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Yoga Sutras of Patanjali

Invocation to Sage Patanjali

योगेन चित्तस्य पदेन वाचां | मलं शरीरस्य च वैद्यकेन || योऽपाकरोत्तं प्रवरं मुनीनां | पतञ्जलिं प्राञ्जलिरानतोऽस्मि ||

yogena chittasya padena vAchAM | malaM sharIrasya cha vaidyakena ||yo.apAkarottaM pravaraM munInAM | pata~njaliM prA~njalirAnato.asmi ||

"I respectfully bow down with folded hands and offer my salutations to Sage Patanjali, the highest among the Munis (sages), who has presented the remedies for removing the impurities of the body through his treatise on Ayurveda, of language through his treatise on grammar (Patanjala Mahabhashya) and the impurities of the Chitta (mind field) through his treatise on Yoga (Yoga Sutras of Patanjali)"

Overview of Yoga Sutras

Even though yoga has been mentioned in various ancient texts, including the Vedas, Upanishads, the Bhagavad Gita etc, the credit for putting together a formal, cohesive philosophy of yoga goes to Sage Patanjali. In his Yoga Sutras, Patanjali has provided the very essence of the philosophy and teachings of yoga in a highly scientific and systematic exposition. The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali (YSP) form the basis for one of the six Hindu schools of philosophy (or shad-darshana, literally six philosophies) and are a very important milestone in the history of Yoga. The book is a set of 195 aphorisms (sutras), which are short, terse phrases designed to be easy to memorize. Though brief, the Yoga Sutras are an enormously influential work that is just as relevant for yoga philosophy and practice today as it was when it was written. The sutras are divided into four chapters (pada) as follows:

  1. Samadhi Pada: The first chapter provides a definition and the purpose of yoga. Various approaches that can be used to achieve the objectives of yoga are provided.
  2. Sadhana Pada: The second chapter contains the practical approach to achieving the goals of yoga. In this chapter the author gives a description of the eight limbs of yoga called Ashtanga Yoga, which is how the yoga sutras are sometimes referred to.
  3. Vibhuti Pada: The third chapter focuses on some of the supernatural powers that an adept yogi may be able to attain.
  4. Kaivalya Pada: In the fourth chapter the nature of the mind and mental perceptions, desire, bondage and liberation and what follows it are discussed.

The Yoga Sutras of Patanjali are also sometimes referred to as "Raja Yoga" or the "Royal Yoga".

For a list of online references on Yoga Sutras of Patanjali, please see here.

For a complete listing of all the sutras in YSP, along with the sutras in Devanagari (Sanskrit) script, an audio recording of each sutra and an English transliteration, please visit my blog here.

Definition of Yoga

योगश्चित्त वृत्ति निरोधः

yogascitta vritti nirodhah

"Yoga is the restraint of the modifications of the mind-stuff"
- Sage Patanjali (sutra 1.2) ; translation by Swami Vivekananda

Ashtanga Yoga (Eight limbs of Yoga)

The eight limbs of yoga as defined in the second chapter are as follows:

  1. Yamas (self restraints): The yamas are guidelines for how to interact with the outside world at a social level. The five yamas are: Ahimsa (non-violence), Satya (truthfulness), Asteya (non-stealing), Brahmacharya (abstinence), Aparigraha (non-hoarding).
  2. Niyamas (observances): The niyamas represent guidelines for self-discipline. The five niyamas are: shoucha (cleanliness), santosha (contentment), tapas (austerity), swadhyaya (study of the scriptures and self-study), and Ishwara pranidhana (surrender to God). Together, yamas and niyamas provide an ethical and moral code to be followed so the aspiring yogi can establish an adequate moral foundation for his/her spiritual journey.
  3. Asana (posture): Asana refers to the seated posture which should be steady and comfortable so the yogi can sit and meditate for long periods of time.
  4. Pranayama (breath control): Pranayama, which literally means stretching or expansion of prana, the vital life force, involves breath control and helps train and prepare the mind for dharana (concentration).
  5. Pratyahara (sense withdrawal): Through pratyahara one gains the ability to withdraw the senses from their objects thus achieving perfect control over the senses.
  6. Dharana (concentration/focus): Dharana involves focusing the mind on a single object of concentration for long periods of time.
  7. Dhyana (meditation): When there is an uninterrupted flow of the mind toward the object of focus, the yogi enters the state of meditation.
  8. Samadhi (total absorption): Finally when even the self-awareness of the mind disappears and only the object of meditation shines through, it is called the state of samadhi.

The main focus of Patanjali is controlling the mind and subduing the fluctuations of the mind, called 'chitta vrittis'. Once the mind is calm and peaceful, one gets established in his own true nature.