For many modern practitioners, yoga is a practice involving physical movements to improve their bodies and calming poses to relax the mind. But at its core, yoga is a way of life and has been this way for many centuries. The basis for today’s yoga comes from a collection of sacred teachings written by the ancient sage Patanjali. What makes the Yoga Sutras so significant to the millions of people who follow them?
The Yoga Sutras comprise 196 verses that speak to four main subjects:
- Yoga as a lifestyle
- Key yogic principles (the eight limbs of yoga)
- Yoga as a powerful life force
- Achieving absolute fulfillment
Taken together, Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras serve as a roadmap for yogis seeking true enlightenment.
While images of yogis striking graceful poses may be the first thing to come to mind when thinking of yoga, this ancient art is more about utilizing poses and breathing techniques to serve a higher purpose. For nearly two millennia, the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali have guided practitioners of yoga on the path to self-realization, and the following 10 verses exemplify what this spiritual guidebook is all about.
What Are the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
The Yoga Sutras are a collection of Sanskrit texts written by a revered sage named Patanjali. The Yoga Sutras are considered by many to be the foundational principles from which the ancient art of yoga emerged many centuries ago.
Although yoga, as it is practiced today, is commonly associated with physical activity in the form of postures, movements, and breathing techniques, the Yoga Sutras are primarily philosophical in nature and have been embraced by their proponents as guidelines for living a life in pursuit of enlightenment and personal fulfillment.
How Are the Yoga Sutras Organized?
The word sutra is ancient Sanskrit for “thread” and “discourse” and Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is a collection of 196 verses that provides guidance and counsel for those seeking enlightenment and self-fulfillment through the yogic arts.
The Yoga Sutras are grouped into four chapters (known as padas) and each of these focuses on particular philosophies, theories, and practices that together make up the framework of yoga. These padas can be summarized as follows:
- Samadhi Padas – this chapter contains 51 sutras that revolve around the theme of adopting a yogic lifestyle and incorporating practices like meditation and concentration in the pursuit of enlightenment
- Sadhana Padas – nestled among these 55 sutras are the famed eight limbs of yoga (the core principles of yoga including poses, breathing, and meditation), and the primary focus of this chapter is to introduce yogic concepts to practitioners just starting their yoga journey
- Vibhuti Padas – the 56 verses in this third chapter promote the benefits of meditation and self-reflection (the seventh and eighth limbs of yoga) and how these practices can take practitioners further on their path to enlightenment
- Kaivalya Padas – in the final chapter of the Yoga Sutras, Patanjali fittingly turns his attention to the final leg of every yogi’s journey these 34 sutras address the ways that yoga empowers practitioners to achieve complete fulfillment
Each verse in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutra is a precious morsel of wisdom and taken together, the 196 verses in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras form a complete and essential guidebook for yoga practitioners embarking on a journey to enlightenment.
How Long Ago Were the Yoga Sutras Written?
As with many historical figures from ancient times, there is not much that is known about the wise sage Patanjali and most accounts of his life are sprinkled with mythical details that blur the line between fact and legend.
It is generally accepted, however, that the Yoga Sutras were written during the period of 50 BCE to 300 CE, making them nearly two thousand years old. That the Yoga Sutras are still looked upon for philosophical and spiritual guidance in this modern era makes them an impressive body of work by any measure.
The 10 Most Popular Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
With so much wisdom and insight contained within its pages, it would be a daunting task to select the most impactful of Patanjali’s teachings. Certain verses, however, have resonated strongly with yogis and these 10 are among the most popular Yoga Sutras of Patanjali.
Atha Yoga Anushasham (Chapter I, Verse 1)
Meaning “now, here is the discipline of yoga”, this introductory verse in Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras proclaims the reader ready to receive the teachings contained in the 195 verses that follow and sets the table for the philosophical journey that is about to unfold.
Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodhah (Chapter I, Verse 2)
In the eyes of many, this is the most popular of the Yoga Sutras and it means “yoga resolves the stirrings of the mind”. Put another way, yoga is the means through which the mind’s chaotic and wandering nature is put to rest.
Abhayasa Vairagyabhyam Tan-Nirodhah (Chapter I, Verse 12)
This verse means “through practice and singular focus, the mind can be controlled and made still”. Yoga is a discipline in which mindfulness plays a big role and this verse is one of many touting the virtues of controlling one’s thoughts and emotions.
Yatha Abhimata Dhyanadva (Chapter I, Verse 39)
In this verse, Patanjali encourages yogis to “focus on whatsoever thing one would like to stabilize the mind”. This sutra is meant to be uplifting and allows yogis to harness their sense of individualism into their practice of yoga.
Tapas Svadhyaya Isvara Pranidanah Kriya Yogah (Chapter II, Verse 1)
This opening sutra of the second chapter reminds yogis that yoga cannot be practiced passively. It requires commitment, focus, and self-discipline.
Avidya Asmita Raga Dvesa Abhinivesah Klesah (Chapter II, Verse 3)
There are 5 “obstacles” to self-realization and according to this verse, they are “mistaken thinking, ego, desire, aversion, and clinging to one’s life”. Identifying these challenges is the first step toward overcoming them.
Yama Niyama Asana Pranayama Pratyahara Dharana Dhyana Samadhayo Astavangani (Chapter II, Verse 29)
One of the most famous aspects of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras is its presentation of the eight limbs of yoga:
- Withdrawal of the senses
These eight limbs form the framework for the practice of yoga for all practitioners to follow.
Samtosad Anuttamah Sukhalabhah (Chapter II, Verse 42)
This verse is taken to mean “from contentment unsurpassed happiness is earned” and is widely interpreted to encourage practitioners to focus on the here and now in their pursuit of enlightenment.
Desa Bandhas Cittasya Dharana (Chapter III, Verse 1)
Postures, breathwork, and meditation are the best-known of the eight limbs of yoga but this verse touts the importance of concentration, the sixth limb, in dealing with stress and training the mind to focus.
Vastu Samye Citta Bhedat Tayor Vibhaktah Panthah (Chapter IV, Verse 15)
Recognizing the individuality of people, this verse states that the same objects in life can be perceived in different ways depending on the person and that there is beauty in this diversity of views.
The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are the most important written work in the yoga universe. Even though they were written nearly two thousand years ago, these verses as just as relevant to yogis today as they were to the very first practitioners of the ancient art of yoga.