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The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali were written between 5,000 BC to 300 AD. However no one is really sure who Patanjali was. The origination of this book and the author is shrouded in mystery. The sutras are a systematic outline of the yogic lifestyle and are considered the authoritative text on Yoga. It can definitely be cumbersome, but it is the known definitive guide to the path to Enlightenment in the Yoga tradition.
Sutra is the Sanskrit translation for stitches. Each of the 196 verses is considered a simple stitch in the fabric of Yoga. Each verse is brief and succinct. It leaves much room for interpretation and there are many translations with commentary.
It is separated into 4 books; Portions on Contemplation, Practice, Accomplishments and Absoluteness. Most often the Portion on Absoluteness is left out of translation as it delves into some heavy yogic power stuff that is way beyond our current lifestyle. The 8 limbs of Yoga Practice only take up 33 verses of the collection. And the physical portion of Yoga….only 3. The sutras are categorized to describe the paths of Bhakti Yoga (Devotion), Karma Yoga (Service) Jnana Yoga (Wisdom) and Hatha Yoga (Physical) and Ashtanga Yoga (8 Faceted path). In this series, we will focus on the 8 Limbs of Yoga. But know this is only a small section of this text.
The Yoga system of Patanjali is not a religion of itself. I often describe it as spiritual supplementation. It can be practiced alone to improve personality and reduce stress relief. Yoga does not subscribe to a particular Deity. It can be worked in adjunct with any religion. It supplements any path you may already be on.
Though often presented in a linear fashion, think about is as a wheel or circle with no tenant more important than the other. You don’t need to master one before focusing on the rest.
Two books I commonly recommend for the study of the Sutras are The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali and Inside the Yoga Sutras: A Comprehensive Sourcebook for the Study & Practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras.
Yoga Sutras of Patanjali as translated by Sri Swami Satchidananda is the first translation that I read over a decade ago. It’s complete. It’s classic. You can almost hear the voice of an Indian sage, sitting in front of his cave and revealing the secrets to enlightenment and a happy life. It is brief and can seem a little harsh at times, but sometimes we need it raw and real. This will take you there.
The second translation I recommend is Inside the Yoga Sutras: A Comprehensive Sourcebook for the Study & Practice of Patanjali’s Yoga Sutras by Jaganath Carrera. Once introduced to this book in my 300 Hr. YTT last year, and I fell IN LOVE. If I’m honest, it’s hard to read the sutras in a linear fashion, and this book has a great study guide in the back that takes you through the text in a way that just makes sense. I use it in the teacher training program at my studio, and it’s a killer way to approach the sutras in a way that modern-day yogis can grasp.
ADDITION: I would like to recommend a third book for study, The Secret Power of Yoga: A Woman’s Guide to the Heart and Spirit of the Yoga Sutras by Nischala Joy Devi. I discovered this book, revisiting the Sutras several years ago while preparing content for a Yoga Retreat. This book…This book warms and inspires. This translation feels like your grandmother is cuddling you and passing down the age-old wisdom of being a woman. She specifically translated the Yoga Sutras to be more feminine and positive and though I was skeptical at first, I love it. You will love it too.
Now if you’re like me, working long hours and parenting makes reading a luxury. I get it. If reading spiritual text is something you want to fit in, you can make it happen! Put your copy in your bag and take it to work. Schedule a bath once a week, and get a few pages in. Take your book in the bathroom and pray that you get 5 minutes before your 3-year-old pounds open the door! It may take you three months longer to complete, but you will feel like you earned your Ph.D. when you’re done.
Enjoy the upcoming posts about the 8 Limbs of Ashtanga Yoga. Read along in the book, or not. Whatever feels right for you right now.
If you would like to read along with this blog series, you can try either of these copies here: