The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

by | Sep 13, 2022 | Nurturing Your Practice

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The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are an ancient yogic text that outlines a path to self realization through the eight-limbed path of yoga of yoga. Most 200-hour online yoga teacher training programs, as well as in-person 200 YTT, will include The Yoga Sutras as required reading. This is because the yogic philosophy presented by Patanjali in the sutras is important to understanding our lineage in yoga as yoga teachers. It is important to always come back to the teachings and texts like The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and what they tell us about the ancient practice of yoga. We learn at the very beginning of the yoga sutras that the purpose of yoga is to ease suffering caused by the mental fluctuations that humans experience. The purpose of yoga is not external but internal; to balance the practitioner’s internal experience and remind them of the divinity that resides within them just because they exist.

In the West, having a yoga practice is often associated with the physical aspect of yoga, or asana. While this is partly true, Patanjali tells us there are seven other important aspects of self practice. The eight-limbed path is laid out as follows:

  1. Yama
  2. Niyama
  3. Asana
  4. Pranayama 
  5. Pratyahara
  6. Dharana
  7. Dhyana
  8. Samadhi 

Yama are moral constraints, or practices that concern our relationship with the world around us. There are five yama:

  • Ahimsa or non-violence
  • Satya or truthfulness
  • Asteya or non-stealing
  • Brahmacharya or responsible use of personal energy
  • Aparigraha or non-grasping/non-attachment

Niyama are observances, or practices directed towards the self. There are also five niyama:

  • Saucha or cleanliness
  • Santosha or contentment
  • Tapas or discipline
  • Svadhyaya or self-study
  • Isvara Pranidhana or devotion to a higher power

Asana, as described in the Yoga Sutras, is the physical practice of yoga. Vinyasa yoga is one style of asana that is popular today with both online yoga schools, as well as yoga studios. It is a faster paced practice where practitioners flow breath-to-movement. Vinyasa is just one type of asana that one can utilize for personal practice. There are other forms such as Yin yoga, Restorative yoga, Ashtanga yoga, Kundalini (Laya) yoga, Tantra yoga, and many more. Asana is then followed by Pranayama. Pranayama is also known as breathwork and is usually performed after asana is practiced. There are many different types of pranayama with various benefits depending on what the practitioner might be looking for. Following Pranayama is pratyahara. Pratyahara can be roughly translated as elimination of the senses. By doing this, the practitioner is able to bring the awareness more deeply into themselves and their internal landscape. 

The final three limbs are practices that can only be experienced and not taught. That is because they are states of being rather than actual practices. Nischala Joy Devi, world renowned Master Yoga Teacher and Author, explains the final three limbs in this way, as well. In her book, The Secret Power of Yoga, she explores the yoga sutras from a feminie perspective and introduces new, practical ways to apply them to one’s life. 

The final three limbs as explained in the yoga sutras, are concentration, meditation, and bliss or dharana, dhyana, and samadhi. The state of dharana, or concentration, is exactly like it sounds. This is the first step to entering the state of meditation, or dhyana. Oftentimes, the practitioner will have their eyes closed and be in a comfortable position to limit distractions and aid concentration. One might even incorporate mental visualizations, such as a candle’s flame, to help guide them into the state of meditation. When the practitioner goes deeper into their consciousness using the tool of concentration, they enter the state of meditation. Through losing themselves in the state of mediation, practitioners can then reach samadhi, or bliss. This state of true union is a fully present state of being. It is the fusing with the similar divinity within all things. It is quite literally bliss. Because the final three are states of being, according to the Yoga Sutras, there is really no wrong way to do them. 

The eight-limbed path is one that we are meant to continuously walk down as we move through our life. When we reach the final three limbs, it is practically impossible to constantly be in a state of intense concentration, meditation, and bliss. That is why it is called a yoga practice. A practitioner’s relationship with the eight-limbed path might even change throughout their lifetime. As with anything, we see them through the lens of our current experience and perception. We are in a constant state of change and therefore our practice might be, as well. If you are beginning your journey with yoga and the yoga sutras, be kind to yourself as you go. Learning new things and changing habits takes time. There is no destination, only the path itself.

Online yoga teacher training is a wonderful way to begin to explore these topics a bit deeper. Begin to apply the process of self study and dive into the sacred practice of yoga as more than asana, but as the eight-limbed path. Most yoga teacher trainings nowadays source the Yoga Sutras of Patanjali to inform their teachings. My Vinyasa Practice offers online and in-person options for yoga teacher training that are accessible, affordable, and authentic. My Vinyasa Practice also offers live stream and on-demand yoga classes for those looking to explore their personal practice. 

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