The practice of yoga has a diverse history that stretches back for centuries, and is covered in several ancient texts. Over time, the original seven basic schools of yoga branched off further, creating hundreds of different forms of yoga. Patanjali, who is considered the father of modern yoga, wrote the Yoga Sutras, which summarize the basic philosophies of yoga, to bring these diverse yoga practices to their philosophical roots.
Very little is known about Patanjali, other than that he lived sometime between 100 BC and 400 CE, when the Sutras were written. Some speculate that “Patanjali” may have been a name given to a group of authors who collaborated to produce the Sutras.
What Are the Sutras?
The Sanskrit word “sutra” literally translates to “thread,” and refers to a brief summation of a complex idea that has been condensed. The sutras are not new ideas that Patanjali was developing, but rather dense, easy to memorize key concepts drawn from the diverse forms of yoga being practiced at the time. Patanjali’s 196 yoga sutras are organized into four chapters:
- Samadhi Pada. This first chapter focuses on the enlightenment that can be achieved through concentration and meditation in yoga. These 51 sutras define yoga and discuss the key principles behind yoga and the obstacles in achieving them. This chapter also mentions the importance of constant practice and of detachment from the material world.
- Sadhana Pada. The second chapter focuses on practice. It also introduces concepts such as Karma, the Yamas, Ashtanga Yoga, and the Eight Limbs of Yoga. The first six Limbs are then discussed in depth.
- Vibhuti Pada. This chapter completes the discussion of the final two Limbs of Yoga, and speaks of the empowerment of the mind that can be achieved through yoga practice. The results, power, and manifestation that can occur once union is achieved are discussed in this chapter.
- Kaivalya Pada. The central theme of this final chapter is liberation, or “moksha.” These 34 sutras describe complete, unconditional liberation and what can be achieved by the mind through the practice of yoga.
Incorporating the Sutras in Yoga Practice
The 196 yoga sutras are intentionally brief, with the goal that they are easy for students to memorize. Despite how short they are, each sutra refers to a much larger, denser concept that can be explored at length. All sutras are recommended reading, and may enhance the practice of a yogi at any level or stage of practice. Focusing on one sutra and making it the center of your practice can also be a deeply enriching way to incorporate the sutras into your practice.
During some types of yoga classes, sutras may be read aloud or recited by the class as a way of deepening your understanding and experience of the yoga practice. Don’t worry if the sutras are new to you, and it feels difficult to follow along – at Red Diamond Yoga, we welcome students of every age, experience level, and physical condition. We honor each person as an individual, and we look forward to sharing with you.