One of the primary texts of yoga that explains the philosophical basis for this practice is known as the Patanjali Yoga Sutras. This ancient text was written thousands of years ago, but it is still just as relevant today in guiding yoga practitioners in their journey to understanding the depths of yoga. To begin uncovering the secrets of this ancient text, see below to find out more!
What are the Patanjali Yoga Sutras?
The Patanjali Yoga Sutras are a foundational philosophical text of yoga. This text was written in India sometime between 500 BCE and 400 CE by Patanjali, commonly referred to as the “father of modern yoga.” The detailed history of the sage Patanjali remains mostly a mystery. However, it is known that his heritage is from Tamil, and he is also known to have written other texts on Sanskrit grammar and Ayurveda. Hindu mythology states that the sage Patanjali was born in the world as a gift from Lord Vishnu to provide Adishesha, or the symbol of awareness, to the various rishis or sages.
Ancient yogic teachings were traditionally passed down orally from teacher to student, but Patanjali was the first known individual to write down and synthesize the knowledge and understanding of yoga practice into a singular text. The word sutra in Sanskrit literally means string or thread, but it is commonly understood to refer to a concise verse or aphorism in Hinduism and Buddhism.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali serve as a treatise on yoga and Samkhya philosophy, one of the primary branches of Indian philosophy. This text is divided into four chapters, delving deeper into the various aspects of yoga and focusing primarily on the ultimate goal of yoga practice, which is samadhi or enlightenment. Patanjali spends the bulk of this text describing the various levels of samadhi or enlightenment and how to attain them. The yoga sutras also describe Ashtanga Yoga, or the eight limbs of yoga, which are:
- Yama (moral discipline)
- Niyama (observances)
- Asana (postures)
- Pranayama (breathing practices)
- Pratyahara (withdrawal of the senses)
- Dharana (concentration)
- Dhyana (meditation)
- Samadhi (enlightenment).
The Patanjali Yoga Sutras have long been used by yoga teachers and students alike to delve deeper into the philosophical depths of yoga. Even though this text was written thousands of years ago, it is still just as relevant today and is a foundational text of all yoga practice.
The Key Yoga Sutras to Know and Their Meaning
There are many sutras in the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, and each one has profound depth and wisdom to provide. As you begin to study the sutras and delve deeper into this text, you will discover that each sutra will give you something different. But to start you on your journey with the yoga sutras, we will describe the first two sutras as these are some of the most famous and significant sutras in this text.
Sutra 1: atha yoga-anuśāsanam ॥1॥ — This is the beginning of instruction in yoga.
This introductory sentence is so simple, yet it can also be quite profound when studied in depth. According to Sadhguru, the abrupt beginning of this text exemplifies Patanjali’s meaning that only people who have truly come to realize that the material world of houses, cars, and money will not provide them fulfillment are ready to begin studying yoga.
Sutra 2: yogaś-citta-vr̥tti-nirodhaḥ ॥2॥ — yoga is the control of thought-waves in the mind.
This second sutra is commonly cited as the ultimate definition of yoga. Essentially, this sutra explains that the vital goal of yoga practice is to direct the mind into a singular object through dharana, or concentration, and dhyana, or meditation, to ultimately achieve samadhi, or enlightenment. Through this sustained practice, the waves of thought making ripples in the mind, as a stone creates ripples when dropped into a pond, will eventually become quieted and completely still. Through this sustained practice, the experience of union with between the individual soul and the supreme soul can then be achieved.
Integrating the Yoga Sutras into Your Life
Whether or not you are practicing yoga to achieve enlightenment, the Patanjali Yoga Sutras offer numerous pearls of wisdom that can help deepen your yoga practice both on and off the mat. To begin incorporating the yoga sutras into your life, simply pick up your favorite translation and start reading. You may also want to seek out the guidance of a trained yoga teacher as well to help you understand this text on a deeper level.
The yoga sutras are more than just a text, though. They are a practical guidebook on how to integrate deeper philosophical meaning and spirituality into your yoga practice. But to truly understand the depths of this text, it is not just something that can be read and then set aside. To the best of your ability, the wisdom and practices described in the Patanjali Yoga Sutras should be meditated upon and incorporated into every aspect of your life to gain the spiritual benefits of traditional yogic practice.
The Patanjali Yoga Sutras are unique because they can be read numerous times, and new meanings and insights will continuously be discovered. Although not all aspects of the yoga sutras may or may not be relevant to your life, it is undoubtedly true that delving into this text will add greater depth and meaning to your yoga practice. Even just meditating on a single sutra can help you tune into the deeper layers of the self and connect with the universal consciousness. To begin your journey, try reading this text on your own or under the guidance of a yoga teacher so that you can uncover the many secrets and gifts of this ancient yogic text in your life.