Yoga Sutras – Introduction

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What are the yoga sutras? The yoga sutras explain what the essence of yoga is, how to practice yoga, and describe the challenges we face along the way. It’s a guidebook if you like.  For those who attend physical yoga and think they are doing yoga, well they might be or might not be. One way to understand if you are “doing yoga”, and what is important, is to explore the Yoga Sutras. There are other books that are also important, and supplement the yoga sutras. The yoga sutras are the one scientific explanation of yoga that helps bring clarity in a way no other book I have found does. Other books such as the Bhagavad Gita and Upanishads also have essential teachings explained in different ways and from different perspectives. The yoga sutras however, are complete and scientific in their approach.

What scientific approach in yoga? The phrase scientific approach probably conjures up imagery of machines and instruments. In actual fact scientific and empirical approaches are encouraged in yoga on a personal level so we can prove for ourselves and not have to believe in anything. Yoga is only known, understood and benefited from when it is activly practiced, and therefore experienced first hand. In fact the reason we have such books as the Yoga Sutras, and various different traditions based on yoga, is because the techniques and understanding of yoga does work repeatedly for people and has done since yoga began thousands of years ago. When looking at the definition of empirical evidence you will see its very compatible with this scientific yoga approach; “Empirical evidence, data, or knowledge, also known as sense experience, is a collective term for the knowledge or source of knowledge acquired by means of the senses, particularly by observation and experimentation.[1] The term comes from the Greek word for experience, (empeiría)”  (wikipedia empirical evidence). Should you look at definition of the scientific approach, you would also see this is compatible with the approach in yoga, especially the yoga sutras. You could say yoga is simple, it’s been proven, and we can follow the guidance of others to prove it for ourselves. It’s not of course, the ego, and subtly make it more interesting.

What form do the sutras take? The yoga sutras in physical form are a book containing many versus (196). Each verse uncovers and highlights an important aspect of yoga and it’s practice. The book is divided into 4 chapters. The first two (Samadhi and Sadhana) being the most important chapters to start with. Most books that explore the yoga sutras will have, in addition to the 4 chapters; an introduction, some commentary and other usefull information. Not all yoga sutra books contain the elements mentioned. The four chapters are, as worded by Swami Satchidinanda’s version:-

  1. Contemplation (Samadhi Pada) – The explanation of the essential concepts and essence of yoga
  2. Practice (Sadhana Pada) – The explanation of how yoga can be practiced
  3. Accomplishments (Vibhuti Pada) – The details of the by products of practicing yoga
  4. Absoluteness (Kaivalya Pada) – The experience of the experience of yoga we are working towards experiencing

How are they explained? Sanskrit is the language used by yogis, and this is the case in the yoga sutras. Therefore most books talking about the yoga sutras will have, for each sutra; the sanskrit, the transliteration, the essence of the sutra in english and maybe some commentry for that sutra. there might also be an introduction to the book, and maybe a short introduction to each chapter. Sanskrit is a sound based alphabet/language and as such many of the benefits of sanskrit are realised when words are spoken, chanted or used as a mantra. Sounds have a power, odd you may think, but I have proven to myself repeatadly that sounds have an effect. Om repeated a few times stills the mind and brings calm. Repeating some mantras does induce a different feeling than other mantras.

 

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