Patanjali Yoga Sutras explained

Yoga is a holistic philosophy that originated in ancient India and includes a wide range of practices aimed at improving physical, mental, and spiritual health. The term "yoga" comes from the Sanskrit root "yug," which means to yoke or combine, reflecting the practice's core purpose of connecting the mind, body, and spirit.

As usually stated, yoga is more than just a set of poses on a mat; it is a way of life with several benefits for both mental and physical health. Let us explore the teachings of the Patanjali Yoga Sutra.

The Patanjali Yoga Sutra is a timeless scripture authored by Maharishi Patanjali around 400 CE. He was an enlightened yogi who remarkably consolidated the vast knowledge of yoga into a single text. 

Before Patanjali's work, yoga teachings were primarily passed down orally from Guru to disciple. In this profound scripture, he elucidates the science of yoga, providing a guide to attain a state of oneness or union with the universal consciousness. This universal energy is often referred to as God, nature, or energy – all representing the same divine essence. These sutras outline the foundational principles of classical yoga. 

At the core of this ancient philosophy lie the Eight Limbs of Yoga, a comprehensive system designed to harmonize the mind, body, and spirit, leading to inner peace and liberation.

The Eight Steps should be regarded as a sequential and progressive method that, when diligently followed, paves the way to self-realization. Each step builds upon the previous one, culminating in a deeper understanding of the self. It is common in Europe for people to leap directly to Step 3 (Asana) without giving due consideration to Steps 1 and 2. In reality, the Yama and Niyama serve as the very foundation of a yoga journey.

  • Yama (Restraints): The first limb emphasizes ethical principles that govern how we interact with the world around us. It includes:
    • Non-violence (ahimsa) – which means not causing pain or harm to anyone physically or emotionally.
    • Truthfulness (satya) – which means speaking the truth but essentially means that if a conversation creates doubts in others, then it is not truth. Our words should also be useful for others and not be used for destruction.
    • Non-stealing (asteya) – which means not stealing something from someone else but more broadly, it means not keeping anything that does not belong to you even if it came to you.
    • Control of desire (brahmacharya) – it can be understood as control of desire, preserving sexual energy, and abstinence.
    • Non-possessiveness (aparigraha) – this can be understood as not possessing more than you really need. Possessiveness carries obligations and therefore loss of independence and attachment.
    • Practicing these restraints cultivates compassion, honesty, and detachment, promoting a harmonious and respectful existence.
  • Niyama (Observances): The second limb focuses on personal observances and self-discipline, fostering a stronger connection with oneself. These observances consist of:
    • Purity (saucha) – cleaning techniques have been developed by yogis under the name of Shatkarmas and aim at cleaning the body from its toxins.
    • Contentment (santosha) – the path of yoga invites us to be content with what we have and realize that our happiness does not depend on what we have or external matters but depends on our state of mind.
    • Self-discipline (tapas) – the idea here is that there are physical or mental disturbances that come in our way when we want to achieve or do something. With self-discipline, we pursue our action despite what comes in our way.
    • Self-study (svadhyaya) – in order to understand who we really are, we have to study and observe ourselves first. By observing our habits, reactions, emotions, allows us to realize what are the things that harm us and what are the things that bring us close to our true self.
    • Surrender to a higher power (Ishvara pranidhana) – when we trust and surrender to the idea that there is something higher and greater than our individualities.

patanjali yoga sutras

Through the practice of niyama, one can attain self-awareness, contentment, and spiritual growth.

The Yama and Niyama are almost impossible to follow completely, and they should not be seen as strict rules. They should be understood as an ideal or guidance that we want to follow as much as possible.

  • Asana (Physical Postures): The third limb pertains to the practice of yoga postures or asanas. In Sanskrit, taking an asana means taking a comfortable pose or posture. Patanjali describes asana as a position that gives pleasure and stability. A forceful or tense pose cannot be called an asana but more of a body exercise. Asanas are postures that aim to cultivate strength, flexibility, and balance in the body, preparing it for meditation and concentration. Asanas promote overall health and well-being, serving as a bridge between the physical and spiritual aspects of yoga.
  • Pranayama (Breath Control): Prana means the life force, and yama means control. So, when we practice pranayama, we want to control and redirect the life force by using the breath. Many times pranayama is defined as breathing exercise, which is a shortcut to say that we use the breath to control the pran. With Pranayama, we can gain control over our nervous system and also our mind. Pranayama helps clear energy channels, improves focus, and balances the mind, allowing practitioners to dive deeper into their spiritual journey.
  • Pratyahara (Withdrawal of Senses): The fifth limb entails the withdrawal of the senses from external distractions, turning the focus inward. By disengaging from sensory stimuli, the mind becomes less turbulent, enabling better concentration and heightened awareness.
  • Dharana (Concentration): The sixth limb emphasizes concentration and one-pointed focus. Through continuous practice, the mind is trained to stay fixed on a single object or point of meditation, promoting mental clarity and depth.
  • Dhyana (Meditation): The seventh limb delves into the practice of meditation, where the mind achieves a state of profound contemplation and uninterrupted flow. Dhyana facilitates a profound connection with the true self and the universal consciousness, bringing about inner peace and spiritual realization.
  • Samadhi (Absorption): The eighth and final limb is the pinnacle of the yogic journey. Samadhi represents a state of profound spiritual absorption, where the practitioner experiences oneness with the universe and realizes their true nature. It is a state of profound bliss, transcending the limitations of the ego and finding ultimate liberation.

These Eight Limbs of Yoga, when integrated into one's life with dedication and sincerity, lead the practitioner towards a state of holistic well-being, inner harmony, and the ultimate goal of yoga: self-liberation or Samadhi. The journey may be challenging, but with perseverance and guidance, the rewards are immeasurable.

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