What are the Yoga Sutras ?

Yoga is often introduced first as a great form of exercise for the mind and body. Many gyms and health-conscious individuals credit yoga as the source their vast amounts of energy, peaceful mindset, and toned upper arms and abdomen. While it’s true that yoga is certainly a great form of exercise to keep both mind and body sharp, modern-day yogis are venturing more and more into the traditional yogic philosophy as well. 

Yoga was originally taught to be a complete lifestyle, starting with your time on the mat and extending into the far reaches of everyday life. One of the great forefathers of yogic philosophy was Pantanjali, the author responsible for the prominent Yoga Sutras. Have you heard them mentioned but didn’t know if the sutras were a new pose or an up and coming superfood?

Understanding the Yoga Sutras is best started by taking a closer look at the sage responsible for penning them. Pantanjali is the author credited with these famous bits of wisdom, but not much is actually known about him as an individual. Some sources would estimate that he lived roughly around the first or second century BCE, but it isn’t known for certain. It’s quite possible that the sutras are the work of several sages combined under one name.

The work itself is a compilation of sayings that detail the way to live a wise life. In total, the short piece consists of details for living out the eight primary “limbs” of yoga:

Yama: the practice of living ethically
Niyama: cultivating self-discipline and spiritual practices
Asana: yoga postures
Pranayama: breath
Pratyahara: withdrawal
Dharana: concentration
Dhyana: meditation and contemplation
Samadhi: final state of ecstasy

Many of the limbs are accompanied by secondary traits and practices that each yogi is supposed to learn and embody. For example, the very first limb of yoga, yama, is followed by teachings on the five yamas: nonviolence, truthfulness, non-stealing, continence, and non-covetousness.

The sutras should make for a relatively quick read at less than two hundred sayings throughout the entire piece. However, they are a crucial part of understanding how your yoga influences your day-to-day lifestyle. They dictate the ways our mind should consider and respond to events that occur around us, helping us to practice the mindset of yoga instead of just the poses.

The book itself may not take much time to leaf through, but the principles can take a lifetime to fine-tune and digest. Altering the way of living that is advertised through mainstream media is a difficult endeavor. The Yoga Sutras ultimately allow yogis to live at greater peace and in harmony with the world around them.

For those yogis who don’t feel that their time on the mat is enough to give them a true taste of what yoga was intended to be, the Yoga Sutras are a great place to start. They can help to cultivate the true feelings of gratitude and happiness that your practice is intended to create.

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