Who is Patañjali and what are Yoga Sūtras?
The Yoga Sūtras are the first and foremost scriptures of Yoga, presented by the sage Patañjali. It is the primary text of Rāja Yoga (the ancient mental science), or Aṣṭāṅga (eight-limbed) Yoga. Sūtra can be translated as ‘thread’, and these are a combination of words “threaded” together. They are carefully coordinated Yogic thoughts, explained from teacher to student. The students would use only a few words to write them down, to remember them, and they are often not even well-formed sentences.
There are 196 Sūtras, divided into 4 sections:
Samādhi Pāda: Portion on Contemplation
Sādhana Pāda: Portion on Practice
Vibhuti Pāda: Portion on Accomplishments
Kaivalya Pāda: Portion on Absoluteness
It is unknown when exactly Patañjali lived, and if he was even one single person. It is also a great possibility that multiple people used the same title and compiled the work. It is estimated that the Yoga Sūtras range from 5,000 B.C. to 300 A.D. Patañjali did not invent Rāja Yoga, but systematized and compiled the already existing ideas and practices. He is considered to be the “Father of Yoga”, and to this day the Yoga Sūtras are the basis for all types of meditation and Yoga.
Yoga Sūtra 1.2
मोगणित्तवणृत्तणनयोध् ॥ २॥
Yogaś is yoga
Citta is ‘mind-stuff’, the workings of the mind
Vr̥tti means modifications, fluctuations (of mind and breath)
Nirodhaḥ means to stop, control over the mind
This Sūtra is often translated as ‘Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind’, or as my teacher taught me: Yoga occurs when we stop identifying with our thoughts.
Basically, this Sūtra explains the goal of yoga. When the mind becomes still, yoga can arise.
The outside world is based on our thoughts and our own attitude. It is our own projection. Yoga doesn’t want to change the outside world. There is a beautiful Sanskrit saying that says, “Mana eva manuṣyanam karaṇam bandha mokṣayoḥ.” The meaning of this saying is “As the mind, so the person; bondage or liberation are in your own mind. If you feel bound, you are bound. If you feel liberated, you are liberated. Things outside neither bind nor liberate you; only your attitude toward them does”.
So, if you can have nirodhaḥ; control over your thoughts and change them as you want, you will not be bound by the outside world. If you can control your mind, you will be able to control everything. Nothing in the world will bind you. And that is what yoga is based on. We are turning away from the ‘material’. Yogaś citta-vr̥tti-nirodhaḥ.
Yoga Sutra 1.2
Yoga Sūtra 2.35
अणहंसाप्रणतष्ठामां तत्सणिधौ वयै त्याग् ॥ ३५॥
ahiṁsā pratiṣṭhāyām tat-sannidhau vaira-tyāgaḥ
Ahiṁsā means nonviolence
Pratiṣṭhāyām is upon the establishment, upon having established
Tat that, his
Sannidhau is in the presence
Vaira enmity, hostility
Tyāgaḥ means given up
This Sutra can be translated to “In the presence of someone who is established in nonviolence, all hostilities are abandoned.” So that means that animosity disappears in the presence of someone who has perfectly established nonviolence within.
One of the Yamas (restraints, ethical codes) we practice in Ashtanga Yoga (the 8 limbs of yoga) is ahiṁsā: nonviolence (अहिंसा). In this Sūtra Patañjali explains that even the most natural enemies (like animals in the wild) give up their enmity in the presence of the yogī who has fully renounced all thoughts of violence.
Think of The Buddha for example, who cultivated this practice and brought peace and harmony anywhere he went. Someone else who united many people through the practice of ahiṁsā is Mahatma Gandhi.
To perfect the yamas and niyamas, like ahiṁsā, the fifth limb of Ashtanga Yoga can be of great help: dhāraṇā (धारणा): fixing the mind, concentration, meditation. All the limbs complement each other, and build upon each other. Ahiṁsā is a beautiful, valuable, and important practice that can be implemented by all of us, in our daily lives.
Yoga Sutra 2.35
ahiṁsā pratiṣṭhāyām tat-sannidhau vaira-tyāgaḥ
Yoga Sūtra 2.42
सतं ोषाद्अनत्तु भ् सखु राब्॥४२॥
Santoṣād anuttamaḥ sukha-lābhaḥ
Santoṣād means from contentment
Anuttamaḥ is the highest / supreme
Sukha is happiness / joy
Lābhaḥ means the attainment
This Sutra can be translated to “From contentment, the highest happiness is attained.” or “By contentment, supreme joy is gained.”
Contentment goes beyond satisfaction. Being content means not looking for things outside of ourselves to fulfill or satisfy us. It means not going to outside things for our happiness. All is well in the state of contentment. This happiness does not depend on external objects that are fleeting. Instead this highest happiness comes from a tranquil and content mind.
A beautiful quote that really summarizes this feeling of contentment is: “What’s meant for me will never miss me, and what misses me was never meant for me.” - Source unknown.
So through contentment (and the cessation of desire), the highest happiness (anuttamaḥ sukha) will arise.
Yoga Sutra 2.42
santoṣād anuttamaḥ sukha-lābhaḥ
Yoga Sutra 2.46
Yoga Sūtra 2.46
णस्थयसखु भ आ् सनभ ॥४६॥
Sthira is steady
Sukham is comfortable
Āsanam means posture or seat
This Sutra can be translated to “āsana is a steady, comfortable posture”. So that being said, the seat of a yogi should be steady (firm, disciplined, done with effort and focus) and joyful (sweet, comfortable).
So ask yourself this question: How many āsanas do you truly feel comfortable and steady in? It may sound very simple at first, but the reality might be that the postures aren't that easy to obtain. So this ‘sthira’ and ‘sukha’ reinforce each other. My teacher once taught me that a posture is steady because it is pleasant and pleasant because it is steady. This steadiness includes a regular breath and firmness of the body and mind. The smooth breath and easeful attitude will produce happiness and pleasure.
Toxins in the body can be removed by “squeezing” the body in different directions. And that is exactly what our āsana practice does for us. Take our forward fold Paschimottānāsana for example. This āsana cleanses the liver, spleen, and intestines. Lifting the stomach, as we do in Uḍḍīyāna Bandha, does this as well. In our daily āsana practice we move forward, sideways, in all directions. All of this is there to help us remove the toxins of the body.