Yoga, as we know it today, is often considered an alternate means of staying fit and healthy. Although Yoga has become a mainstream activity worldwide, it’s usually just Asanas that has remained the focal point for millions of practitioners. Yoga is not just a fitness routine – it’s a Science, a Philosophy and a Way of Life that can take anyone dedicated enough to Practice with Awareness to the state of Enlightenment!
Since over 2,ooo years the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali has been the definitive text on the system of Yoga; or Yoga Darshana as it is known in Sanskrit. Yoga is one of 6 Darshanas (or Philiosophical systems) of Ancient India; each meant for the Individual to ‘see’ Reality (Darshan means ‘to see’), or in other words to attain Enlightenment. Yes, 6 different systems! The six systems are Nyaya, Vaishesika, Mimamsa – Uttara, Mimamsa – Purva (also called Vedanta), Samkhya and Yoga. Yoga is the most practical of these philosophies and is a way of life in itself. It borrows most of its philosophical premise from Samkhya, with at least one essential difference though.
All our knowledge of Yoga has come to us through an uninterrupted chain of Guru-Shishyas that has lasted millennia! Gurus have distilled their omniscient knowledge of Yoga to allow students to understand what they needed to grasp. A few important texts authored by enlightened seers have helped codify and preserve the research and knowledge that countless great yogis have discovered. That includes Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras, Bhagvad Gita and later on Hatha Yoga Pradipika, Gherand Samhita, Shiva Samhita and a few more. The Yoga Sutras however are widely regarded as the Alpha and Omega of the Yoga Darshana. Patanjali was a great Yogi said to have lived just after the Buddha in India and is credited with codifying the Yoga Sutras. He did not invent or found the Yoga system – it had already existed for at least a 1000 years before Patanjali; but he codified it into a systematic flow. The ‘Sutra’ is a grammatical system (you would certainly have heard of the Kama Sutra – another ancient Indian text); wherein terse aphorisms are pieced together in a logical flowing manner. Sutra means thread and it is this ‘flow’ that is emphasized – while the aphorisms form the jewels that the thread hold together. They contain four chapters totaling 196 aphorisms – Samadhi Pada, Sadhana Pada, Vibhooti Pada and Kaivalya Pada.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali is still the World’s foremost text on all explorations of human psyche – in over 2,000 years neither has it been outdone nor proven false! It is a testament to the great seers that their work on Human potential has stood the test of time; and while we live in a very different world from 2000 years back – the essential questions remain just the same; ‘Who am I?’ still needs to be answered by each and every one of us – and Yoga is an exploration and a technology to arrive at your very core; and at the core of existence itself!
With the background of Yoga Sutras established, let’s begin to study each of the Sutras in greater detail; for they throw immense light on the yoga journey. The first chapter is called Sadhana Pada and contains 51 Sutras. For further reference on the Yoga Sutras; the best book is ‘Four Chapters on Freedom’ by Swami Satyananda Saraswati of the Bihar School of Yoga.
Sutra 1.1: ‘Atha Yoganusasanam’
“Now, complete instructions regarding yoga.”
The first Yoga Sutra amply shows us that Patanjali’s work was created for people who had already been learning and practicing Yoga. As Students, they were now ready to learn Yoga in its entirety. So, the Yoga Sutras is not meant for beginner yoga students – but for people who have already practiced and their hearts and minds are ready to settle further into the deeper reflection and concentration that the higher stages of Yoga requires. As we will see further; the Yoga of Patanjali is a ‘Yoga of Concentration’ and for this; initial practices should already have begun.
The next Sutra, which we will see in the next article , is the definition of Yoga. In four succinct words, Patanjali is able to define Yoga! Such is the mastery found in this timeless masterpiece!