Basically, the Yoga Sutra is the foundation of yoga. It gave yoga a philosophical basis in which we still observe today. Transcribed by the Indian philosopher Patanjali, it was the first written account of an oral tradition.
The Yoga Sutras are a set of 195 phrases, for lack of a better word, written by the Indian philosopher Patanjali and are considered one of the six darshanas, or visions of reality, in the Hindu school of philosophy.
But, it wasn’t Patanjali who actually penned the Sutras as they were traditionally passed down by memory from teacher to student for generations. Of course, this doesn’t lessen the impact that Patanjali had on the world of yoga.
His assemblage of this once oral tradition formed the theoretical and philosophical base for all Raja Yoga and is still considered one of the most organized and comprehensive definitions of this practice.
The Yoga Sutras are not actually sacred scripture. They’re not historical accounts or facts or anything of that sort. They’re a series of aphorisms, a book built on the foundation of the Bhagavad-Gita as well as the text and philosophy of the Vedic school. Think of them as a set of phrases strung together like a string of beads designed to hold still one’s thoughts and feelings, clearing the mind of that which binds us. Basically, they are a means to give us perspective.
To silence one’s mind and come together with that of the divine, theSutras call for an adherence to the eight limbs of yoga — Yama, Niyama, Asana, Pranayama, Pratyahara, Dharana, Dhyana, and Samadhi. By this practice, our physical, mental and spiritual freedom hinges on the ability to detach from that which binds us (the things of this world) and allows us to realize the possibility of the spiritual world (actual freedom).
The Sutras are divided into four chapters, or pada. The first of the four chapters holds 51 of the sutras and is referred to as Samadhi Pada. It is in this portion where you would achieve a blissful state of being and be absorbed into “the One.”
The second chapter contains 55 sutras and is entitled Sadhana Pada. This pada illustrates the actual practice of yoga in the forms of Kriya, or action yoga, and Ashtanga, or eightfold yoga. Within Ashtanga, one would follow the following abstentions: violence (ahimsa), lying (satya), thievery (asteya), sexual activity (brahmacharya), and possessions (aparigraha), as well as the following observances: purity (saucha), contentment (santosha), austerities (tapas), study (svadhyaya), and a surrender to God (ishvarapranidhana).
The third chapter also contains 55 sutras and is referred to as Vibhuti Pada. It is here where one would find the higher states of awareness and the techniques of yoga to attain them.
The final chapter possesses only 34 sutras and is identified as Kaivalya Pada. To translate the word literally, Kaivalya would mean isolation, but within the Yoga Sutra, a better interpretation would be liberation or emancipation. One must transcend thoughts of the here and now in order to attain absolute freedom.
For all intents and purposes, the Sutras gave yoga a basis in which to act philosophically and theoretically. It showed the mystical concepts of traditional Indian thought. It is the thread that runs through the practice itself, linking pose to pose, thought to thought, intention to intention. It teaches what yoga is, why yoga is and how yoga is. Without the Sutras, yoga would most likely not be the same.
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