The Yoga Sutras – an introduction

The Yoga Sutras are a collection of 195 Indian traditions, or aphorisms, written and compiled by the Sage, Patanjali. They detail the historical practice of yoga taken from many sources, combining the knowledge that was available at the time, to act as a yoga guidebook and the framework of which yoga practice has been built. It is not known exactly when the Yoga Sutras were written, however it is estimated at least 1,700 years ago. They remain the most famous yoga text, responsible for how wide-spread yoga has become around the world today.


Pantajali Yoga Sutras

The Yoga Sutras is broken down into four chapters. Two chapters focus on the 8 limbs of yoga, which you may know as Ashtanga yoga. The other two chapters focus on action yoga, which is better known as Kriya yoga.

These 8 limbs act as an integrated and holistic way of life:

  • Yamas – restraints
  • Niyamas – observances
  • Asanas – postures
  • Pranayama – breathing
  • Pratyahara – withdrawal of senses
  • Dharana – concentration
  • Dhyani – meditation
  • Samadhi – absorption

It is believed in Patanjali Yoga philosophy that achieving each of these 8 limbs, leads the way to enlightenment, or Samadhi, as it is known in Sanskrit.

The majority of yoga practitioners associate yoga with Limb 3, the postures, combined with an element of Limb 4, breathing and Limb 7, meditation, depending on the type of yoga being practiced.

However, the Yoga Sutras, were designed not just for practice on the mat, but also to be adopted into every task of daily life.

Restraints & observances

The Yoga Sutras teach basic life ethics, highlighting that if these steps are followed, specific results can be achieved.

Ahisma, is the first Yama and refers to the act of non-violence. Practice of this Limb teaches us to not only act with clarity and love, but to also cleanse our thoughts to be non-violent or judgemental, to both others, and about ourselves.

Satya, is the second Yama and refers to speaking the truth, being honest in the company of others, but also acting with integrity in everything that you do.

Asteya, is the third Yama and refers to non-stealing, not only in the typical sense of the word, but also to not neglect a talent or commitment and “rob” yourself, or others, of the reward. Also, taking un-deserved credit, or taking more of something than is necessary, stands to break this concept.

These examples, demonstrate that there is more substance to yoga philosophy than simply the physical side.

Yoga Sutras – a deeper understanding of Yoga Philosophy

Reading the Yoga Sutras will give a more in-depth understanding of what yoga philosophy entails. Whilst yoga is open to all and most yoga centres will welcome everyone, the entire practice of yoga isn’t just about going along to a class twice a week and carrying out some stretches.

In the beginning, and for many today, yoga is in fact their life and their time is spent striving towards Samadhi, to enlightenment.

The Yoga Sutras, in fact, went out of favour between the 12th and the 19th centuries, only to be revived by Swami Vivekananda in the late 19th century. Other yoga texts instead were more dominant in 20th century yoga, however The Yoga Sutras are highly recommended to be able to grasp and integrate this fully into your yoga practice.