The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali
The Yoga Sutras were written by Sri Patanjali, a sage, thousands of years ago. The ancient text is seen as a guide to yogis around the world as it offers wisdom and advice on living a meaningful and purposeful life. It is considered the foundations of yogic philosophy but more than that it provides a very practical guide to the practice of yoga. It’s a little bit like a manual-how to fix your car, how to work the hoover or… how to understand your own mind! Follow these clear step by step instructions on how to reach enlightenment… except it’s not really that easy.
There are 195 or 6 Sutras (depending on what version you read) which are contained in four sections or Padas. Section one is on contemplation (Samadhi Pada) is all about meditation and cultivating the mind on the journey to enlightenment. Section two (Sadhana Pada) delves into the practise of yoga- explaining the 6 types of yoga and the 8 limbs of yoga. Section three (Vibhuti Pada) looks at some of the possible powers and accomplishments that may come to those that practise yoga. Finally, section four on Absoluteness (Kaivalya Pada) discusses yoga from a more philosophical stance.
The actual translation of the word Sutra means ‘thread’, representing a thread of meaning, I like the idea that all these Sutras or ‘threads’ can be woven together each reader having a slightly different combination. I can picture yoga students across the world following different threads, expanding or adding their own ideas and interpretations on their own creative journeys. Each sutra gives you a little gem of advice to absorb and ponder. Feeling humbled by the wisdom of the Sutras, I am not going to attempt to explain or describe all of them, they are there for you to absorb, ponder on and enjoy. But I am going to look at one and explain how it relates to me and my life.
Yoga Sutra 2.46- Sthira sukhamasanam basically means that each yoga pose should be steady (Sthira) and comfortable (sukham). Following this thread further, I have interpreted this Sutra to mean, on the mat, poses should stretch and challenge you but also be comfortable- not painful. Working within these boundaries can become very interesting when you are struggling with an injury or feeling low in energy or like me have spent a lifetime ‘pushing yourself’. Through yoga, I have learnt to be more at ease with my body and what poses it can/can’t do and to be kind and patient with my body, letting things change over time or not. I came to a regular yoga practise with a perception that I needed to get better at the physical poses but soon realised that was only skimming the surface of a much deeper, more meaningful way of life. This Sutra reminds me that, in my own practise, I don’t always need to be striving to collect new poses or moving forwards in a traditional sense of self-improvement. Far better to be ‘looking within’ reconnecting with who you really are. This sutra clearly explains how yoga poses are really all about being able to get the body comfortable in order to meditate- simple as that. Is this yoga tradition diminishing in the Western world? I wonder if this is why the majority of us practise yoga?
In this sutra, Patanjali gives the analogy of a tree and a weed in conversation at the river side. The tree boasts of great strength over the weed- how strong, tall and great it is over the ‘puny’ weed. Suddenly there is a flood and the tree is pulled from its roots and destroyed but the weed bends and flattens itself, letting the water run over it and when the flood passes, the weed rises once more. I kinda feel like sometimes I have been like the tree, not having the flexibility of mind, spirit or body to deal with what life throws at you and how rigid you can become. The tree says at the end ‘ I should have been humble and simple and supple like you.’ What a great lesson to keep learning over and over again, to remember to be humble. There are so many opportunities when reading the sutras to explore the relationship you have with others but also the relationship you have with yourself. Studying the Sutras and practising yoga has really make me unpeel the layers I’ve laid down and start to uncover who I really am.
Patanjali explains that this deeper relationship we cultivate with ourselves means we can then begin to explore meditation, which is the reason why we would practise yoga. Strength and flexibility you create in the body means it will be healthy and tension-free in order to achieve a meditative pose. Patanjali helps to lay out the path of meditation for us, the steps we have to take on this journey to awakening. He says the truths of yoga are ‘like gold’. ‘Although other things lose their value according to time, gold is always the same.’