The Yoga Sutras were written on a single piece of paper. This was a challenge as Patanjali’s attempted to summarise over 2 millennia of Yogic wisdom in just a concise document. And he seems to have achieved that. He wrote in 196 aphorisms that have been divided between four chapters.
In the Sutras Patanjali discusses the aims and practice of yoga, the development of yogic powers and finally, liberation. Like a gentle guiding hand, the Yoga Sutras encourage you to persevere with your practice but they also warn you of the pitfalls on your inner journey and offer a few solution.
There is wisdom in every one of the 196 Sutras. This blog is however just highlight the essence of this amazing text.
In the Vedic teaching system, it is common to summarise and present the whole teaching very early in the discourse. And Patanjali follows this system as well. In the first few sutra’s he give you the essence of Yoga.
Sutra 1, 2, 3
Citta vritti nirtodhaya
“Yoga is the progressive settling of the fluctuations of the mind.
When the mind is settled, we are established in our own essential state, which is unbounded consciousness.
Our essential nature is usually overshadowed by the activity of the mind”
This means: Your Yoga practice should encourage you to look within. Your true Self lies hidden in the silence between your thoughts, beyond all limitations. The doubts, chaos and confusion of your ego and your thoughts cause you to forget who you really are.
The obstacle to spiritual progress incorrect thinking and sensory attachments which causes you to forget who you are. However if you commit to your Yoga practices, you can overcome all of these.
To have a peaceful mind you should cultivate attitudes:
of friendliness without jealousy toward those who are joyful;
have compassion toward those who are unhappy and less fortunate;
delight in and support the acts of the virtuous;
and be impartial to and avoid the dramas of the impure.
You must take responsibility for your life
You must take responsibility for your thoughts, words, and actions by living consciously. The Yoga Sutras are a path of purification, refinement, and surrender.
The causes of your suffering are the following:
Forgetting who you really are
Holding onto pleasure and pain
All of these are resolved through focus, concentration and meditation. The more you learn to focus the easier it becomes to remember your essential nature unlimited consciousness.
But for those who have not developed the ability to maintain their focus then Yoga tradition according to Patanjali lays out a plan of 8 Limbs to help you progress on this journey.
The 8 Limbs of Yoga
The Yoga Sutras highlight a set of observances and practices to guide your journey. These practices are divided in 8 parts.
Limb 1 – Yama & Niyama
1. The Yamas are moral code for living in the world and treating others. These moral codes include:
ahimsa (non-violence or non-harming),
satya (truthfulness), asteya (non-stealing),
bramacharya (sexual restraint), and
2. The Niyamas are guidelines for personal behaviour. This includes
tapas (discipline or austerity),
svadhyaya (seeking knowledg), and
Ishvara Pranidhana (devotion to the highest).
3. Asana are physical postures that train and prepare the body to increase perceptions and expand consciousness.
4. Pranayama is about using breath to reduce damage to the body and balance the mind.
5. Pratyahara is about turning your attention and senses inward to explore your inner universe.
6. Dharana is exercises that train effortless focused attention. Once you can focus effortlessly you are able to expand your concentration for longer periods of time.
7. Dhyana is a continuous flow of focused attention and deep concentration. This is meditation.
8. Samadhi is when you are able to maintain such a deep meditative concentration that you do not allow any external influences to impact your body or mind.
The first 4 Limbs train the the body. The next 3 train the mind. And when body and mind are still you enter the doorway of the eight limb – Samadhi.
Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi are then practiced together. This is known as Sanyama. Settling the mind, having a subtle intention, and directing it into the field of universal energy gives you knowledge of the laws of nature and abilities to work with these laws of nature to achieve almost magical feats. This ability or Yogic Power is called Siddhis.
The practice of Samadhi is only achieved when mediation is perfected.