Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras are the earliest known recordings of yoga philosophy.
There are many translations and interpretations of the Yoga Sutras, all originating from an oral tradition of short, instructive phrases passed down from almost 2000 years ago. Each sentence is a contemplation meant to guide you to explore what Yoga is and how to practice it. The word sutra literally means ‘thread’, and each sutra represents one thread in a vast and diverse tapestry of yoga philosophy.
You might assume this instructional yoga book would be filled with yoga poses and flows designed to free the body, mind and spirit. Actually the only sutra to directly reference asana, or the physical practice, in this yoga tome is one that says we should find a comfortable seat, specifically one that is a balance of effort and ease. So, why does this classic yoga textbook not mention more asana? To gain some insight, let’s check out the second sutra in Book One:
Yoga Sutra 1:2
Yoga Citta Vritti Nirodhah
Yoga is the cessation of the fluctuations of the mind.
In much eastern philosophy it’s believed that attachment to things, people, and ideas are the cause of suffering. Enlightenment is the release from that suffering. So by limiting our reactions to the constant fluctuations of our thinking mind, we can see things from a bigger perspective. Discerning a more accurate view of our relationship to the nature of this life and ourselves with in it. By doing this we can find a place of inner harmony and balance.
So according to Patanjali, Yoga is really a practice of the mind.
More steeped in philosophy and psychology than physical asana. It is a path to exploring our consciousness. By developing a certain introspective awareness, we can navigate through the chaos of life with grace and ease. Seeing things as they truly are. After all, we are not human beings doing yoga, we are humans being yoga.
So how does this meditative self-awareness enhance our physical practice?
By examining ourselves through the meditative guidelines of the sutras we can surely be led to a more honest and genuine practice as we come face-to-face with our own personal obstacles and pitfalls. By outlining things such as our misconceptions, verbal delusions, or even anxiety caused by imprinted negative beliefs, the sutras can help us explore the mental arenas within us that directly affect our physical practice. Delving deeper into concepts such as the crippling power the ego can have on us and the dangers of pursuing goals for power rather than because they come from a genuine and heartfelt place can help us approach our time on the mat from a healthy and equanimous mind.
To truly experience the freedom Yoga offers
We must let go of our perfectionist need to achieve, instead, practicing nonattachment when it comes to the outcome of our practice. The practice itself is the prize. Maybe the sutras have remained relevant after all this time because it truly is an accurate observation of our tendencies as humans. Though in two thousand years life has changed dramatically, the essence of our minds remain the same.
So can reading the sutras improve your yoga practice?
I guess in the end that’s up to you. If you approach it with devotion, an open heart, and much patience, it may enhance a lot more than just your practice on the mat. It may spill over into every area of your life ❤️
I hope this gives you a taste of what the sutras are and how they can be apllied, not just to our physical yoga practice but all areas of our life. If you’d like to learn more, join me Thursdays in May at 7:30 pm to explore the sutras in more depth in our Deepen and Discover: Soulful Sutra Studies Series. These classes are included in our monthly membership! Please don’t hesitate to reach out with questions, I’m here for you!