Ask a Yogi: What are Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras?

Many sacred ancient texts, including the Vedas, Upanishads, and the Bhagavad Gita, mentioned Yoga. However, none of the other sacred ancient texts specialized in the philosophy of Yoga, such as the Yoga Sutras by Patanjali.

Lord Shiva, also known as the Adiyoga, or the first yogi, shared his knowledge of Yoga with Sapta Rishis (seven sages), who created seven schools of Yoga. These schools spread into hundreds of different forms of Yoga.

Patanjali reconnected the puzzle pieces and brought the true meaning of Yoga to light by using his Sanskrit talent to create the Yoga Sutras. The sutras, while often associated with Raja or classical Yoga, are full of wisdom and inspiration for all yogis.

History of Patanjali

Patanjali, who is considered to be the father of modern Yoga, preferred anonymity. His life story is largely speculative.

Patanjali could have lived as early as the 1st century BCE or in the 100s to 200s CE. Some debate exists over whether or not the Yoga Sutras were written by multiple “Patanjalis.” Patanjali lived around two thousand years ago in the mountains of Northern India. In India, Patanjali was worshipped in the bhakti (or devotional) era about 1000 years after he created the Yoga Sutras and his birth.

While meditating, Lord Adisesa had a vision of Gonika. She was a dedicated yogini and prayed to the Sun God for a son worthy of her wisdom. Gonika was at the end of her days and believed she would soon die. She took a small amount of water in her hand and prayed for a son to the Sun God. She opened her eyes and saw a small snake in her hands that had taken on a human form. She named this tiny human Patanjali. Pata means to fall, and  Anjali means to join the palms together in prayer.

A serpent represents Patanjali because a snake is a symbol of un-manifested energies. A snake is not visible until it moves.

The Sutras

Sutras are short, elegant threads of wisdom that help you explore the core meaning of Yoga. Some debate exists about whether yogis will get the same benefit from reading the sutras in English or if they should read them in Sanskrit. There is also some debate about whether or not chapter three, sutras 21/22, is redundant and if 195 or even 196 Sutras should be included.

The sutras can be divided into four sections, or padas, namely samadhi (meditation), sadhana (daily practice), vibhuti (prayer), and kaivalya.

Samadhi Pada

The first chapter is all about enlightenment. It focuses on meditation and concentration.

The 51 sutras describe the process of becoming One. The 51 sutras discuss the process of becoming One.

Sadhana Pada

The second chapter is all about the practice. Introduced are the Yamas and the Eight-Limbed System of Yoga.

The 54/55 Sutras discuss Karma, Kriya Yoga, Ashtanga Yoga, and the first six parts of the Eight Limbs of Yoga in depth.

Vibhuti Pada

The third chapter is all about the power and results that come from union.

The 56 sutras explain the last two Limbs – dhyana & samadhi – and introduce the power to activate the three last limbs simultaneously. This chapter highlights the power of Yoga in empowering the mind.

Kaivalya Pada

The final chapter deals with liberation or moksha. The 34 sutras explain liberation and how it is achieved. This last chapter is dedicated to absolute, complete, and unconditional freedom.

It is not necessary to read all the sutras. Just one sutra can be enough. The sutras serve as tools for enhancing inner experience and elevating the spirit. The practice of Yoga leads to wisdom and the ability to let the inner light guide the moment.

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